Is rock dead?

What does the future look like for rock and roll? It’s a question that will surely be on the minds of participants at the 2012 South by Southwest Music festival, which kicks off this week. I believe the future of rock and roll is very bright — if you’re willing to think of rock as the sugar in someone else’s tea.

Rock was, at best, a supporting player at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, with major rock awards such as Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album being relegated to the Grammy pre-telecast. And if Billboard magazine is any indication, rock is actually being assimilated into a more diverse palette of genres ranging from pop to rap. Rock was barely an afterthought in Billboard‘s Year in Music for 2011 issue. Pop acts like Adele and Justin Bieber ruled the year based on sales figures, with club music asserting itself as a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, Billboard’s 2010 Year in Music issue noted that in 2010, only one rock band reached the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 (Train, with “Hey, Soul Sister”).

In fact, no rock act has cracked the Top 10 in the annual Billboard Top 200 in either 2010 or 2011. The list of Top 15 Billboard artists in 2011 says it all: Continue reading

How Twitter united indie star AM with Razorfish

AM

How does an emerging indie artist in the dysfunctional music industry find an audience anymore?

My employer Razorfish is tackling that challenge through an unusual co-branding relationship with indie musician AM, which sees Razorfish playing the role of quasi-record label, concert promoter, and DJ. And so far we are having a lot of fun while building our brand with a creative and smart musician.

Even though he is not yet widely known, AM has garnered critical acclaim among journalists and bloggers. His most recent recording Future Sons & Daughters was cited as “one of the pop albums of the year” by the U.K. Sunday Express and given a 4-star rating by Q magazine. And at Razorfish he has a huge fan: me.

I was personally smitten with the beauty of his laid-back yet smart songs one night in March when I saw him open for the French rock band Air. After the concert, I sent him a Tweet to let him know how much I enjoyed the show. And to my surprise, he replied with a heart-felt thanks. We began communicating more frequently, which led to my visiting with his manager Mia Crow of Visionworks while I was in Los Angeles for a Forrester Research conference.

From there, a client relationship between Razorfish and AM took root. Razorfish saw an opportunity to build our brand by associating with a forward-thinking artist who plays in the same social media sand box we do; and AM’s management recognized the value of Razorfish applying our own marketing and PR skills in a client capacity.

Fast forward to October: AM and Razorfish are creating the kind of co-branding relationship that you often see between emerging artists and business-to-consumer firms like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew (the latter via its Mountain Dew Green Label). Our relationship is based on the three pillars of experience, technology, and community. To wit:

  • On October 13, AM will perform at the 10th Razorfish Client Summit, where Razorfish and our clients discuss the state of the art in marketing, technology, and design. He’s customizing a set list for nearly 700 Razorfish employees and clients including Axe, Best Buy, Levi Strauss & Co., and Mercedes-Benz. We’ll also make his music available to attendees via a specially created StickyBits application and mobile site.
  • His music is being streamed to 2,000 Razorfish employees around the world as well as a StickyBits download, hence fostering word-of-mouth marketing amid a highly social employee base.
  • Razorfish and AM are sponsoring a design-a-poster contest on Creative Allies, which invites artists to create poster art to promote the vinyl release of Future Sons & Daughters. Razorfish Vice President of Experience Andrew Crow will help judge the entries. The winning entry will be used in the actual promotion.
  • Razorfish has been using forms of social media to build awareness for AM’s brand, helping him boost his presence on Facebook and Twitter.

So what does Razorfish get out of the relationship? We benefit in a number of ways. We give our clients and people access to great music, and, through the Client Summit, an experience they’ve never had at our event. We also associate ourselves with a creative, up-and-coming artist who aligns well with the forward-thinking nature of the Razorfish brand — which is ideal for relationship building with clients and job seekers (we recruit actively at SxSW Interactive).

Meantime a relationship with Razorfish is one more stop in the unconventional and resourceful journey AM has taken to gain a following. Like other artists, he has embraced social media, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube to complement his website. And as evidenced by how he and I met, he really uses Twitter to reach out to fans in a genuine way. In 2010 he also successfully solicited fans’ financial support to fund the vinyl launch of Future Sons & Daughters. And by licensing songs to movies and TV shows ranging from Big Love to Friday Night Lights, he has not only kept his music visible but gotten paid for it. In addition to touring with Air, he has toured with Charlotte Gainsbourg and will head to the United Kingdom soon for more touring, building his fan base one venue at a time the good old fashioned way.

