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Corporate sponsorship vs. Integrity: Choose a side. (Updated)

Songs, which describes itself as a service-oriented music publishing company, licenses a lot of cool bands for commercials, movies, TV promos, and the like. Bands like Junip. Sleigh Bells. And Ghost Beach. Songs was instrumental in securing a licensing deal for “Miracle” as part of the return of American Eagle’s ongoing “Project Live your Life,” campaign.

“Project live Your Life” is more than a crowdsourced campaign. Okay, no it isn’t. It’s totally a crowdsourced campaign.

This from American Eagle's website.

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If you're lucky you might be featured in the next American Eagle Campaign! As opposed to, you know, already being featured on American Eagle's site right now, for free.

American Eagle, the teenaged lifestyle brand likes to sponsor music festivals, too. They’re really into music. This would also explain why American Eagle’s blog is touting Mathieu Santos (of Ra Ra Riot), Body language, not to mention and "curating" playlists on Spotify.

I am of course writing about this, instead of Artists Vs. Artists because for the past week we here at adland have been trying to follow the money (or at least the donated billboard media) trail, before we explored the concept. Our friends over at Music Tech Policy and Trichordist have been doing the same. Why? Because it smells. No one donates media for free, especially in Times Square, unless there's a damn good reason.

As for the campaign itself? Beyond just something made to enter in the award shows? It’s also not really taking any sort of stand, but merely “creating a dialogue,” or whatever the hell one does when one doesn’t want to stake a stand. It’s not like this is a scientific measurement. Even the name is a misnomer. Judging by the live feed, most of the people tweeting aren’t even musicians, let alone having a "dialogue."

Unless this counts as a dialogue:

Or this:

One thinks it's a cheap self-promo, another believes that we must adapt to the changing culture (i.e. it's okay to steal music) but of course offers up no suggestions on how that adaptation should happen.

I like how one person (a record label owner, mind you) summed up the pro-musicians rights on Ghost Beach’s Facebook page:

“Artists for piracy is like the ceo of bestbuy going on tv and saying "Hey America, come loot our store". Moronic. Giving away a free sampler of a bands music is a good idea but why should we support things like discography torrents? I work too hard to support the wholesale theft of my own shit.”

And note too, this is from someone who has the audacity to try and make a living at it, as opposed to someone who just wants free music, because Free Culture.

The weirdest part of this story is that American Eagle initially denied having anything to do with the media placement, free or otherwise. Chris Castle from Music Tech Policy reached out to American Eagle and got conflicting reports. First that American Eagle Outfitters was not affiliated with the campaign. And then later that they paid the band “a nice fee,” for usage. Was that fee in exchange for using their music for a big social media campaign, I wonder? Or did you pay them nothing and donate the media billboard? And what does "nice fee" mean, exactly?

Our answers from TBWA have stated definitively that American Eagle was behind it.
As well as sources close to the band.

American Eagle may have been trying initially to distance itself from what what might have been anticipated controversy. Should some people get it into their heads that a corporation is essentially attaching its name to a pro-piracy campaign, while using music from bands at the same time. It wouldn't necessarily take some eye squinting to see how it might be construed as corporate sponsored piracy.

And let's be honest--the way Artists vs Artists is shaping up now, it's just a number count with a lot of people in favor it stealing music. Again, I don't see any "dialogue," happening.

As for Ghost Beach, on their web site their mission statement says this:

Our hope with this campaign is to stimulate the discussion on exactly what 'piracy' means to different people. To an older industry sector, it's a dirty word that implies theft. From a younger, purely consumer standpoint it's another term for distribution. As it stands now, we're more closely aligned with the music consumer - in the sense that we are for this new distribution model, as evident by our efforts thus far to make Ghost Beach original music available for free to fans.

Hang on. Ghost Beach is part of a publishing company that licenses music. For money. Not for high fives. We also know Ghost Beach were paid "a nice fee" by a big old publicly traded corporation. It's not like Ghost Beach is so aligned with the music consumer they're refusing money. They're just not giving the full disclosure here.

And I could see why. How fast would you lose your street cred in Greenpoint if they found out your music's being sponsored by a suburban fashion brand? Better enjoy that corporate sponsorship as long as it lasts, guys. Once it dries up and the "consumer" still wants your shit for free, and demanding you "work the merch table," to make a living, then you might be changing your tune.

Update: Today, Ghost Beach guest posted on Billboard, explaining why they took the piracy debate to times square. It had nothing to do with notoriety or self-promotion if that's what you're thinking. Okay it totally did. That's why they went with an Ad agency to develop their product. Still, with the backlash they've gotten, they dig themselves quite a big hole.

