Brands

Beyond That Song in That Car Commercial: New Opportunities for Music and Brands

Music isn’t usually what’s talked about in conversations about “content marketing.” But when you think about it, it’s actually one of the most longstanding mediums for a branded content strategy — just look at the eagerness of extreme-sports brands to partner with the latest edgy punk and hip-hop acts, or just how much more memorable a car commercial is with a  catchy song running in the background. It’s one thing if your brand has a great slogan; it’s another for it to have a killer theme song.

When it comes to digital music, the constant parade of new start-ups and potential brand partnerships makes things a lot more complicated but also opens up many more new possibilities. We’ve already seen streaming platform Spotify support branded applications, and they recently announced a global partnership with Coca Cola. Samsung is partnering with Jay-Z to give Galaxy users exclusive early access to the rapper’s new album.  As an arm of a branded content strategy, music is hugely variable, allowing brands to customize their approach and relate to specific audiences through an app, playlist, or artist relationship.

It’s one thing if your brand has a great slogan; it’s another for it to have a killer theme song.

This was evident at last week’s gathering of the tech-and-creativity event series Digital DUMBO, where digital music catalog 7digital hosted a conversation on the future of music, shedding light on some of the possibilities and challenges that brands face when incorporating music and artists into their content strategies. They packed the room at Projective Space’s co-working space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sharing market insights and inviting demos from their partners TurntableSourcetone, and Double Twist. Each startup presented their perspectives on the music industry’s way forward, reacting to online trends and audience preference. Frequently, opportunities for brands came into play as well.

Your own branded radio station?

It may come as a surprise that in the last two years, time spent listening to online radio has gone up two hours.Traditional AM/FM radio is still cited as the dominant source of music discovery, which means that when it comes to digital music there’s a lot of room for innovation.

7digital business development manager Kyle Pierce described Internet radio as a “great lean-back experience,” where the consumer relies on smart algorithms for their custom content. The only requirement is to listen, or skip a song; the music then adjusts itself accordingly, something an AM/FM station or even satellite radio can’t do. This low-maintenance environment is ideal for mainstream listeners, those who won’t create their own set of Shlohmo remixes on SoundCloud or scroll through Hype Machine in the morning.

As digital radio moves forward, 7digital forecasts that streaming and purchasing will coexist, Pierce said — something that is currently either/or in many cases. The company has recently integrated purchasing with its radio app, allowing listeners to send tracks to their “locker in the cloud” without interrupting radio play. This feature is part of the streaming service’s enhanced API, giving brands and smaller companies access to over 23 million tracks so that they can use it to build their own music apps and download stores..

The key here is a seamless purchasing experience: the music doesn’t stop, and a new app or page won’t open. With this approach 7digital hopes that brands using its catalog and API can offer listeners and consumers an immersive musical world rather than interrupting a groove with 30-second commercial soundbites.

Appealing to emotion, not just taste

Sourcetone, a company that aims to match the right soundtrack to a listener’s mood, asks, “How do people react emotionally to music?” It’s less “I like electronic music,” and more “I want to get pumped.”

To create data points, director of product development Molly Holder said, “We actually have human subjects listening to music and telling us how it makes them feel.” Sourcetone, which has built an app, widget, and offers streaming for public places, then offers radio to match or enhance a variety of moods. She demoed the app, selecting the “workout” option. Some sweet Z-Trip came on. She then went for “calming,” and we listened to an album titled, appropriately, Zen Classical Music. After selecting a mood, users can tweak their stations with slider controls.

The potential for emotion-based music when it comes to brands may be most appealing to those who are looking to enhance an in-person experience, be it a pop-up shop or the lobby of anoffice. Basing a stream on a mood rather than a particular taste in music could prove to have more universal appeal.

An Experience Powered by People (or brands?)

A few years ago, social music player Turntable.fm opened to much fanfare — users could create their own “rooms” where they could collaboratively DJ with their friends or co-workers. For a hot minute, it was practically a branding strategy for some tech startups… what young developer wouldn’t want to work for the company with the best taste in music?

Turntable’s had a lower profile for the past year or so. But in April, its team publicly launched Piki.fm, a social radio iOS app. “It’s a very social way to listen to new music and discover new music,” Turntable CEO Bill Chasen said at Digital DUMBO. Piki users listen to radio that’s made up of songs picked by people they follow. In turn, their picks are added to others’ streams.  Users can also “re-pick” tracks and dedicate songs to their friends. “Lots of people want a laid-back experience but still powered by people,” Chasen said.

Brands could easily enter into the Piki milieu, especially if the app chooses to allow for branded or promoted stations. Upon first pick, the app assigns people with similar tastes to a new user’s radio station. If, say, a vodka brand wanted to promote its latest cotton candy flavor to an audience of listeners eager to party, it could start a Piki station with some Nicki Minaj and a bit of new Mariah Carey thrown in (feud be damned), the brand would thus align itself with a particular taste and–especially if Pound the Alarm is playing–a good time.(Given that cotton candy vodka isn’t an inherent “sell” to most markets, or at least those concerned about the next day’s headaches, associating it with great party music could provide a boost.)

By playing with a variety of emerging music apps, a brand can and should include music in its content strategy where appropriate. It’s a largely unsung route (well, unsung outside of industries like action sports and energy drinks) for establishing a brand identity. Creating the perfect gallery opening playlist means art dealers will check for updates the next time they’re planning an event. Introducing an indie kid to the best new band ups a brand’s credibility, increasing the chance a listener will click “like” on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

The jingle’s been around forever, but branded music can now be approached more creatively. Now that we prefer stories over slogans, and conversation over persuasion, it’s possible to upgrade from theme songs to custom soundtracks.

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