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

Johnny_Cash_-_Out_Among_the_Stars

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