BANDS AS BRANDS
AND TAX WRITE-OFFS

boschi records

I spend a lot of time collecting and listening to music. Each year, I try to write off all the money I spend expanding my music collection on my income tax return as “research.”  I think this is a totally fair line item to claim. I have learned, and continue to learn, a lot about marketing and branding from the bands I listen to.

Whether it’s the importance of a great logo (NIN), or creating an artistic aura of mystique and curiosity by not including any song titles on an album sleeve (New Order), I think it’s fascinating how musical acts present and sell themselves. Don’t kid yourself; they all do it. From the corporate Timberlake to indies Diplo or Passion Pit.

In his first single to hit the charts, Bowie sings about the character Major Tom, who drifts aimlessly in outer space, and, at the same time, Bowie muses that a shirt-maker stands to have a profitable year based on Major Tom’s endorsement.

Always conscious of media and branding, Bowie would later go on to become the first artist to sell bonds using his songs. Bowie’s successful business model would even be blamed for having a role in inspiring the banking world’s “securitization” of mortgages, a contributor to the current economic recession. (Business Insider, Jan 16th, 2009).

Oh, incidentally, Bowie’s initial check which he received from the Pullman Group’s “Bowie Bonds” idea was in the neighborhood of  $55M.  Not bad for a dumb rock star in platform heels and glitter make up.

Social-networking to promote a product? Not new. The Rock and Roll world was exploiting that in the 1950s. In that era, the mob controlled most of the record industry’s distribution channels (radio, retail, juke boxes). One technique would be to identify the “coolest” kids in each local high school, and appoint them as the fan club president of whatever artist they were pushing that month. The mob–we now call this role a “promoter,” would give the kid a stipend to play the artist of the month’s new record at the malt shop after school and hand out stickers and such.

Before you knew it, there was a new hit record and a band “everyone” was talking about.  Sound familiar? Viral marketing?  See? The vintage Phil Spector albums I bought a few weeks ago should be a deduction, too. I’m researching the history of viral marketing.

Today, there’s a Facebook fan page you can join to “connect” with other fans, or an iPhone app that you can recommend to your friends instead of a crappy sticker. There’s websites like LaLa where you can “show off” your music collection by uploading your iTunes library, and link to your friends to see what they are buying and listening to.

Thanks David Fernades for introducing me to this site by the way. It’s the digital, and not mob related, version of what made songs like “Leader of the Pack” hits in the 1950 and 60s.

Let’s talk some more about how ingenious Bowie is, and why I should be allowed to deduct anything I spend on his music on my taxes.

Well before iTunes, you could download Bowie songs and listen to streamed playlists he had prepared himself on his “Bowie Net” fan community site  This was at a time when other “clever” bands barely had a webpage with some photos, a tired, hashed out biography page and maybe upcoming tour dates. Again, not bad for some kid who used to dress as a transgender pirate singing lyrics like, “Hot tramp, I love you so.” Thanks Mr. David Bowie.  I’m a member of his website, and thank you Uncle Sam, that’ll be a tax deduction too.

Okay, when we talk about bands as brands, you cannot deny the business model that is KISS. Don’t even get me started about KISS and their brilliant marketing. They would be first ones to admit to you that they are brand, not just a mere band. Take, for instance, how they decided to address “bootlegging.” The fear was that fans would tape cassette copies of the latest KISS release and distribute to their friends, rather than each fan paying for the actual royalty-earning product.

Was the solution an expensive, high-tech coding mechanism that prevented the audio transfer from vinyl to cassette?  Nope.  A cheap poster, a rub off tattoo sheet or photo set included with the packaging solved the “taping” problem.

The list of artists with great marketing plans is a long one, with acts including U2, Jay-Z and Radiohead serving as excellent case studies. I guess my point is this: the next time you’re enjoying tunes by your favorite band, have a thought about what they are as a brand. There’s certainly a wealth of ideas out there, not to mention inspiring music.

You might even get a few dollars knocked off your taxes.

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Written by Paul Boschi
Paul Boschi

January 13th, 2010 at 6:27 pm

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