The Patron Project: Discussing the Future of Artist/Brand Relationships

What happens when you put representatives from five major brands in the same room with a handful of rock legends?

That’s exactly what The Patron Project, a panel discussion at TRI Studios in San Rafael, aimed to find out. Musicians Bob Weir (The Grateful Dead), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), and Lukas Nelson (Promise of the Real) sat down with reps from Dolby, RedBull, EMI, Pandora, and Microsoft.

The result was a brilliant dialogue about the changing face of sponsorship and how brands engage with their target audiences. Much of the discussion involved the renewed use of an old term, “patronage”, as opposed to “sponsorship”. The important distinction made was the level of authenticity and dedication in such a partnership. The panelists made it clear that with the changing state of the music industry, artists now depend more and more brands as a source of support. The general consensus from both sides was a desire for more meaningful, long-term relationships between artists and brands.

Five quotes capture the spirit and main points of the discussion:

“You become cool by integration, not association.”-Gunnar Larson, Director of Music, Dolby Laboratories.

“The concept of selling out doesn’t exist anymore. Patronage helps the artist in ways record labels can’t anymore.”-Lukas Nelson, Musician, Promise of the Real.

“Sometimes your best brand strategy is not to be loud about you, but about the music.”-Jason Fisher, Digital Marketing Manager, Red Bull Media House.

“A sponsor is buying the artist, a patron is genuinely interested in the artist.”-Bob Weir, Musician, The Grateful Dead.

“People have emotional connections with music. Brands can harness this emotional power and use it to their advantage.”-Dax  Kimbrough, Former Director of Brand Partnerships, EMI Music / Capitol Records.

The music industry is a “ground zero” for the changing nature of the relationship between brands and artists. Examples like the Re:Generation Project – which was sponsored by Hyundai and which facilitated unexpected collaborations between young DJs like Skrillex and Pretty Lights with heros of other genres like The Doors and Ralph Stanley – demonstrate the potential for different groups to build deep authentic relationships around sponsorship. Those relationships can produce not just great marketing campaigns, but incredible creative outputs.

After the discussion, the brand reps exited the stage and the seasoned rockstars picked up their instruments for an amazing, intimate live performance in an acoustically immaculate recording space. They played classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes such as “Mustang Sally”, along with songs from each respective artist’s career.

It was a reminder of why we had all gathered for discussion – and why this particular discussion was so important to the future of artistic production – serious talent deserves to be heard.

Photographer: Michael O’Donnell



  • by Scott Oller
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