It’s hard to keep all this stuff straight. First, every band on the planet wanted so badly to be signed to a major label (and actually, a lot still do). Then it became hip to be independent (“indie”), and everyone thought you were a loser if you even mentioned ‘major label’ and ‘sign’ in the same sentence. Indie DIY was IN! Major Label deal was OUT! The revolution was ON!

Then we all looked around at our pretty little MySpace pages and Facebook profiles, and contemplated the question – did the indie revolution actually pay off?

Zoom in to the present time. For some, the answer is ‘Yes’. For others, the pros and cons are still being weighed. But for the rest, the question is ‘if we’re really not benefiting from the indie revolution and have gone as far as we can go on our own, then can brands be of any help to us’? Let’s explore that a little bit in this article.

Everyone in business is trying to reach an audience. You (or your band, if you are a manager) are trying to reach people who you can turn into fans and, subsequently, buyers. Brands (companies) are trying to reach potential customers in order to turn them into consumers of their products / services. Seeking an alternative to advertising, brands initially sponsored events like conferences, conventions, sporting events, galas, concerts, etc., that attracted potential customers. While many brands continued to sponsor events, others decided to bypass the ‘middleman’ and began putting together their own branded events in order to reach customers directly. In the process, companies discovered that bands had a way of connecting with fans on a much more emotional level than could be done through interruptive advertising. Thus, the ‘brand-and-band’ partnership was born.

So, what exactly attracts your band to a brand? The most important thing is a good fit between your fan base and the brand’s existing or potential customer base. If your band is attracting a demographic (of considerable size) that a brand is also trying to reach, then that would make a good fit in their eyes. Identifying the demographic to a brand requires bands and their managers to proactively survey their fan base in order to get some demographic data (e.g., age, gender, geographical location, annual household income, hobbies, spending preferences, etc). Many bands are unable or unwilling to do this since it can scare away potential fans and requires existing fans to take time out to fill out surveys. But, if offered as an option along with a gift or discount offer (like an exclusive song download or a discount on tickets or band merchandise), then the data you collect will prove to be invaluable both to direct your marketing activities as well as to influence a potential brand partner.

But as with most other partnering scenarios, the more ‘buzz’ you have about your band and the larger and more loyal your fan base, the more brands will want to partner with you for their campaigns. And just like the three bears in the children’s story, most medium-sized brands like you to be ‘just right’ – not too cold (i.e., not a completely unknown artist), but not too hot either (i.e., not a major label artist). This is because they like bands that have a loyal and sizable following yet are unencumbered by many of the legal entanglements inherent in the major label system. Of course, major brands generally associate with major label artists because they are interested in the global reach that comes with that association.

Some brands have gotten into the game of artist development, creating a new kind of record company that funds band’s recordings and tours. Some have even set up recording studios where their artist ‘partners’ can record. In these instances, the relationship is mutually beneficial, with bands contributing the ‘hip’ factor and ’emotional connection’ and brands providing large amounts of money no longer readily available from traditional record companies.

The band-and-brand relationship also has some considerable perks for bands. Unlike what typically comes with signing to a label, bands in band-and-brand relationships do not often give up any of their rights since the brand is mainly interested in reaching the audience and selling them their own products and/or services. The band gets to keep their copyrights, trademarks / service marks, logos, etc, as well as maintain their creative freedom in terms of recordings, logos, videos, tour production, merchandise design, and so on. Another perk is that mid- to large-size brands have a tremendous amount of reach in terms of distribution since their products already have a pipeline into the marketplace, thus streamlining the process of getting the band’s CD’s, downloads and merchandise to the fans. Brands also have a lot of marketing expertise and know how to get the attention of fans as well as the media.

Over time, most fans have come to understand that brands and sponsors are an important part of the equation when it comes to putting a tour together, and have come to tolerate a certain amount of brand exposure as long as the messaging and interaction isn’t too heavy handed. This is helping to create a new model where some companies are considering coming up with a particular ‘sound’ for their brand (like a soundtrack to their product), which could work in your favor if the sound they are looking for happens to be what your band is already doing.

So, if you’re interested in partnering with a brand, keep on increasing your fan base even if they aren’t currently buying CD’s, downloads or merchandise in large amounts. Create interesting YouTube videos with keywords / key phrases that attract a lot of ‘eyeballs’. Build genuine friendship and loyalty with your fans so that they follow your movements and spread the word out to their friends. Videotape your shows and capture the emotional connection you have with your fans. Conduct demographic surveys and keep a tally of the number of fans on your mailing list. Create as much buzz as possible wherever you can and you will eventually appear on a brand’s radar when the fit is right. Even though most of these deals are currently structured between major brands and major (or ex-major) label artists, we can look forward to medium-sized brands getting more active in the game and partnering with independent artists and bands in order to reach consumers on a more emotional level.