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Brand and the music industry

In honour of the latest album release from New Order, Strategy and Communications Placement Zak Boukerrou, explores the difference between brand and bands. 

Last month, New Order released their tenth album Music Complete, which was met with critical and commercial success despite the absence of arguably one of the most recognisable members, bassist Peter Hook.  In spite of this, the album stayed true to form in every other way, with a cover composed of vivid arrangements of sharp lines and bright colors, designed, as per, by Peter Saville.

It is not the first time New Order has had to cope with a loss of a band member. When Ian Curtis died during their days as Joy Division, the band re-invented itself. New Order, with their new dance-orientated sound, pushed their music in a different direction.  They rebranded with a new sound and identity.

In most cases bands chose not to change after experiencing a loss. The Who, Pink Floyd and Queen have all lost key members who have helped shape their sound but are still selling-out stadiums to this day.  This raises a question about brand being bigger than the band.

One brand that remains particularly strong, despite the band breaking up in 1970 along with the loss of two members, is The Beatles. The simplistic but highly recognisable logo, originally appearing on Ringo Starr’s drum kit during live performances, still endures. Now, however, it has become part of a musical experience, contributing to Liverpool’s tourist economy and the pockets of memorabilia manufacturers.

Brand is not just confined to artists within the music industry but also serve as a tool to help fuel a new music movement. Manchester’s Factory Records, led by the late media broadcaster Tony Wilson and a creative team involving Peter Saville, was one of the first to exploit this in the late 70s, going on to set the tone for the ‘Madchester’ scene in the 80s. By then, Factory Records had helped place Manchester as a cultural music hub, one that produced a distinctive fusion of post-punk, psychedelic rock and electronic dance. The branding that helped convey the style of ‘Madchester’ music ran from the album covers, such as New Order’s Technique, with its psychedelic imagery, through to the iconic Hacienda club, which was promoted by iconic posters harboring yellow and black stripes in accordance to the site’s industrial interior décor.

Despite the changes in the music industry over the last ten years, brand is still as relevant as ever, particularly in a commercial sense. Music artists are increasingly associating themselves with brands. This was the case with Mark Ronson’s partnership with Coca-Cola during the London 2012 Olympics. Coca-Cola has also collaborated with the Universal music label and Spotify in an initiative that uses the soft drinks global reach to connect more people to music.

The role of brand in the music industry should not be underestimated. It can be used as a platform in which to enhance the music experience or help sell a distinctive style of music that can inspire people. Music can move, but it is brand that starts a movement. 

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