Not an Actual Rock, But Like A Rock

Department of music industry doom.

Bobby Owsinski, at the aptly titled Bobby Owsinski’s Blog, notes that in the future, corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola or Doritos may replace the function of record companies, funding tours and recordings in exchange for linkage between their brand and their band:

If this prediction comes to pass, it will push music further into the doldrums, since it only makes sense for a major brand to back an established artist. Artist development (which is what the industry really needs most these days) will really be a thing of the past. . . . Madison Avenue is increasingly responsible for dictating musical tastes in America, as evidenced from everything from radio to television to print. Will sponsorship finally drive the mainstream music industry over the brink of relevance?

Read the full post here. Here’s my take on the subject, as I put it in my comment to Bobby:

Well, on the bright side, if this turns out to be the way of the future, we won’t have to worry about our revered favorite artists “selling out,” since they will be owned in advance by the companies they will later be making commercials for.

And as if this isn’t foreboding enough, now comes word that Ticketmaster is merging with Live Nation and getting into the artist management business. So Pepsi or Toyota will dredge up the (presumably) handsome young boys, shape them into palatable “artists,” turn them over to TicketMaster for “development,” and when they are ready TicketMaster/LiveNation will tell them when and where to perform, and set the ticket prices.

Sort of spoils the spontaneity, don’t you think?

But to answer your question, if this model takes hold, it will fracture the music community into those who are sponsored and those who are not. Those who are not will not go away simply because they don’t have sponsors. They will perform where they can (small venues and indie festivals) and make recordings and peddle themselves whatever way they can (think Internet), which I expect will be effective in many cases. The sponsored groups, homogenized and hyped, will mostly be mocked by the true music lover, even though (or maybe because) they are making a lot more money. I’m not saying that you have to be inferior to make it big in the music biz. I’m saying that I’ll take a roomful of inspired musicians, singers and writers any day, even if they have no budget.

As you have pointed out here numerous times, the music industry is changing, even if the big boys either don’t know it or are actively trying to stop it. It won’t be huge like it was in the second half of the last century, but parts of it will always be relevant.


I have faith in the real music makers of the world. Like the best artisans and craftspeople down through time, I think they will continue to do what they do, with or without corporate sponsorship. And music fans being who they are, I have a feeling that “sponsored rock” is going to be viewed with, shall we say, suspicion.

What do you think?


UPDATE: Bobby has put up a full post on the proposed merger now, which I take as a response to my comment.

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4 Replies to “Not an Actual Rock, But Like A Rock”

  1. I immediately thought that a lot of great movies in the 30s-40s were made with actors who were effectively owned by the movie companies, but…Those were movie companies, not Pepsi-Cola Co.

    I agree with you, Larry: music will be fine. The talented indies will find a way, as they always do. The true aficianados will find a way. The tween girls will be satisfied with a vast array of squeaky-clean, pop boy bands owned by Doritos-Ticketmaster-LiveNation-Ford-Sheinhardt Wigs.

    Also, the music industry seems to pendulum. We can look forward to a big rebellion against the Corporate Music Giants in 5-10 years, a return to real artistry.

  2. Ther’s always been some element of this, a strict society assailed by aggressive unpolished youth. Before Elvis and Dylan (now the revered dead and the establishment) kicked in all the doors, we had Tin Pan Alley and Sing Along With Mitch until we were ready to puke. Something always comes along to unsettle the settled.

  3. kStyle – I often say I’m glad I’m old, because I just don’t want to face the shitstorm that’s coming. But I’ll be sad to miss the music pendulum swinging back toward talent, innovation, creativity and FUN!

    Ron – You confirm my own view, which is that this kind of thing might affect The Business, but it won’t alter Art, except in the most superficial ways.

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