Our relationship comes at at time when it is acceptable for musicians to find corporate partners. Gone are the days when a corporate relationship meant “selling out.” As discussed at the September Billboard Music & Advertising Conference in Chicago, artists like Zac Brown find companies like Ram Truck to be essential conduits for their music and causes. As Zac Brown said at the Billboard conference selling out means doing something you don’t believe in, a sentiment AM shares. In many ways, companies like Mountain Dew and State Farm are little different from record labels in that they distribute music for the artist. With Razorfish, AM gets access to sources of potential deals (e.g., by performing at the Client Summit), and our employs act as brand ambassadors if we like what we hear.

By letting his music speak for itself through the power of live performance, AM does what Razorfish likes to do: build a brand through an experience.

How do you build a digital brand?

How do you build a digital brand — one that lives up to digital’s potential for immersion and personalization?   The following two recent Razorfish client launches highlight the roles of creativity and technology — and demonstrate some of the nuances of branding the digital way.

Billboard

Billboard posed an interesting challenge to the New York office of my employer Razorfish: reposition a brand for a consumer audience.  Through its event business, digital presence, and print media, Billboard is known primarily as a business-to-business brand.  The company asked Razorfish to inject more of a consumer-oriented look and feel to the Billboard.com website.  Although Billboard.com is a consumer website, Billboard’s reputation as a B-to-B brand contributed to a general assumption that Billboard.com is not for consumers.  Billboard saw an opportunity to make Billboard.com “behave” like a consumer site with improved interactivity.  The Razorfish approach:

  • Retain the Billboard name.  The B-to-B reputation notwithstanding, the Billboard name is so well established (115 years old) that we saw little need to adapt the name for a consumer audience.
  • Completely revamp the Billboard.com website.  Throw out the model of providing just basic information about top-selling songs and artist background via the flat website that existed until now.  Instead, turn Billboard.com into a playful destination where consumers can listen to and purchase music, vote on their favorite songs, and learn a ton of information about different artists, including their chart history and biography.  A new “Visualizer” feature makes it possible for you to see a chart that shows album sales throughout an artist’s career.  Playing around with the Visualizer unveils layers of detail such as peak positions for particular songs.  Moreover, with an easy click you can share content to social destinations like Twitter.

Exclusive video content available on Billboard.com

Using the Visualizer to track the remarkable 251-week Billboard chart run for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon

For more about the Billboard.com redesign, go here.

Channel [V] Australia

The challenge for Channel [V] Australia was different: launch a new brand online.  Channel [V] Australia is a cable TV channel that broadcasts musical content for a Gen Y audience.  Channel [V] wanted an online presence.  The solution from Amnesia Razorfish in Sydney:

  • Create a brand name for digital, [V] Music. We felt a new name was necessary for a few reasons.  First, Amnesia Razorfish wanted to more strongly associate the company with music because the digital experience is supposed to be the “source of all things music.”  And the name [V] Music would work better from an organic search standpoint.
  • Create an immersive experience so that consumers have a destination to explore music, including a video library that houses 1.3 million artists.  Enable personalization (via a My Music feature).  Moreover, a video player created by Amnesia Razorfish called “the Slider” allows you to watch videos continuously while you browse the website.  (Unfortunately because of Channel [V]’s licensing agreements, the videos are viewable only in Australia.)  The site also posts concert listings and links to special [V] Music accounts on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.  Amnesia Razorfish built the interface in Ajax to allow the page to dynamically update content as you slide across the page in real time (an effect seen only in Flash).

Through the [V] Music rebranding, Channel [V] now has an opportunity to expand its presence into music and even open up content overseas should the company elect to adopt different licensing models.

A taste of [V] Music

For more information on Music [V], check out this post.

For more Razorfish insights into digital branding, please review Joe Crump’s point of view on Digital Darwinism.

What does a digital brand look like, and sound like, to you?