Hey musicians: stop blaming advertising for your woes

It's 2015. Pirate sites are shutting down. Musicians, industry folks have found the courage to speak out, and mobilize. Musicians from all genres aren't fighting for their right to party. They are fighting for fairness.
And they aren't afraid to go to court for justice. Not just for themselves, and not just for right now. But for all artists today and tomorrow.

When I first started writing about this (five years and three ad agencies ago) there were few musicians who were vocal about the struggle, let alone advertising sites. As an avid music fan, I can't be more thrilled to see this growing group of musicians finding their voice and speaking out against shady deals and business practices-- something they would have been silenced for doing just a few years before. Whenever a musician posts their paltry royalty payments from Spotify and Youtube after millions of plays or hits, it makes me angry. Call me a Luddite, but I believe there should be a middle class of musicians who can support themselves without having to moonlight as über drivers during the day. So whenever another musician speaks up, I'm thrilled.

But as someone who works in advertising, I'm becoming tired of the guilt-by-association that comes with every new article blaming advertising as being yet another brick in the wall. That anti-corporate stance is feels like it's coming from a 1960's pov. It's as outdated as bellbottoms. And for the most part, it's wrong. Take for instance this article from the New York Times entitled Music Artists Take On The Business, Calling For Change. Melvin Gibbs, jazz bassist and President of the Content Creators Coalition said:

“None of these companies that are supposedly in the music business are actually in the music business,” Mr. Gibbs said. “They are in the data-aggregation business. They’re in the ad-selling business. The value of music means nothing to them.”

With all due respect, I don't like the implication here. Now I'm obviously not going to defend advertising 100%. No business is squeaky clean. And there is still an ad-supported piracy, on sites that are disreputable and illegal. And the more musicians talk about that, the more brands will respond. If you don't believe it can be done check out how many brands are pulling their advertising from Gawker.

But Gawker, like Spotify and Pandora, are legal and legitimate businesses. And Mr. Gibbs could just as easily blame VC funding. Spotify and Pandora still aren't making profits; they're still being propped up by round after round of cash. Although I don't ever hear a musician refer to the root cause as being VC-funded streaming services with flawed business models unable to make a profit. Only "ad-supported." I guess because advertising to some people is still a giant boogeyman.

Let me say to musicians out there: You're right. We're not in the music business. And you aren't in the advertising business. So shut up for a second and listen because you probably don't know some of the things we've done to help you over the years.

Advertising spends a shit ton of money on your music.

And we spend a shit ton of money to license your music, legitimately. Not just on big songs. We also help bands who don't have their own private jets pay the rent.

We're your new MTV

A lot of agencies are working with their brands to create channels that allow fans to discover new music. And they are doing it in conceptually relevant ways. Live music and booze go together. One brand in particular, Guitar Hero Live, is even allowing fans to play over your old-ass videos in addition to your songs, all of which have been licensed.

We've broken bands.

Yael Naïm's Macbook Air ad anyone? How about Matt and Kim? Ad agency McCann Erickson actually assembled a different band when he couldn't get the New Seekers to sing "I'd like to teach the world to sing" for its iconic Coke hilltop ad.

We've broken Youtube bands.

Yes. We have had a hand in bringing Youtube influencer bands a much wider audience. For better or worse.

We've brought careers back from the dead. Literally.

Two words: Nick Drake.

A lot of us in fact have at one time worked in the music industry.

I know, what a surprise. I can name a lot of friends in advertising who are also in bands who tour semi-regularly and have a few albums to their credit. Post Honeymoon is just one of them. And they're probably my favorite. They have a kickass video we posted here. Some producers I've worked with come from music royalty. A friend's father was a notable jazz guitarist. I currently sit next to a guy who managed a couple of bands including a heavy metal band that everyone would know if I named them.

Point is, stop being so fucking assumptive. Mostly because:

We're down with the struggle.

There are also some of us who work in advertising who make ads in support of musicians. Don't forget that.

