The barriers between music and brands have being shifting for decades. Concepts of exposure, funding and what might be selling out are in flux as businesses try to harnesses credibility and audiences, while artists attempt to find ways to create and survive finically in a changing economic environment. One of the acts to embrace this new world is Wretch 32, and in a guest column for Q he explains why as he examines whether the relationship between brands and musicians is a match made in heaven, an unholy alliance or something else entirely.
Sometimes, you can have a big vision; but it falls on deaf ears. Music is an incredible platform. It allows for someone’s words to be heard and shared beyond the space that their physical voice can carry. At some points, this message can reach even further, and it is here that brands, and partnerships come into play. I’ve recently collaborated with the Tate, a location and institution that I had never imagined I would reach. “From the estate to the esTate.” With the help of Adidas and the Tate, I was able to share my thoughts on my community, and the strength that it holds; the everyday superstars who walk among us, but aren’t given a platform to express themselves. The modern day superstar isn’t famous, they are iconic. The mean something to people. The bring people together, and when I see them, I see me.
With fashion, art, and music so deeply intertwined, the current day sees musicians collaborating with numerous brands; becoming ambassadors, championing items of clothing, drinks, foods and more. Some musicians even start their own successful brands; merchandise for example. There are some bands, such as Coldplay, who refuse to attach themselves to branding- highlighting the constant battle between financial increases and integrity. Arguably, there are two forms of partnership – one which betters the brand, and one which betters you. If you can partner with a name, and maintain your beliefs and enlarge your audience, then you are using the available assets and platforms, to your advantage. There is a risk that comes with branding; you become attached to an object, a name, a business. You are no longer just you – you are an entity.
If we take a look at recent brand collaborations, we see Boiler Room holding events at the ICA, Skepta walking the catwalk at Fashion Week, Converse opening their own recording studios, and holding live events as part of their Rubber Tracks series, and more. Now more than ever, we are seeing these brands expanding their horizons and using musicians to bolster an ‘image’ to the product. Likewise, a musician is able to use a brand to their advantage, elevating their music beyond their fan-base; extending their audience. The power of partnership, or association, is unrivalled. Look at ASOS for example, an online catalogue of clothing that has begun their own magazine, with musicians being interviewed and circulated to 26 million unique Users every month. They’ve even started doing online sessions, which have featured the likes of Little Simz, and other emerging talents. As an Adidas Ambassador, I often wear three stripes with pride; and with this brand by side I have been afforded multiple new and exciting opportunities. I saw a live event collaboration between Vans and Hudson Mohawke recently too. Something really exciting and niche; something that allows different people to collide.
Is it possible for a musician to be watered down by their brand partnerships? Definitely. I guess if we look at the alternative to this ‘bolstered voice’, we get brands hijacking artists; using artists to their advantage. Do brands only work with the hottest artists; are you discarded as an ambassador once you leave the mainstream world. Even further than this, are you a “sell-out” if you collaborate with a larger entity such as a brand. It’s slightly strange and takes a minute to adjust when you see a successful band, for example, on a mobile phone advert; but arguably it allows their status and music to be elevated beyond their previous reach. With brands, musicians are able to reach new audiences, audiences they haven’t previously hit. It takes you to a new level.
Sometimes, you can have a big vision; but it falls on deaf ears. With the help of Adidas and the Tate, I have seen my vision elevated to a location and audience I had never thought I could reach with my music. My visual piece When I See You, I See Me, was premiered at Tate Britain’s at Late At Tate, to an audience of art and music lovers. Some had never heard my music, some knew me well; but all heard my message and for that, I am truly grateful.
For more head to Wretch32.com.