From Coachella to Jimmy Fallon: Five Ways Classic Rockers Stay Relevant

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Photo credit: Matt Becker, www.melodicrockconcerts.com

A bunch of old rock and rollers are the toast of Coachella. AC/DC, rebounding after the loss of two key members, played a set April 10 that earned the band the kind of acclaim and attention that any artist would envy. Stereogum rated AC/DC the best act of Coachella’s first day, and The Guardian called the band’s return to the stage after six years a triumph. But by performing at Coachella, one of the de rigueur festivals of the millennial generation, AC/DC achieved something else important: cultural relevancy.

Being relevant to the contemporary zeitgeist is important to classic rock bands that continue performing long after qualifying for AARP membership. After all, rock and roll is supposed to be the music of youth and an influence on contemporary society, not yesterday’s news. No one wants to experience the embarrassment that U2 suffered when many people on social media asked “Who are these guys?” after Apple dropped the band’s latest album on fans via an iTunes download in 2014. Here is a rulebook for relevance that successful classic rockers usually to follow:

1. Embrace Digital

It sounds like fan branding 101 at this point, but some Baby Boomer-era legends are more willing to adopt digital than others. You can find the Rolling Stones on Spotify, but not AC/DC (proving that the band has some work to do yet earning its relevancy stripes). Although the Stones seldom release any new music, the band has effectively used digital channels ranging from the Web to mobile to maintain brand relevancy. Moreover, Joan Jett (being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame April 18), Annie Lennox, and Robert Plant do an excellent job using digital to share their lives and music with their fans. Plant relies on Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube, to tell a narrative of his reinvention as an artist. For instance, he recently posted a documentary on YouTube about his travels to Mali in order to participate in the Festival au Désert.

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“Out Among the Stars”: The Return of the Man in Black

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In the entertainment industry, your brand endures after you die. Tupac Shakur released seven record albums after his death and appeared via hologram at Coachella in 2012. Michael Jackson earned $160 million in 2013 despite being dead since 2009. And now Johnny Cash has released Out Among the Stars. The recording falls into the category of “lost” album — which is often a lofty code word for bad material that has been collecting dust in a vault for a good reason. And Out Among the Stars is a flawed effort.  But for Cash fans, the album is a useful artifact, like discovering a diary of a famous historical figure, and the songs show different dimensions Cash and the music brand we know as the Man in Black.

The material on the album is culled from a difficult period on Johnny Cash’s life, 1981 to 1984. The Nashville establishment ignored him, Columbia Records dropped him from the label, and he relapsed into an addiction to pills. But as Out Among the Stars demonstrates, he didn’t stop recording. The material, resulting from a collaboration with producer Billy Sherrill, offers a glimpse at different sides of the Man in Black brand and Continue reading

Visual Storytelling the Postal Way

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Pop quiz: name five brands that understand visual storytelling.

I’ll bet your list included a hip brand like Etsy. Perhaps you included a classically visual brand like Disney, or Tiffany, which has successfully employed Instagram. But I’ll bet the U.S. Postal Service didn’t make your list. Maybe it should. The USPS recently unveiled a commemorative Johnny Cash stamp as part of a new “Music Icons” stamp series. And the image, designed to resemble a 45-RPM record sleeve, looks positively badass. The Johnny Cash stamp reminds me that the USPS has been the master of visual storytelling for years.  Yeah, the U.S. Post Office is taking brands to school.

As reported by Today.com, the Johnny Cash stamp survived an arduous review process, with the decidedly uncool sounding Postmaster General’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory vetting 40,000 stamp ideas annually, and the Postmaster General providing final approval. To put things in more hip parlance of the day, the USPS brands itself by crowdsourcing consumer-generated ideas. (For more detail on the process, check out this link courtesy of the USPS.)

And the USPS wisely employs Pinterest to share some of its memorable stamp collections, ranging from Literary Masters to the Wonderful World of Disney. Robert Frost, Miles Davis, and James Dean – they are among the stars who live forever in the world of the USPS. And check out the USPS Facebook page to find out which stamp dominates its Timeline photo.

