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Band as brand

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Monday, Sep 29, 2008

PSFK has a post about Of Montreal’s eagerness to seize upon branding as a way to make money as revenue streams from intellectual property collapses. Like some sort of would-be futurist, frontman Kevin Barnes has even written a manifesto on the subject.


Once we’ve established a comfortable self-sense of our current identity, we want to parade it. We want to campaign for it. We want the whole world to know, “look look, this is me, how you like me now?”. To project our self identity into the outer and, to amplify the howl of our self expression, we have many tools at our disposal; our art, our clothing and hair style, the way we talk…, and, for a lot of us, the objects that populate our living spaces….


of Montreal has, from the beginning, taken great pains to always put a lot of thought and care into the art packaging for our records. We’ve always felt that the packaging was just as important as the music inside of it. We’ve worked within the constraints of conventional album packaging, and have tried to create something fantastically uncommon every time. Now, we find ourselves in the middle of an exciting epoch: A time, when new technology has shattered the conventional business model and has set a paradigm shift in motion. For some people in the music biz, this is terrifying. For us, it is a fucking miracle! While the kings are in a stupor, we are going to take full advantage of the changing guard.


It seems inevitable that music would become secondary to a band’s ability to have a large-scale impact. To use some guru manifesto rhetoric of my own for a second, music longs to be intimate, local, small-scale, human, as befits its roots in unifying small communities with rhythmic rituals. Brands evolve from the demands of mass marketing, of packaging a lifestyle that allows individuals to transcend or reject the constraints of whatever community they might otherwise have to be attached to. As music’s viability as a commercial product wanes, its original significance returns and it becomes a local and live phenomenon open to universal participation. Anyone can make music and share it, and the meaningful music of the future will be made by you or your friends. Bands can’t simply be musicians anymore and expect to function in the mass market; they need to underscore the elements of brand marketing that have always been latent and make them the total package. They need to be lifestyle-promoting companies who happen to use sound as one of their tools.


But the music-identity nexus that Of Montreal wants to exploit to sell its “exceptional object” hinges on the product not being regarded as slick marketing but as the authentic outpouring of artists that people in subcultures want to emulate or experience vicariously. But who wants to experience vicariously the excitement of coming up with a hot new way of selling T-shirts and posters? Of his grand idea to make packaging more interesting than what is packaged, Barnes writes, “We hope this idea catches on and, in the future, square CD packaging will be abandoned forever and only interesting art objects will fill record stores.” So in other words, he hopes record stores will in fact cease to be record stores and become either hipster knickknack shops or variants on Hot Topic.



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