For those that know me, you certainly realize I have a “slight” passion for music. It scores my life (and some of yours… 😉 ) . It is ALWAYS on in my house, my office, my car, my headphones (when discretion is required) and in my heart. So when I sat in my office this morning thinking of what to write, I (of course) had my iTunes randomly playing tunes out of the thousands of choices. It shuffled from Moby and Gwen Stefani to Stevie Wonder to Stevie Vai to Ella Fitzgerald and on to Curt Cobain and Nirvana. Then it hit me.

Do you have a “studio brand?”

The song that brought the inspiration for this post was Nirvana’s “In Bloom” from the Live At Reading LP. Now, normally this song is a sure-to-be-cranked track in my play-list, but as this particular version rolled out of my speakers, I wondered how much longer before my wife could ACTUALLY see the blood dripping from my ears. It was horrible. Cobain’s vocals were slurred, muddy and dissonant. His guitar and Novoselic’s bass sounded like a couple college kids’ drunk foray into pornographic mud wrestling. And poor Dave Grohl couldn’t find a steady rhythmic path for any of them to stagger down.

Disappointing. So much so, I deleted the entire Live at Reading album from iTunes.

BUT… I kept every other Nirvana album (All 4 including MTV Unplugged) made “in the studio.” Would you like to guess why?

Brand Perception.

The “Studio Nirvana” is the brand I became a fan of way back in 1993. I became a fan of Kurt’s raucous, painful lyrics. I became a fan of the aggressive drive and colors they painted in my mind – all pleasantly presented to me after months of studio engineering.

But unbeknownst to me (and millions of other college radio fans), this was NOT the way Kurt, Dave and Krist intended Nirvana to be heard. As Cobain yelled from the stage during a 1991 concert in Seattle,

“Hello, we’re major label corporate rock sell outs.” (04/17/91 at the O.K. Hotel, Seattle, Washington)

Just for the record, I don’t think Kurt had “40+ year old me” in mind when he wrote his songs…

And so the Nirvana brand dichotomy was born. Studio sell-outs? Tortured alt-punk artists? That was up to the fans to decide, and we all know which won out.

Now, I could cite other vast discrepancies in brand marketing to “real-life” brands in the music industry **cough-Taylor Swift-cough** … but I think you get my point.

Too many brands (music industry or not) have “difficulties” holding up past the release of the studio-mastered album. Not for trying, of course, these “artists” dance and sing their souls out and ultimately wind up broken and disenchanted with their career, their art, their fans and the “brand” they’ve been trying to portray.  So lies the issue.

Take a close look at your marketing collateral and website. Does it have your TRUE voice? Is it indicative of what potential fans will experience when they meet you IRL (in real life)? Remember, eventually you’re going to have to pick up that guitar or microphone and give those fans what they expect.  Can you?

What other brands – music or not – have you encountered that couldn’t seem to hold up past their shiny “studio” exterior? What advice do YOU have for companies that work to be what they aren’t (or can’t be)?

I’d love to get the conversation boiling!

Keep Cooking!
Andrew B. Clark
The Brand Chef

  1. Good post, Brand Chef. From a musical standpoint, you’re entirely correct that polished studio records often misrepresent musicians of all genres. Nothing worse than attending a live show and realizing a band you love really isn’t all that talented. Refund please.

    Relating this to marketing, myriad campaigns are guilty of embellishing the advantages of products and services, but to some extent, that’s the primary purpose of marketing. Makes one wonder if music producers don’t have the same moral dilemma that affects some marketers, where they don’t necessarily believe in the musicians (clients) but still refine the presentation of the music (products/service) because, well, it’s their job.

    Always nice when bands sound just as good live as they do on record. And similarly, it’s always refreshing to work with clients whose products/services have legitimate value. Makes your job as a producer…err, marketer…that much more rewarding. Much easier to tell the true story of a good product than to weave a fabricated tale around a lousy one.

    • Hey Joe –

      Thanks so much for the great comment. Well thought and DEAD ON!

      It IS our responsibility as marketers (producers) to create and distribute “marketable” branding for our clients without pulling “studio tricks” and “enhancements” to make the brand more “palatable.” As a marketer, I try to be a TRUE as possible with my client’s messages and brand. With that, I can empower the client to stand on their own and be “all they can” for their fans. If I find a brand that needs help, then I help, but I’m BRUTALLY honest if they just can’t get to where they want to be.

      That’s where the good “producers” come in. Don’t try to market Bob Dylan to the Michael Buble fans… Target the right audience and you will be on your way to platinum… 😉

      Keep Cooking
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef