A large drinks company which supports live music across the UK has re-launched its sponsored night in Glasgow with much fanfare this week claiming to have ‘a new music concept’. This new music concept has been driven on behalf of the drinks company by a marketing company. The marketing company have based their new music concept around a survey of one hundred 18-34 years olds. Now, some may say I am sceptical or maybe even overly cynical when it comes to matters like this. Maybe I am. I have a rather uneasy relationship with drinks companies sponsoring events or national institutions. Recently the two best supported football clubs in Glasgow changed sponsors from one drinks firm to another; ask 100 nurses or doctors in Scotland whether they think it is a good idea that Scotland’s largest football teams are sponsored by an alcoholic drink and I bet the results are less surprising than the music survey, which would be going some. But we shall come to that a bit later. I should put my cards on the table here and state that my uneasiness may stem in part from my own relationship with alcohol. I am a recovering alcoholic, however I am well aware of the reasons why I used to drink to excess and I can categorically say that it had nothing to do with football sponsorship, tv advertising or branding at the music festivals I attend. However, in a country such as Scotland *where mortality from drinking could be as high as 1 in every 20 compared to a UK wide average of almost double that figure**, I believe that where drinks companies are involved with sponsoring high profile events then they should be held to account. The benefits should be obvious otherwise the downside is simply not worth it. Cigarette manufacturers have every right to look at the rules for advertising and believe there are incredible double standards involved, particularly in relation to drinks companies in Scotland where alcohol related deaths and illnesses are so prevalent. Let’s look at this from another angle; drinks companies spend millions on researching the best way to advertise their products. They know how to maximise the ‘exploitation’ of a given market while spending the lowest amount of money. Drinks companies know that by associating themselves with specific lifestyles that they become a more attractive proposition for certain demographics. Advertising is all about market share; you choose a market and you find out what that market wants. You then exploit that market in each of the locations where you are directing your advertising revenue whether through tv or radio advertising, or whether that is through sponsoring live music venues or events. This is not a charity or some kind of philanthropic venture, this is about selling beer. Right? Well, it is and isn’t. For example, some of the people involved in the Glasgow based venture I mentioned at the top of the page are thoroughly decent people with whom I have had dealings with in the past and who I know are passionate about music at grass roots level. Some of the people involved I wouldn’t believe if they told me the sky was blue, however they may well also be decent people. Mind you, I have emails from them that would state otherwise, so perhaps not the best example after all. The point is that the drinks company and marketing people have one agenda and the people on the ground have another. The hopeful outcome is something which everyone can live with and does some good for the local music scene. Ok, so back to that survey***. The results showed that 84 of those who responded said they would prefer to see their favourite band play in an intimate venue. (DUH!) The survey also found that 80 respondents would like to hear the music from their favourite bands stripped back and played the way it was “meant to be heard”. (I am curious about this answer, what if your favourite band is Delphic or Massive Attack? Surely how it is recorded on the album is how it was meant to be heard?). Finally the survey found that 64 respondents would happily pay more to be closer to their favourite band. Right, I have many problems with this type of survey but I will keep this brief. Firstly, from the above answers I would ask the 16 respondents who said they wouldn’t like to see their favourite band play in a small venue if they could count to ten, or tie their own shoelaces? I mean, come on? Why would you not want to see your favourite band play in a small local venue? It’s just silly. Secondly, what type of question is how would you like to hear your favourite bands music performed? Thirdly, so people would like to pay more to see their favourite bands as long as they could be closer to them? Draw your own conclusions. The drinks company in question had previously ran a night in a good sized venue in Glasgow where people only had to text or email to get a free ticket for the event. The bands on show were local bands who probably hadn’t played to a large-ish room before so these gigs were deemed a big step up for them. These nights were an opportunity for small bands to play in front of a larger audience, with the added bonus of the gig being filmed and then shown on the internet. In other words, these gigs were supposed to be a showcase for local bands, a step up if you will. I attended a few of the nights, some more successful than others but all in all I thought it was a noble idea and a great opportunity for the bands involved. The new format for the gigs will be as follows: 1) The gigs will no longer be free. 2) There will be a headline band of repute. 3) The gigs will no longer be filmed and shown freely on the internet. Now call me old fashioned, but doesn’t it just sound like a normal acoustic gig by a signed band with a local support? Before anyone thinks I am out to lambaste the drinks company I am not. The drinks company are not doing anything different than happens in thousands of venues up and down the UK. I am also not going to knock the opportunity for local bands to play alongside major UK artists, I think it is a great opportunity. My issue here is marketing and what I see is an opportunity lost. The press release runs as follows *** “Following a survey commissioned by ######, a new music concept, ##### Filtered Music, has been created by Jack Horner of marketing agency Frukt Communications.” There you have it. “a new music concept, created by Jack Horner of marketing agency Frukt Communications”. If you are a music fan and you haven’t been to an acoustic performance by one of your favourite bands where the support has come from a local band then you don’t go to enough gigs. There is nothing new here; this is selling sand to the Arabs. Or beer to the Scots if you will. The whole situation saddens me because I feel this is a massive opportunity lost. There is an incredibly vibrant DIY scene in Scotland at present. An injection of cash by a drinks company could have been used to much greater effect by sponsoring the production of a DIY album featuring the best bands the wider public have never heard. Or by paying for a new website which groups together all the disparate bloggers and musicians who are already driving the underground scene. We could have had one off band contests where the winners received new instruments or recording time. Not a battle of the bands competition with whoever sells the most tickets winning. Something unique. We could have had a new online channel streaming live video performances from unsigned bands. We could have had a series of split releases featuring bands recorded in true punk style; two songs recorded, mixed and released in one weekend with competitions for artists to design one off covers for the release. Proper, blue sky thinking was needed here. The possibilities are endless! Instead, what we have is a series of drinks sponsored acoustic performances by famous bands with local support acts. If it sounds familiar, it is. Written by Sean McCann * http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2009/06/30102232 ** http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/factsheets/alcohol-and-your-health *** http://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2010/07/21/14850-miller-genuine-draft-creates-new-music-concept/