Brands and musicians have an uneasy alliance. For every generation defining Michael Jackson and Pepsi coupling, there’s a whincingly regretful pairing of Iggy Pop and Swiftcover.
In the last few years, more and more recording artists are hooking-up with large brands in order to reach a wider audience and make up for dwindling record sales, and it seems brands are much more willing to invest in the music industry lately, especially in terms of live music and event creation.
American Express has recently linked many different media strands together, including live music, online streaming, social video and social media, to create Unstaged, a channel that caters for an online, music hungry audience while offering effective brand promotion.
Let’s take a look at the ways American Express Unstaged brings the offline, online with storytelling.
Telling stories is a vitally important marketing tool in engaging with consumers (here are five successful examples) and you only have to watch the latest John Lewis advert to realise how effective storytelling can be.
On its Unstage YouTube landing page, American Express makes clear its narrative intention for the user.
The copy is full of signifiers: “…Create unexpected musical journeys” and “From studio to stage… Unstaged creates unforgettable stories…”
How does American Express Unstaged take viewers on these “unexpected musical journeys”?
Firstly, American Express hasn’t been shy of hiring some incredible, and indeed surprising, filmmaking talent to direct the live shows. David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee.
These are brilliant and thoroughly unpredictable directors, and are publicised as much as the bands. Not faceless Hollywood drones, but auteurs who the audience know will do something compltely out of the norm.
Teaming them up with against-type bands is also an interesting gambit. Werner Herzog and The Killers anyone? It's a weird combination but it’s the first time I’ve ever been tempted to watch a Killers performance.
David Lynch and Duran Duran? I’m definitely going to watch that.
The creativity extends beyond the live stage. Prior to Vampire Weekend’s streamed performance at the Roseland Ballroom, Steve Buscemi created a series of sketches with the band, uploaded onto the Unstaged YouTube channel over the course of a couple of weeks.
Episode five was also used as promo video for Vampire Weekend’s single ‘Step’.
This is a cross-promotional masterpiece. Not only giving publicity to American Express, but also the live concert due to be streamed in a few days, and Vampire Weekend's new album.
Later this year, Unstaged followed the same format with Kings of Leon and Portlandia’s Fred Armisen.
This series is actually a lot funnier than the Buscemi/Vampire Weekend one. I particularly like Caleb Followill’s admission that ‘none of us are very good individually’.
Using a six episode narrative structure, a great deal of humour, an established and talented artists’ own music, a leftfield director, and all of it culminating in a 90 minute long streaming concert, American Express Unstaged has created an impressive package for reinvigorating live music by giving it a new and entertaining online home.
Cross platform interactivity
There have been 13 gigs so far in the last two years, with Kings of Leon being the latest event in August 2013.
The shows themselves can be streamed on multiple platforms: via YouTube and Vevo on desktop, YouTube’s iOS and Android apps and mobile sites, VEVO’s apps for iPhone and iPad, Xbox 360 and on the American Express Channel available through an app on LG TVs.
In terms of interaction, viewers can choose their own view of the concert, tweet the bands directly, vote for the encore songs and engage with other users.
This is a powerful and deeply immersive platform, and one that seems to have complete backing from the artists involved. Terry Gilliam states:
Maybe the best way for brands to approach clients is to work with artists they like. Like patrons of art back in the 19th century. There’s a new world developing.
Arcade Fire's management has also stated
The days of the label doing the marketing for you are over. The band comes up with the ideas. Labels just distribute. We would work with Amex again, though.
Perhaps it helps that the brand has taken a backseat within this context. It's enough for American Express to finance Unstaged and put its name on it.
By not pushing the hard sell and letting the artists get on with things in a trustful manner, it allows other decent bands and directors to get involved; ones that don't normally align themselves with brands, and therefore bringing quality artists to a larger audience through online channels.
For more digital innovations in the music industry read these six examples of musicians embracing app technology.