The Marketing of Rock 'N Roll - Part Two



This week, it's Part Two of Marketing Rock 'n Roll.

As the 1980s roll around, technology changes rock and roll marketing forever, with the arrival of MTV.

The launch of MTV is one of the great marketing stories of all time, as it almost went under before it began - but was saved by Mick Jagger and a one dollar bill.

We'll analyze how MTV changed the music business, and how Michael Jackson's video Thriller changed MTV. We'll also talk about how the Internet revolutionized the marketing of rock and roll - from iTunes, to Justin Bieber being discovered on YouTube, to the invention of music Apps.

Suddenly technology was the newest rock star.

One night, in 1965, Keith Richards was lying facedown on his bed in London, England.

He had passed out after a night of partying.

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Keith Richards in his creative mode.
Source: cherrybombed.com

When he woke up in the morning, he noticed that the new cassette tape he had put in the Phillips recorder he always kept beside his bed had run out to the end.

So he rewound it, and listened.

There he heard two minutes of an interesting guitar riff.

He didn't remember writing the chords, but he must have woken up from a dream and recorded it.

He knew that because when he played the tape back, he could hear himself grab his guitar, play the riff a few times, and drop the guitar pick - which was followed by 40 minutes of snoring.

Eventually, he gave the tape to Mick Jagger and asked him to write the words.

Richards didn't think the song was commercial enough for a single. But he was outvoted by the band, and the song was released.


Satisfaction was a song about alienation - and marketing. -
Source: YouTube

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction became The Rolling Stones first number one record, staying at the top of the North American charts for four weeks.

While the theme of the song was alienation, the subject matter... was marketing.

When the band came to America, they could not believe the relentless commercialization and advertising hype they were subjected to. As Jagger later said, coming from Britain, they had never seen anything like it.

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The famous "tongue" logo of the Stones, with a nod to America.
Source: photobucket.com

Jagger sang about listening to those commercial pitches, but never finding satisfaction, and used actual lines from ads he had seen.

Satisfaction kicked the band into the stratosphere. It has since been celebrated as one of the best rock songs in history, ranking #2 in Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

While the Stones railed against marketing in that song, they were to become one of rock's greatest marketers.

And as we pick up our story here in Part Two, we discover the next wave of Marketing Rock and Roll wasn't fuelled by the music.

It was jet-powered... by technology.

It all began with a Monkee.

In 1977, Mike Nesmith, formerly of the Monkees, wrote a solo tune called Rio.


The very first music video, created by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith.
Source: YouTube

His record company asked him to create a "promo clip" for the song.

So Nesmith shot a short video that showed him on a horse, singing into a 1920s microphone, dancing at a party, flying through space, and landing on a beach in Rio.

It was kooky and funny - with only the loosest of story lines - and it wasn't at all what the record company had asked for. They expected a short film of Michael Nesmith standing in front of a microphone singing his song.

As Nesmith recounts in the excellent book, I Want My MTV, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, he presented the record company with something they had never seen before.

Instead of the images driving the narrative, the song did. And it didn't matter if those images lacked continuity or seemed disconnected.

It just worked. And it was a profound conceptual shift in film-making.

No one knew what to call this new kind of promo clip. Some called it a "video record," others, an "illustrated song." But whatever it was called, it managed to get aired in Australia, where Rio went to number one.

That success prompted Nesmith to approach Warner cable television executive John Lack with the idea of a television program dedicated to playing music videos.

Nesmith called the idea, "PopClips."


"PopClips" was the video show idea Nesmith pitched to cable TV executive John Lack.
Source: YouTube

John Lack was a pioneer in cable television. I worked with John a few years later, when he launched the Amazing Video Machine in Canada. Prior to that, he had developed the Movie Channel, ESPN 2 and Nickelodeon.

Lack was intrigued by Nesmith's idea, which he called a "video radio station."

So he paid Nesmith for the PopClips concept, and put a pilot on Nickelodeon as a test. And every time it aired, the phones rang off the hook.

That convinced John Lack that the time was right for a 24-hour all-music channel.

But how John Lack presented the idea of "music television" to his board of directors was very telling.

The pitch had nothing to do with music videos. And everything to do with marketing.

