It used to be so easy. Make music, sell your CDs, tour, sell more CDs. But now that the whole model has been demolished and CD sales account for a pittance of a band’s potential income, things aren’t so simple. Artists find themselves holding hands with corporate clients, accepting money for sponsorship deals, and signing with labels owned by the music experts at Red Bull and Bacardi. In a classic case of following the money, companies longing to reach the holy grail demographic of 18-to-34-year-olds are lining up to plant that hot-shit, fresh new track in their commercials, and musicians looking to make up for sales losses are plugging the hole with corporate money.
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L.A. Riots: Raiding the corporate wallet one mix at a time
The question for aspiring bands is no longer whether, but rather, who should an artist get in bed with. A few years ago, Trans Am and the Thermals turned down a lucrative deal with Hummer, but would those same bands say no to Prius or iTunes today? Money is hard to come by. Who can blame Band of Horses for their recent Wal-Mart payday?
Scion has been busy drafting emerging artists to hawk its hipster cars, offering evidence that the Japanese automaker has its fingers on the pulse of Gen Y (or so it would have us believe). The company sponsors art shows nationwide — its Scion Space in Culver City has shown countless A-list L.A. artists — and it works with hip-hop heavyweights like Ghostface, DJ Premier and Jazzy Jeff. And, recently, it’s started recruiting rising stars of the L.A. music scene to help sell cars. DJ duo L.A. Riots and IHeartComix impresario Franki Chan have both contributed to the Scion CD Sampler series, which has previously featured Flosstradamus and Spank Rock’s Ronnie Darko, among others.
“You’re not gonna see my music anywhere near an Ed Hardy commercial,” laughs L.A. Riots’ Daniel LeDisko on the phone from New York. “There are certain things that would take away our street cred.” Scion is apparently not one of them. The company does offer a pretty amazing promotional opportunity for artists, pressing up to a half-million CDs, which are distributed at selected retail outlets, art galleries and car shows across the country.
“I think we were five months old at that point, so we jumped at the opportunity to do it,” recalls LeDisko of Scion’s initial offer. The result is a collection featuring, among others, L.A. Riots’ remixes of Chicago rapper Kid Sister and Brit indie bands Mystery Jets and New Young Pony Club.
Riots weren’t paid for their work, although Scion took them on a four-city tour, during which they received their regular DJ performance fee. LeDisko also says that the deal has served as a good foot in the door; they’ll soon start working on original music for Scion commercials. “We wanna get involved in doing stuff like that,” LeDisko says. “The money’s good.”
Scion’s take on the CD Sampler series is less about a sales bounce for the boxy xB than it is about product branding, says Scion sales/promotions manager Jeri Yoshizu. “People ask me, ‘Does this mean that because you’re marketing a CD, the people who listen to it are gonna buy a car?’ I don’t think anybody can quantify any single channel of marketing or advertising.” But Yoshizu does offer a few quantifiable figures: Scion does pay artists a nominal fee (though, apparently, not L.A. Riots), doesn’t tolerate big egos, presses 300,000 to 500,000 copies of the artist’s CD, and no one gets a free car — sadly, not even DJ Premier. There are content requirements as well: no cussing or adult themes. “We tell everybody ahead of time, content is always gonna be an issue because of who we’re distributing to. I’ve had discussions with artists who are, like, ‘This is artistic integrity.’ That’s fine. Then don’t do the CD.”
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IHeartComix’s Chan confirms these restrictions, some of which seem rather nebulous. “We couldn’t do anything that might make someone think about crashing cars,” he says. “L.A. Riots had a problem with their original art, which was all made from broken glass. [It] got rejected because someone from Scion thought it made them think of car crashes.” (A few well-placed asterisks on the IHeartComix mix attempt to clean up producers Radioclit and Designer Drugs.)
Nevertheless, though Chan comes from a self-described punk rock background (“If at 18 I saw myself being involved [with something like this], I’d probably be pretty mad”), he likes working with Scion. “When it comes to working with sponsors now, it’s on a case-by-case basis. There’s some that do it in a really old-school, cheese-ball way. And there’s some, like Scion, that actually have a very healthy approach to doing it.”
Whether or not blasting L.A. Riots’ electro remixes is selling more cars for Scion, the company has established an association that is, hopefully, not stretching the boundaries of credibility — not the case with at least one of Chan’s peers: “There’s a Spank Rock song right now in a Wishbone dressing commercial,” says LeDisko. “I’m sure they got paid for that. I don’t have aspirations to be in a Wishbone commercial.”
L.A. Riots perform at the HARD Summer Festival on Sat., July 19, alongside N.E.R.D., MSTRKRFT, Spank Rock, Steve Aoki, Kid Sister and others, at Shrine Expo Hall, 700 W. 32nd St., L.A. For more information, visit www.hardfest.com.