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The USPS is well ahead of its time in appealing to the era of Pinterest and Instagram – even enduring a quixotic attempt by the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps to stop the sale of commemorative stamps way back in 1895. Of course, the USPS is not the only governmental body that has issued hip postage Continue reading

From Eminem to Warhol: creating art out of vinyl

Daniel Edlen makes art out of vinyl LPs. Yup, I’m talking about the shiny black LPs that defined how we experienced music in the pre-digital era, which have become in vogue again more than 60 years after vinyl was introduced. Daniel’s business, Vinyl Art, offers stunning images of iconic musicians via portraits hand painted with white acrylic on vinyl.

His website offers a compelling challenge: “Gone digital? Get back to what you lost” by exploring the tactile world of vinyl as experienced through Daniel’s portraits of musicians ranging from Eminem to Elvis. For $350, you can bring Johnny Cash’s brooding face or Aretha Franklin’s soulful gaze to your home — or have a piece of your own commissioned.

By celebrating the joy of the physical musical experience in a digital world, Vinyl Art is succeeding. His work has been exhibited in locations such as the VH1 Corporate Gallery, commissioned by the David Lynch Foundation, and owned by the likes of Lou Reed.

According to Electric Moustache, “Vinyl Art is badass,” and I agree. I recently interviewed Daniel to find out more about Vinyl Art — what inspires him to do what he does and how he uses digital to build his business. He also discusses a brand new Andy Warhol triptych he created to celebrate Warhol’s iconic album designs for The Velvet Underground & Nico, Sticky Fingers, and John Lennon’s Menlove Ave. In the interview, Daniel shares not only a passion for music and art but for giving, as well. To view more Vinyl Art, check out a free eBook of his work here.

Why vinyl art? What inspires you to do what you do?

Giving inspires me. Not giving to get but giving to contribute. I like the question “Are you a miner or a farmer?” Miners take and don’t give back. Farmers take but then replenish, remix, restore. Throughout my earlier years I took from culture, incorporating sights and sounds into who I am today. The opportunity to create my Vinyl Art is an opportunity to give back to our culture in my way. Continue reading

What can marketers learn from dumb luck?

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About 30 years ago, an unknown movie director named Steven Spielberg was in the throes of despair.

He had been entrusted with filming a best-selling novel about a shark that terrorizes a town in Martha’s Vineyard, and everything was going wrong.

The movie was over budget. The on-location shoot was a hassle. And the mechanical shark built expressly for the movie, and crucial to many scenes, kept breaking.

Faced with the prospect of shutting down production, Spielberg decided to improvise.

Instead of relying on the presence of the shark to provide shock value, he created tension by suggesting the possibility of the shark’s appearance in many scenes.

You know the rest of the story: his project, Jaws, was one of the most commercially succesful and influential movies of its time. Critics agree now that Jaws was scarier because it only hinted at the shark in most scenes, leaving it up the viewer’s imagination to construct more terrifying images.

Jaws became a better movie because of a happy accident. But can we as marketers learn anything from these moments of serendepity, or is it just a matter of accepting dumb luck?

This blog posts examines the question through the experiences of an acting legend, a singer, and baseball player.

Continue reading

What can marketers learn from dumb luck?

cary2b.jpgjohnnycash_sanquentin21.jpgjaws-poster1.jpgpiraphu16hm01.jpg

About 30 years ago, an unknown movie director named Steven Spielberg was in the throes of despair.

He had been entrusted with filming a best-selling novel about a shark that terrorizes a town in Martha’s Vineyard, and everything was going wrong.

The movie was over budget. The on-location shoot was a hassle. And the mechanical shark built expressly for the movie, and crucial to many scenes, kept breaking.

Faced with the prospect of shutting down production, Spielberg decided to improvise.

Instead of relying on the presence of the shark to provide shock value, he created tension by suggesting the possibility of the shark’s appearance in many scenes.

You know the rest of the story: his project, Jaws, was one of the most commercially succesful and influential movies of its time. Critics agree now that Jaws was scarier because it only hinted at the shark in most scenes, leaving it up the viewer’s imagination to construct more terrifying images.

Jaws became a better movie because of a happy accident. But can we as marketers learn anything from these moments of serendepity, or is it just a matter of accepting dumb luck?

This blog posts examines the question through the experiences of an acting legend, a singer, and baseball player.

Continue reading