In light of last month’s announcement that the Red Bull Music Academy decided to shut down, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the program, why I think it was special, and the lessons brands can learn from the 20 years of the program’s success.
1 – Support the Arts, Not Just the Artist – Red Bull’s far-reaching program included lectures, radio programs, studios and most of all, supporting the careers of young and established artists around the world. Although marketers often grapple with how to measure the return on endeavors like this, by running the RBMA, Red Bull achieved what every marketer dreams of – transcending metrics and becoming globally known as a company that championed music and artists. Red Bull became synonymous not just with a single artist or a festival, but with what’s new in music and the culture that surrounds it. In a time when artists and ‘the arts’ are often under-funded, a cultural gap exists that can be filled by the marketing budgets of brands. By supporting the arts, brands can also demonstrate their commitment to the value of creativity that is so important to young people. Over time, the brand’s patronage of the arts becomes a platform that enables them to connect with consumers through much more personable ways than traditional media.
2 – Supporting Up and Coming Talent Can Create a Community That Outlasts the Program – One of the lasting benefits of the RBMA is the community it created. This global network of musicians is a tight-knit fabric of Red Bull supporters that includes many different music genres. Ameri Many, founder of Yadastar, the company that developed and managed the RBMA, said of the program, “When you’re looking at the academy itself, the intention is basically fostering creativity [and] when we leave, there is a new structure that has grown from these people collaborating that would usually not work together. And they continue doing that afterwards.” The community Red Bull has built is a social network of artists that will be valuable for members of the community perhaps for their entire lives. And they will always remember that Red Bull made it possible.
3 – ‘Up and Coming’ is an Undervalued Opportunity - At no point in their career is there more ‘runway’ than when an artist is first starting out, and because of this brands have the greatest opportunity to have an impact on an artist’s career before they’ve made it big. Steve Aoki knows this. He’s been singing Scion’s praises ever since he worked with them early in his career. Sadly, his sentiment outlasted the brand, but the genuine support he received in those early days had a lifelong impact, and that’s no small thing. To be sure, brands can also achieve great things by partnering with more established artists, but young artists are often the big artists of tomorrow, and by investing in them, brands also connect with their passionate fanbases of early adopters - those who are on the cusp of what’s next.
Consumers are increasingly wary of big business, and legacy brands and start-ups alike need new ways to earn consumers’ trust. Investing in the arts is a great way for brands to demonstrate their commitment to making the world a better place, and in the process connect with a young and creative community. In the wake of the announcement of the shuttering of RBMA, Flying Lotus tweeted a genuine and heartfelt ‘thank you’ in remembrance of the program. It’s the kind of sentiment every brand team dreams of when they’re launching a new program, and in a time when the internet often feels fueled by fake news and ‘fire’, it’s also the kind of sentiment that rings true.
Of course, how you bring a music program to life is as important as why you do it, and we’ll tackle that issue in a future post.