At that time, there was no programming aimed at the 12 to 34 year-old television audience. If advertisers wanted to reach that market, they had nowhere to spend their money. But a music television channel could deliver that audience.

That would cause three important things to happen:

One - Cable providers would be able to sign up thousands of new customers, as this music channel would only be available via cable.

Two - They would also be able to sell secondary cable connections for kid's bedrooms and basements, because parents wouldn't want rock music blaring in their living rooms.

And three - advertisers would flock to the station.

The only thing Lack needed to pull all this off was music videos.

FREE music videos.

So he approached all the record labels and asked them to provide music videos at no charge. And got immediately turned down. The record industry was in a slump, and they wanted to be paid for their content.

But they couldn't ignore the exposure the music channel would give their artists, and the bands pressured the labels to get onboard. So eventually - reluctantly - the labels agreed to provide the videos for free.

On August 1st, 1981, MTV was launched.

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The famous MTV logo, created by Mad Man George Lois.
Source: nyoobserver.files.wordpress.com

The station featured VJs - not DJs - and the first VJ the world laid eyes on was Mark Goodman:


The very first few minutes of MTV.
Source: YouTube

The very first video MTV chose to play was not a hit, but rather the very symbolic, Video Killed The Radio Star, by the Buggles.


The first music video ever aired on MTV - VIdeo Killed The Radio Star.
Source: YouTube

In order to keep the record labels onside, MTV had to prove that videos sold records.

So a few weeks after the launch, they sent a team to Tulsa, Oklahoma to see if the music channel was having any effect. Tulsa just happened to have one of the biggest concentrations of cable subscribers.

The first thing the team discovered was that record stores there had sold out of the latest Tubes album, and MTV was the only place playing the Tubes.

Next, a local radio station told them they had to change their format because suddenly listeners were requesting songs they saw on MTV.

Then the record stores said, "Oh my God, now we're selling out of Buggles albums."

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Suddenly, Buggles' records began selling out.
Source: cloudfront.net

That's when everyone realized the one-two punch of MTV: Exposure on MTV led to radio airplay, and together, both led to record sales.

While all that was good news, the music channel had another big problem. It had no revenue.

Advertisers were still staying away.

MTV was burning through its start-up cash. And staff worried it might be shut down before it really got going.

So MTV hired adman George Lois to create an advertising campaign to get the music channel on the map with Madison Avenue.

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Original Mad Man George Lois created the "I Want My MTV" advertising campaign.
Source: imjustcreative.com

Lois, an original Mad Man, suggested the slogan, "I want my MTV." He figured kids would use that phrase to bug their parents to subscribe. And when enough homes signed on, advertisers couldn't ignore the music station any longer.

Then Lois said he needed a big rock star in the launch commercial. And he wanted... Mick Jagger.

So MTV sent Les Garland, the head of programming, to negotiate with Jagger. Garland's pitch was simple - all Jagger had to say on camera was, "I want my MTV."

Mick said sorry, the Stones don't do commercials.

But Garland said he noticed that Jovan Fragrances had sponsored the Stones' recent tour and that the sponsorship had involved a lot of advertising.

Jagger protested, saying the reason they did that was because they got paid a lot of money.

Garland said, "So what you're saying, Mick, is that you do commercials... for money."

Which got a small laugh out of Jagger.

Then Garland said, "We don't have any money. But if this is about money, Mick, I'll give you a dollar." And threw a dollar bill on the table.

Jagger looked at it, smiled, and said, "I like you, Les. I'll do it."

And with that, MTV was saved.


When Mick Jagger said he wanted his MTV, the video station was saved.
Source: YouTube

Once Jagger was in, that meant Billy Idol was in:


When Jagger said yes, it attracted other rock stars to the campaign,
Source: YouTube

And Pete Townshend was in:


Source: YouTube

And David Bowie was in:


Source: YouTube

And the Police were in:


Source: YouTube

And Pat Benatar was in:


Source: YouTube

And viewers did. With their favourite bands endorsing MTV, subscriptions exploded, ad revenue started to pour in, and the music business changed forever.

The videos were like ads for the artists and songs. And those ads played over and over again.

MTV made another lasting impact on the music business: It ushered in branding.

Now an artist's popularity didn't just depend on the music anymore, it also hinged on their image. Bands now had to build their brands.

