Leonardo da Vinci was dependent on the Duke of Milan, Cesare Borgia and the King of France; Wolfgang Mozart, the Archbishop of Salzburg – while the aristocratic Esterhazys supported Joseph Haydn. Throughout the ages, artists have had a necessary, if problematic, relationship with patrons. Or, as they are now known, sponsors.
These days, the rich and the powerful bestowers of largesse are brands; one thing that hasn’t changed is the contentious issue of artistic integrity. How far should talent go in prostituting itself in order to earn a crust? Some would say the New Seekers, who re-recorded Coca-Cola’s immortal “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial as a chart-busting single back in 1971, crossed the line in genuflecting to Mammon, however “altruistic” the message.
But whatever The New Seekers may, or may not, have done is a moon-cast shadow compared with today’s flexi-ethics. With record labels going down the tube, and online piracy rampant, how is the gig going to make money? The answer for many (should they be so lucky) is to insert an “r” into band. Brands have not been slow to exploit this opportunity. Nike, the arch ambush-brand, may not “own” the rapper Drake, but it certainly makes sure he’s well supplied with every imaginable item of swooshed kit. Likewise Martell has picked up on the “gnac” in hip-hop culture and uses music as a means of penetrating the African-American market, where (exceptionally) brandy is on an upward consumption curve.
My old chum Peter Krijgsman has, slightly cynically, gone one step further in “cutting out the middleman” and making an explicit appeal for product placement in his latest (and possibly only, he tells me) album, Digital Age Blues. Of particular interest is this little C&W number “Sponsor Me”, containing such catchy lyrics as:
“Don’t think of me as a humble song, but as an opportunitee, Yes sir. You’ll get a big bag of crochets for a very modest fee, you’ll grow like a pig from Idaho when you sponsor me.”
I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek this “offering” is from Peter, whom some may better remember as a comms director at BarCap and ING. But it can’t be denied it is slick. The band is Krijgsman and Sid Stronach. Helen Knight and Claire Macauley are the backing singers. And here it is in full: Sponsor_Me.