Music Brands


Music imageWe've learned that in the last century music and advertisement work well together. The music and advertising industries took shape in the late 1800s and cemented their relationship with commercial radio broadcasting in the ’20s. Accompanied by groups such as the Lucky Strike Orchestra and the Vick’s Vap-o-rub Quartet, radio blurred distinctions between advertising and what we now call "content" from the start.

Early advertising music also had different aims. Music then was primarily used as a mnemonic device. Rhyme and repetition were enlisted to kept a brand name in mind. "Singing commercials" or jingles made up a self-contained genre. Music now is more often employed as "borrowed interest," capturing a feeling, setting a mood, recalling past experiences and playing them back on behalf of the sponsors.

Mass media may have integrated music and advertising from the start, but media played a much smaller role in how people experienced music. Music was played, sung, and created in the home and at local events. Popular music now is practically inseparable from media. With Walkmans, hi-fis, and car radio, music is both portable and ubiquitous, not something that requires seeking out. And with TV and, later, MTV, popular music includes visuals. We’re seeing the movie before reading the book.

We could do a similar timeline for comedy, sports, film, even books. But something about music–so immediate, and intangible and spiritual and abstract–makes its case particularly telling. Music, more than these other parts of culture, is its own language.

We originally intended this to be a couple of pages but got a little carried away. Twelve pages later, it nearly scratches the surface. When did record companies form "special products" departments to market music to nonmusic fans? What’s the history of music as a premium? Of music to sell fashion? Well, dunno. Maybe in the future we’ll expand the info here and publish a one-off–or at least update the web version. So anyone with insight is encouraged to get in touch.

One more thing: as those of us who work in the music industry well know, pop music has seen better days. The kids aren’t listening or buying; rockers can make a lot more money licensing songs for commercials and soundtracks than selling records. At the risk of overgeneralizing and boiling down very complicated issues into a pat conclusion, I don’t think this is a coincidence.