Many argued that MTV was a marketing vehicle that valued image over talent.

That fear was fully realized when top video act Milli Vanilli was discovered to be lip-syncing their songs.


At a live concert, Milli Vanilli's song actually started to skip, exposing the fact they were lip-syncing.
Source: YouTube

They were models posing as singers, and it exposed the underbelly of the new image-driven world of music videos. Yet to refuse to do videos was to miss out on the music marketing vehicle of the era. Madonna, Duran Duran and Bon Jovi - all sold millions of records thanks to videos.

New directors and editing techniques emerged, as did visual effects, vivid colours, sexuality and odd juxtapositions that would go on to influence movies and television.

MTV pulled the record industry out of its slump, and became a hot TV destination as audiences sat mesmerized in front of their TVs all day long.

But, unbeknownst to MTV, it was about to hit the mother lode.

Michael Jackson had released an album called Thriller in November of 1982.

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This album that would change the fortunes of MTV.
Source: wikimedia.org

The first three hit singles had videos. The Girl Is Mine, Beat It, then Billie Jean:

The Thriller album had already been on the charts for a year, and most assumed it had finished its run.

But then Jackson did something that had never been done before: He shot a 15-minute mini-movie for the title song.


The Thriller video was like a short movie, directed by John Landis.
Source: YouTube

Most video budgets hovered around $50,000. Thriller would cost half a million.

It generated so much press, that it became the first video MTV ever paid for. Actually, they paid a quarter of a million dollars for a 45-minute documentary on the Making of Thriller, which culminated with the 15-minute video.

It would become the most successful video in MTV history:

Thriller played every hour, complete with a countdown to each airing.

MTV had taken an album that was already a year old, and turned it into the best selling album of all time.

And with that, MTV proved once and for all that technology was the new rock star.

When the Internet arrived 10 years later, digital technology turned everything upside down. Suddenly, bands could market their music directly to fans.

The need for a middleman became less important, and record companies struggled to stay relevant.

The Internet also allowed for file sharing, so fans could access music without paying for it.

That led to a high-profile lawsuit where Metallica not only sued file-sharing site Napster and three universities for allowing students to trade MP3s, but they also sued 20 of their fans for illegal distribution of their music.

The upheaval in the music industry turned ugly and out of control.

Then, in January of 2001, Apple introduced iTunes.

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iTunes would finally convince artists to sell their music online.
Source: underconsideration.com

iTunes imposed a sense of order for the online music world. Steve Jobs believed that people didn't inherently want to steal music. So Apple charged 99 cents per song, or $1.29 if the song was a hit, using, of course, the pricing psychology of 9s.

Have you ever looked closely at the icon for "Artists" on your iPhone or iPod? That silhouette on the bottom of your screen is actually Bono, from U2.

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Yup, that icon on your iPhone is none other than Bono.
Source: feelnumb.com

Bands like U2 did more than put their songs on iTunes, they leveraged it to market their music. Apple issued a special black and red U2 iPod in 2004, and Bono offered up U2 for an iPod commercial.


The TV commercial U2 did promoting Vertigo and iPods.
Source: YouTube

Bob Dylan did a free TV commercial for iPod just to get the exposure for his new album Modern Times - which resulted in his first #1 record since 1976.

Billions of downloaded songs made iTunes the number one music retailer in the world, complete with its own music chart.

Then, in 2005, technology recorded its next historic beat. It was called YouTube.


The clip that inspired the creation of YouTube.
Source: YouTube

YouTube founder Jawed Karim stated that one of the inspirations for YouTube was another member of the Jackson family - not Michael, but the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction on the 2004 Super Bowl.

He had trouble finding a clip of it online, and that led to the idea of a video sharing site.

The impact of YouTube on the marketing of music was unprecedented.

Maybe the most indicative story is Canada's own Justin Bieber.

He was discovered on YouTube. His mother had uploaded a series of videos so friends and family could see 13-year old Justin singing:


The Biebs singing in the bathroom.
Source: YouTube

The videos caught the eye of a manager, who introduced him to Usher, and the rest is history.

While The Beatles were watched by 73 million people that night on Ed Sullivan back in 1964, YouTube makes that number seem quaint.


