FEATURE: The Musician As a Brand: Should There Be a Limit?



The Musician As a Brand



Should There Be a Limit?


FROM time to time…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I scour the online pages of The Guardian for inspiration - I saw an interesting feature that was published there recently. The horrifying news stared out at me: George Ezra has his own podcast! I won’t bore you with the details – I am sure he will do that on his own – but there are some worrying facts coming out. It is called, in a nod to Shakespeare and Kafka I am sure, George Ezra & Friends; it features contributions from such heavyweights as Ed Sheeran and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. It is understandable one young songwriter would talk to similar musicians in order to get their perspective on the industry: guidance to those who want to emulate their idols and see what they went through. Shocking revelations from the series include Ed Sheeran busking and dodging showers; Rag ‘n’ Bone Man struggling to get musician friends to return his calls and strangling a Doberman in a Tesco carpark for peeing on his Subaru (the is a lie: it would have added much-needed spice to the podcast). I am sure things will get spicier regards George Ezra & Friends – but I am not holding my breath. I wouldn’t object to the idea of a musician podcast were there anything different and interesting. One might not expect George Ezra to match knuckles with Liam Gallagher or get Lady Gaga a little pissed. It is a rather vanilla and forgettable series that interviews musicians whose stories and anecdotes have already been expressed in millions of ways on countless radio shows.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Jessie Ware had a successful podcast in 2017: Will Young’s podcast, Homo Sapiens, is still going. There are those who argue (these podcasts) provide relief and detachment from the pre-planned scripts of the record labels. The artist is not bound by a radio show and a certain way of speaking – they get to be a normal person and add a new dimension to their bow. Podcasts are becoming ever-popular and it seems you are not somebody until you have one. I can only imagine it is a matter of time before Rihanna has her own; maybe a warts-and-all symposium from James Blake? I have mentioned one name, Liam Gallagher, who would actually bring something good to the podcast! You couldn’t broadcast it live – anyone sharp enough to bleep the expletives that fast should have their fingers insured! – but a one-off podcast from Gallagher, where he shares his taste in music and interviews a guest, would be appealing. It is the one-off notion that appeals more to me. If the idea of George Ezra chatting to hirsute and unwashed musicians is enough to peel the skin from your testicles – avoidance, luckily, is easier than commitment! I like Ezra’s music and feel he offers something interesting to the music industry. It is the bland and ready-for-Starbucks nature of music that irks me.

Turning musicians into a ‘star’ is nothing new. Everyone from Britney Spears and J. Lo have launched their own perfumes (and advertised other perfume brands(: Madonna, Kanye West and Rihanna (among others) have their own clothing lines. Throw in the number of artists who have promoted various headphones (Pharrell Williams and will.i.am) – the list goes on and on. There is a difference between commercials and other brands and the artist setting up their own lines. It is a tricky argument to settle. On the one hand; artists can influence people and raise money for causes; get their music out there in different forms and create their own identity. I feel a lot of musicians want that freedom from the label and a chance to be who they really are. I have mentioned will.i.am: he is hugely into technology and has innovated and invented breakthrough products. I guess he sees himself more a businessman and inventor – among other things. The thing I have an issue with is musicians feeling they need to spread themselves thinly and get involved in every avenue possible. Hollywood and the film industry is different but that is different: I expect commercialism and endless product placements there. Music is turning more and more into an advertising channel! How long before the aforementioned Rag ‘n’ Bone Man brings us the unique scent of wet cat?! A special aftershave, Scratch!, is not as far-fetched as you’d think.


IN THIS PHOTO: Rag 'n' Bone Man (the new face of Scratch!, perhaps?)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I wonder why artists need to sell products and cheapen themselves. I’m sure the money is good but I find myself annoyed by artists who sell products. If you believe in something then you can say it on social media: why go on T.V. and film and create a nauseating advert?! Podcasts are different but, again; do musicians add anything special and worthwhile? I feel it is a move towards celebrity and creating a ‘brand’. There might be some good podcasts from musicians but I feel, if you are going that way; it is important adding something inspiring and challenging. There is a lot of scope for a musician to create something great and progressive in a podcast: the fact most do not is a wasted opportunity. Maybe combining interviews and live performances with personal insight; some charity angle or discussion about deeper issues – a varied show that would genuinely bring people in. The latest step from George Ezra leaves me wondering what his motives and objectives are. I cannot imagine too many will tune in to hear what Ed Sheeran has to say about his early life and touring – he has done Desert Island Discs and numerous interviews. Whilst podcasts are more successful in the hands of other people: I feel the musician can do a lot of good if they look beyond being famous and creating their own brand.

Selling headphones, technology and aftershave is not going to do a lot of good for anyone – except for the wallets of the artists involved. I get fed up seeing any celebrity advertising anything: having a musician linking their name with anything unconnected with their own music is egregious. It is hard earning money in the business - but I wonder whether cheapening yourself is the best way of solving the issue. Musicians have an important voice and, in these times, that is best served tackling issues and conflicts that are evident. Rather than link with brands and get your face everywhere possible: create a podcast or show that puts issues at the forefront; promote and back a product/service that is worthwhile and important. Streaming and the Internet makes it easier than ever to get your music and words anywhere you want. I hope things change so there is less of a lure regards advertising and needless podcasts. I have never been a fan of musicians establishing their own fashion labels and anything unconnected with music. Some would argue this entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring for youngsters: they will see their favourite star being successful in the business world and that will compel them to do likewise. I see that but raise you this: it means nothing if the music itself is not strong.



I am not against musicians being varied and ambitious. My problems arise when their endeavours contribute very little to the world. If the motive is indulgence and money then it sends out a bad message to fans and others. There are so many causes that need voices; nations and communities that could benefit from the voice and image of a musician. Podcasts are an avenue that would benefit from something more fun, intelligent and original. I am sure there is a lot of fun to be had listening to your favourite musician chatting with other artists about their upbringing and rise to success. We are in a year where musicians can genuinely change things and use their status to affect some real improvement. Hearing boring podcasts and watching artists flog tacky brands is not what we need now – or have ever needed. The notion of ‘the musician as a brand’ is one that divides opinion and creates some interesting arguments. Commercialism and musician-endorsed activities have been happening for decades now: it has not necessarily increased with the advent of the Internet. There is a lot of good to be done out there: our best artists have the opportunity to inspire future generations in areas unrelated to…whatever modern artists feel they are doing. It is okay if you have a fashion label or perfume – we do not need to see generations idolise that! Scarp the dull chin-wags between musicians and limit those who lend their faces to all manner of terrible products. Instead; create a fantastic brand that sees musicians, new and established, support change and kickstart innovation – and create podcasts/broadcasts that challenge the mind in addition to entertaining it. The latest nightmare podcast, George Ezra & Friends, is fluffy and disposal – a throwaway contribution that adds nothing of much value. It should be a lesson to artists that they should use their power and position to add something positive to the world…

RATHER than waste a lot of time.