What do the following three names have in common? First right answer wins an exploitative record deal:
Leon Jackson. Louise Johnson. Steve Brookstein.
No, it's not the 13th Sugababes lineup. Each of these people won the UK's biggest music competition, The X-Factor - and then promptly slipped back into obscurity before we'd even had time to break our new year's resolutions.
What does this tell us - other than, it's better just to watch the Christmas Eastenders and forget everything else? I think it illuminates a question about how we consume our music.
Do we care about music? Or does the magic lie in the musicians? The X-Factor, which started again last week if you're interested, exploits a strange tension between the two. While the show is on, people vote for personalities. After the show is over and the winner has released their first record of their own, people cease to 'vote' with their music money and buy it. Sure, they like the personality as a feature on a TV variety show - but they don't like them as a musician. Why else would someone who commanded viewing figures in the millions disappear off the charts? And what else would explain the success of Honey G?
Depressing, perhaps - but there's promise in this, too. For one, it helps explain the continued attraction of the live gig and the live recording. But it also shows the power that can come from really partnering with an artist, not just their back catalogue. We all know about the endorsement effects that the right musician can have on a brand - Supreme found its second wind through sitting on the heads and chests of Odd Future, while the Adidas Originals campaign is built on musicians. But this is logical enough in sectors where cultural capital is part of your brand's value. What happens when you really use your partners for all they're worth?
Basically, people make a lot of money. Beats were not the first premium headphones out there; brands like Bose had been trying to get the masses to appreciate good sound for years. It was only when Dr Dre was brought on board to the Beats team that "street luxury" became viable in headphones, and unlike similar endorsements it wasn't fashion-based. Dre claimed that he'd been part of the cans creation and tuning, that Beats were designed for studio monitoring use, that they were what he used to create. What kind of young muso could resist that?
Or take Disney's remake of Tron. Bringing Daft Punk in to craft the soundtrack was a
power move of course, but getting everyone's favourite French robots to APPEAR IN
THE MOVIE was an utter masterstroke. At the time, there were rumours that you
might even see their faces in the movie. Rumours which came to nothing, but a good
partnership is nothing if it doesn't stir up some hearsay.
And you know what? Maybe they wanted to be in it, too. Thomas Bangalter and Guy- Manuel de Homem-Christo have cited the original Tron as an influence, after all. So maybe the challenge is back on the brand: can you provide a good enough brief to be worthy of your artist's passion? If you can, you might find yourself selling pairs of Yeezys for 500 quid.
Artist collaboration can go so far beyond a licensing deal. You just need to find the right partner. A person with that spark.
That je ne sais quoi. That X... no, I won't say it. You can't make me.