It's not 1967 any more. It's 2015. Advertising isn't out to get you: Silicon Valley is. You're not selling out by aligning with us but you might be supporting yourself. Our business model isn't flawed. Spotify and Pandora's is. Our brands are choosing to advertise on those channels because there are millions of people who use them. That's the result of creating a free network. But it's Spotify and Pandora and Youtube who need to fix their business models because they're flawed and unfair and it sucks. But it's not our job to help them fix it. It's our job to create awareness for our brands. And it's our job (sometimes paid, sometimes a labor of love) to create awareness for your plight. And being music fans, we are happy to do so.

We're not against you. Far from it.

So if you don't have anything nice to say about advertising, kindly leave us out of the conversation.

AnonymousCoward's picture
kidsleepy's picture

I'd also like to add one more: We're making it easier not just to get your music heard, but to know who is playing the song. A lot of commercials now feature Shazam buttons as a reminder for people to look up the song. And then hopefully buy it.

In case you didn't grok it, the point of this article wasn't a defense of advertising but more or a caution against generalizing an entire industry. Not everyone in advertising is a sleaze ball, just as not every musician has a heart of gold. Sooner we get past that, the sooner the both of us can find a solution.

After all, that's what we do for a living: We solve problems.

s's picture

Honestly, I don't think Mr. Gibbs is talking shit about advertising companies here... he is talking shit about Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, etc -- companies that claim to be all about music, when they are really all about getting content from musicians on their platforms as cheaply as possible as a means to sell more ads. The companies that make ads are not the issue here, it's the cold hard truth that these "music" companies don't actually care about the music or the people creating it. Artists are not being fairly valued for their creations, instead they are being used to prop up these unfair business models. Advertising professionals shouldn't take this personally, in fact I think musicians appreciate that many of you are out there looking for new interesting music to expose to wider audiences.

kidsleepy's picture

Again though, it's the implication that we too, are propping up these unfair business models that bothers me. Musicians get screwed on the back end. We get screwed by paying money to advertise on their sites up front.

My other reason for pointing this out is that the majority of people have a very unfounded negative view of advertising. And I want to dispel those myths whenever possible. We get blamed for all kinds of things, most of which we have nothing to do with. So when I hear the phrase "ad supported piracy,' yeah I shake my head, but "ad-supported legitimate businesses," is a different story and I'd rather it not be lumped in the same category.

I'm also wanting to remind any musician or organization who uses the "we're are musicians, but they don't work in the music industry," argument that you don't have to be "in the industry," to be in the industry. You don't even need to make music. You just need to make something. Anything.

Spotify/Pandora may indeed not give a rat's ass about music but that's because they treat it the same as books, blog posts and Charlie Bit My Finger videos: It's content. Silicon Valley's business practices don't just hurt musicians. They hurt all content creators. The authors, photographers, professional and amateur alike. They also hurt the regular guy putting whatever content up for free in exchange for using a free site. They hurt the whole process because now the prevailing fact is that content has no value anyway. Of course, if content had no value, then why does google and Spotify need it so much?

The next musician who talks smack would do well to remember that they aren't the only group getting fucked.

Advertising is very closely related to the music industry and have been feeling the same effect. We hire vendors all the time whose job it is to license music, or create it. Adam Weber, head of music production company Agent Jackson had a lot to say about the state of his business thanks to the consistent devaluation of content, i.e. music. And that's just one example.

Spotify and Pandora have the ears of politicians and a much better handle on PR. Musicians should think about getting as many people on their side as possible. And while we're great at exposing new music to audiences (legally) we're also kinda good at solving problems too, since it's our job.

I feel like I just recapped my article, but maybe if people read the shorter version they'll understand it better.

Dabitch's picture

tl;dr : "Pandora and Spotify have a much better handle on PR", meanwhile musicians bite the PR hand that's on their side: ie us advertising creatives/people.

Ya'll should team up with us instead.

Idiocracy's picture

Maybe we should start a jug-band ad agency so they'll consider us musicians.