Bieber's song "Baby" is approaching one billion views.
Source: YouTube

Bieber's video for his song Baby has now reached over 940 million views, making it the second most-watched video in YouTube history.

And thanks to YouTube, Bieber now ranks third on the Forbes list of celebrity earners - at the tender age of 19.

The Biebs returned the favour by introducing Carly Rae Jepson to his manager, and a video for Call Me Maybe was put on YouTube.


Bieber discovered Carly Rae Jepson, and her song has surpassed 500 million views now.
Source: YouTube

Views as of this writing: Over 500 million. The song has topped the charts in 19 countries.

But those eye-popping stats pale compared to the music video for a virtually unknown Korean singer named Psy:


The most viewed music video in history.
Source: YouTube

Gangnam Style has been viewed over 1.8 billion times, making it the most viewed YouTube video in history.

In 2011, YouTube launched its own weekly music video chart, called The YouTube 100. Then in 2013, Billboard couldn't ignore the marketing power of YouTube any longer, and started including YouTube viewer counts in its calculations.

Not only that, but views from user-generated clips using the audio from YouTube music videos are also factored into the Billboard charts.

Technology was now delivering the exposure, the record sales, and breaking music news.


When Jackson died, Google actually thought it was under attack.
Source: YouTube

When Michael Jackson died on June 25th, 2009, so many people searched his name at 2:45pm, that Google actually thought it was under attack.

When the Beatles eventually stopped suing Apple Computers for trademark infringement on their Apple record label, a suit that began by the way in 1978, the Fab Four finally began marketing their music on iTunes in 2010.

That news broke on social media. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram became vital marketing vehicles for artists to stay connected, becoming the fan clubs of the 21st century.

As of this writing, seven of the top ten people with the most Twitter followers are music artists.

Katy Perry is number one with 48 million.

Mr. Bieber is number two with 47,500,000.

Lady Gaga is tied with the President of the United States at roughly 40 million each.

And Stephen Harper is hot on their tail with 390,000.

Then came apps. Now bands could connect with fans not just through websites, but with their smart phones.

One of the most interesting examples of an app-driven marketing campaign came courtesy of none other than the Rolling Stones. The band released a special box set commemorating their recent 50th anniversary.

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The Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary box set.
Source: rollingstones.com

It was titled "Grrr!" and the cover featured a gorilla sporting the famous Rolling Stone tongue logo.

When you downloaded a special app, you could use it to see a remarkable augmented reality marketing campaign.

On five continents, in 50 cities, and using over 3,000 tagged landmarks such as Big Ben in London, the Sidney Opera House, and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, you could aim the app and see a virtual 3D King Kong-style gorilla climbing those very buildings.

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This app let fans watch the gorilla actually climb landmarks in their own cities.
Source: google.ca

Followed by a montage of Rolling Stones footage - and a button to buy the new album.

The septuagenarian band, who had their first number one hit with Satisfaction back in 1965, had pulled off the biggest global augmented-reality marketing campaign to date.

And it all began with a monkee.

In conclusion, Keith Richards once said, "Since Elvis in 1956, rock and roll and television never really hit it off."

All that changed with MTV.

It brought new exposure to artists at a time when the record industry was in a slump. And for better or for worse - it also brought branding to popular music - and bands suddenly had to sell their image as well as their talent.

But MTV's effect wasn't fleeting. As the book I Want My MTV points out, if an artist's peak coincided with the Golden Age of MTV, chances are those artists are the few remaining ones that can still sell out arenas today - like Madonna, U2, Bon Jovi and Springsteen.

Technology was the new star in marketing rock and roll. Apple sold 275 million iPods in its first nine years, which is more than the number of records sold by Elton John, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and U2 in their careers.

YouTube, the continuum of MTV, now gives artists more eyeballs than the heady days of the Ed Sullivan Show.

And social media lets those artists connect directly to fans in ways that seemed unimaginable only a few years ago.

Yet, while technology has completely revolutionized how rock and roll is marketed, the basic underpinning remains unchanged.

Technology promotes artists, songs, touring, fan clubs and merchandise. A blueprint first sketched out on the back of a napkin by a carnival barker named Colonel Tom Parker, way back in 1956.

After all these years, it's a strategy that still has us all shook up...

...when you're under the influence.

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