Here are some choice quotes from the press release :

Recently our band Ghost Beach was offered use of a 15,000-square-foot LED billboard in the middle of Times Square. The space was offered to us as an added value as part of a license for our song “Miracle” to be used in an online video for American Eagle. Initially, we were puzzled on what to do with the space. We wanted to avoid a direct advertisement of ourselves, so we brainstormed on using the space to create some type of discussion.

We chose to address the issue of "piracy" because it continues to be one of the most poignant topics in the growth of the music industry in the Internet age. Our hope with artistsvsartists.com (AVA) was to create a discussion amongst our peers about what "piracy" means in 2013 and how we can move forward with new technologies and sharing platforms to combat it. We took this idea to the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, who helped us develop the campaign for free.

In other words the people leaving comments and making press statements that said American Eagle and TBWA had nothing to do with it, are full of it.

On AVA we asked people -- ideally artists -- to pick a side using the hashtags #artistsforpiracy or #artistsagianstpiracy. The results on the website were overwhelmingly in favor of #artistsforpiracy, although many of the individuals weighing in ended up being fans and consumers, not strictly artists.

Gee, really? I'm so surprised. You ask people if they're in favor pirating music, and you're surprised they say yes? And also surprised not as many artists chimed in as consumers? Guess we need to work on our media placement.

One of the tougher obstacles in developing this campaign was figuring out how to present all sides of the debate, as it’s not a simple black-and-white issue. We realized we couldn’t with just the billboard and the website, but by presenting the subject in stark contrast as simply ‘for’ or ‘against,’ we hoped to ignite a debate outside of the AVA website. We think we’ve succeeded in doing so. We found there to be heated conversation on both sides of the issue on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs and websites. We’ve received an overwhelming amount of criticism and an overwhelming amount of support surrounding the campaign and the issue, which to us means that we’re doing something right. This is still, very much, a relevant topic.

If you go into Starbucks and take a five pound bag of beans without paying, would we be having this debate? How about taking a car from a dealers without paying? Is there need for a debate? Both are consumer goods. So why no debate? And also why the need to clarify so much what piracy is? Is it because you're scared you'll offend a lot of people who rip off other artists? Why be scared? They're not payign for music.

Furthermore, we know what the literal definition of piracy is and we know that us giving away our music for free does not equate to piracy -- under any terms. We believe in using new music sharing platforms to combat illegal downloading by offering the modern music consumer convenient choices when it comes to discovering and downloading new music. We believe the only way to truly move forward on this issue is to continue talking about it and support strategies that work with the distribution network the Internet provides, while still protecting the intellectual property of artists. The next step in this discussion is calculating fair royalty rates for artists and labels through the many streaming services that have been developed.

Again, not one person has ever, ever suggested that Ghost Beach giving their own music away for free is piracy. No one. Ever. Not. Once. As for believing in new music sharing platforms to combat illegal downloading by offering convenient choice, I so agree. I mean, with the exception of Spotify, Pandora, Itunes, Amazon, I Heart Radio, Google Play, Last.fm, The Hype Machine, and Pitchfork, Paste and Magnet providing free mp3's not to mention Bandcamp, Blip.fm, 8tracks, and Soundcloud, there's just no convenient way to stream music at all.

As a band, we have built our entire foundation by sharing our music for free on the Internet. Since our launch in October 2011 we have given away 11 free, original singles, as well as a few remixes. We haven’t pressed a single piece of physical music product. We started our own label Crazy Heart Records to release the music, with one simple objective; to offer music listeners a choice of how to access and listen to our music.

While all of our future content may not be available for free, we will continue to have much of our catalogue available for free online throughout our career as Ghost Beach. Every song we’ve released thus far has been available to stream, purchase or download for free (directly from us). We’ve found that this approach has helped us develop a very solid fan base and community around our band on the Internet and in the real world at our concerts. We look forward to continuing to develop that community, and would like to thank everyone who has contributed thus far via commenting on the AVA campaign, a paid download, a free download, streaming a song, licensing a song or coming out to a show.

If you give it away for free, you've established the precedent. Good luck trying to get people to pay for your music when you choose to charge.

In the end it's a shame. It could have been a fruitful debate. Instead, it fizzled and overshadowed the potential of Ghost Beach's music. Too bad. What's even worse for us, this concept was created by an agency that should be known for doing better, smarter work. This execution just leaves too many unanswered questions, and not in a good way. No one knows what the takeaway is, and what's worse, the "debate," is anything but. This is just jumping on a bandwagon without understanding how to drive.

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