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How Tech and Culture Are Influencing Music and Brand Partnerships in 2018


It’s been a few weeks since CES attendees were headed home, overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and news of where technology, content, entertainment, driving, cities, and the world at large is headed. Presentations on the different levels of driverless cars, the whirl of drones overhead, the glee of Google’s playground, and many more points of attraction permeated the Las Vegas hotels, conference halls, and skies.

One of the newer CES conference tracks introduced in 2018, “Where Music and Technology Collide,” led discussions on the continual convergence of entertainment, branding, and technology, how these worlds continue to weave new ideas into unique experiences, and how the value of music is determined and the understood.

Toni Wallace, Head of Music Brand Partnerships at United Talent Agency, moderated the conversation during “Madison Avenue Meets the Recording Studio,” which featured Matt Goldstein, VP Sports & Live Entertainment Partnerships at The Madison Square Garden Company; Laura Hutfless, Founder and Partner of FyteVu Agency; Daniel Altmann, Co-Founder & CEO of WeBuyGold; Naomi McMahon, SVP, Head of Strategic Marketing and Partnerships at Universal Music Group (UMG) and Brands; and Ari Avishay, Director, Entertainment Marketing at Lyft.

The panelists discussed several hot topics within the one-hour session. This is Part 1 of this three-part series, which highlights how they approach and formulate their long-tail strategies, sharing insights, first-hand experiences, and highly relevant examples of how the power of artist-driven, fan-focused campaigns and programs continue to grow in the brand space, complemented by the benefits of technology and new forms of content creation.


Beyond the Logo Slap and Brand Spend for the Fun of It

In her role at UMG, McMahon has seen the landscape of brand partnerships evolve over the last few years.

“It’s really moved from being somewhat transactional and one-off to much more strategic and long-term.”

The beginning of any brand partnership discussion starts with strategy, determining what the client wants to achieve and why they’re turning to music to reach their goals. Seeing UMG as the conduit between the brand, the artist, and the fan, McMahon team’s role is to determine, “How can brands understand the music industry and our creative process and how we add value? And then on the brand side, how can we prove the ROI of music? How do you measure? What does success look like? It goes beyond the logo slap and is really integrated into the artists’ strategy in combination with the brand’s strategy.”

As a technology company, Lyft has taken creative liberty with their music- and artist-centric programs, which are not always focused on mainly driving revenue and rider numbers. Sometimes they put their app developers to work on music-oriented projects with the sole objective of generating fun for both the artist and their fans.

“We’ve been able to figure out unique ways to partner with an artist
to celebrate their successes, not just the brand,” said Avishay.

One program came about after Cardi B hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and was going platinum with her single, “Bodack Yellow.” When New York City riders (Cardi’s hometown) opened their Lyft app and entered the code “BardiGangm,” which was Tweeted out by the artist to her fans, the typical car images were replaced with Cardi B icons. “It’s just purely for fun to celebrate her success but to also provide a great experience for our consumers, for fans of Cardi B, and generate a whole bunch of earned media,” said Avishay.

He explained how Lyft also pursues campaigns that aren’t as public and buzz-heavy. DJ Kahled was throwing his son a big birthday party, so once again Lyft reformatted the app, this time to create a customized experience specifically for those taking a Lyft to the party. It wasn’t public facing, but this was seen as an investment in developing relationships with music artists, and in turn, “developing relationships with our mutual audiences.”


Synching The Right Brand with the Right Artist

In any brand partnership deal, the stars must align on various points of culture, beliefs, style, and mindset. This applies to influencers, endorsements, branded content, or sponsorships.

Can you ever imagine the Wonderlust Festival being sponsored by Marlboro? That kind of bad marriage would get hundreds of yoga panties into a big twist, with lots of earned media, the unwanted kind, flying all over the internets.

So it’s very important that everyone’s brand identity involved – brand, music label, artist, event – is not only preserved but also enhanced by the experience. Having vision and awareness of the strengths of a given brand, as in the case of Madison Square Garden, their large venue portfolio’s reputation and reach plays into how the programs go from idea to fruition.

“We’ve been tasked, similar to what Naomi said, to think about programs that exist beyond the logo slap,” said Matt Goldstein of MSG. “What creative ways can we use our venues and dark days that we have in our venues, to create unique programming that aligns with an artist’s cycle under that big album drop? Or even an artist that’s been out of the limelight for a bit in between albums, or artists that are working on special projects?”

Because the content which plays out in MSG venues is so varied, their sponsor partnerships are as well, ranging from tech companies like SAP and Squarespace, to JPMorgan Chase, the Anheuser-Busch concert series, Delta, Kia Motors, Coca-Cola, Lexus, and recently in January of this year, Lyft as well.


Goldstein and his team also have the liberty to mix music and sports in a way that works in a crossover fashion for fans of both. “Playing Madison Square Garden as an artist is a very special experience,” he explained. “What we’ve done is we’ve leveraged our brand and the iconic nature of what we can offer, building that into a 360-platform that exists not only in our venues, but it’s also extended to our sports teams with the Knicks and our majors as well as other acquisitions that we’ve made in the music space across the country.”

This includes the Boston Calling Music Festival, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, Chicago Theatre, The Forum, the smaller sister venue to the Garden, The Theatre at MSG, the Wang Theater, and an acquisition from 2017, the TAO Group that operates restaurants and clubs in NYC, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, along with Singapore and Sydney.

When FyteVu is in the creative brief stage, they approach it with a full, 360 perspective that takes into account the content itself, the artist, the brand, and all the social and digital components, even if their deliverables equate to only a portion of the program.


“Everyone says content is king,” said FlyteVu’s Hutfless, “and it really is, because that’s what extends your program beyond a one-time series and a one-time live event.” Because so much work and expense goes into any given deal, having the long tail mindset bodes well for all parties, initiating a concert series that hits a number of markets versus a one-and-done activation with a short lifespan.

When brands decide which artists to work with, although Cardi B hitting the Billboard top 100 charts was a factor for Lyft’s celebration of her accomplishment, that’s not always the box to be checked. The company doesn’t focus on one genre over another, “It’s more about the individual artist and what they represent, what a particular track might represent,” Avishay stated.

Referring to FyteVu’s co-founder, “Laura and I used to work together in our previous roles. I learned by working with Laura, a tremendous amount of music in the country music space.” This became of value to Lyft’s partnership with Chevy, a frequent sponsor of country music artists and events, as part of their General Motors agreement, and as the official ridesharing partner for the CMA Fest. By working with Huftless, Avishay “learned how meaningful and impactful the genre is in people’s lives; finding unique ways to leverage country music to communicate with the Chevrolet brand.

“At Lyft, we don’t want to limit ourselves to a particular genre.
I think it’s more about the human behavior, the audience, and what you’re trying to accomplish.”






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