At SXSW, I bopped from panel to panel with the intention to learn about brands, marketing and music. I decided to combine my interests in marketing and music to explore how brands and artists can work together in authentic partnerships. I learned that there are so many opportunities for what normally are very distinct groups of people to come together and create meaningful work.  This is how I see a partnership between brands and artists being successful:

So….What Factors Make for a Good Partnership Between Brand and Artist?

Any good partnership needs to be mutually beneficial. To appeal to both parties, there needs to be understanding of what the other is looking for. For the artists – is it money, products or recognition? And for the brand – is it sales or the ability to tap into a new audience? There needs to be balance in the relationship so that neither party feels taken advantage of. Two things to note:

  • It is important from a brand perspective to think of an artist first before a great idea. The best partnerships result when a brand feels they can authentically get behind an artist or an artist believes in the company values. There needs to be an inherent mutual belief or goal that the artist and brand are working towards. Otherwise, consumers will recognize that it’s disingenuous.


  • A successful partnership shouldn’t just live in the moment – it should be one that not only impacts the moment in time it is activated, but has an echo that can be shared down the line, where people can keep discovering. Gone are the days of plotting an album cycle. It could be 40 years or two months. There’s no way to know how long an artist will stay relevant. Brands need to do their due diligence to predict which artists will continue to have a presence for the long haul. This involves knowing an artist’s tour schedule, how many albums they plan to release, their reputation and audience, etc.


A Good Partnership Requires a Good Story!

It is important to find a partner you can tell a compelling story with. Think of a partnership as less of a contractual or one-off campaign, but instead a way to build an ongoing story. Overall, brands are only as good as the ideas or stories being shared.

When done right, brand storytelling can be extremely powerful. Nowadays we are operating from a landscape that is 90 percent streaming platforms, so it’s important to find ways to cut through with an artist or brand’s unique story. Depending on your brand or celebrity status, your reach may only go as far as your industry or fans. But a partner can help you tell that unique story and tap into a whole new market


What Should Brands Look for When Evaluating Potential Partnerships?

Brands should do some navel-gazing and ask themselves: what is the story we are trying to tell with this specific artist? It is better to first learn what story the artist wants to tell, than to plug an artist into a story that fits into the brand’s strategy for that year. When brands do this correctly, consumers will see a truly authentic partnership. Here are three things I think should be on everyone’s checklist when looking for a partner– whether it be a brand or an artist:

  • When being pitched, look for the unique stories you can tell with each other. These should be narratives that will have staying power and illustrate your shared values and qualities.


  • Brands should look for enthusiasm and genuine passion from the artist. It’s best when an artist can be part of the creation process so they can be proud of the work and encouraged to push the content out even more because they had a hand in creating it. The same goes for artists as well- they need to feel like a brand is genuinely behind their platform and excited to work with them.


  • Both artists and brands need to do their research. Artists should look at recent campaigns and who brands have worked with previously to ensure a brand aligns with who they are as an artist. For brands, it is important to know the artist’s platform, their purpose and the goals of the artist for a partnership.


Finding the Right Match for a Social Cause

To achieve a successful purpose-based partnership, you need to have the trifecta: 1.) An artist that aligns with a social cause, 2.) A brand that authentically aligns with an artist and 3.) A genuine and shared interest in and a common cause. Generally, it’s more effective for brands to come with a social platform they have been involved in, rather than an artist coming with a social cause for any brand to underwrite. In the case of the latter, the brand usually just gets thrown on as a sponsor like an afterthought and ultimately gets lost. As an aside, I predict we’ll see more purpose-driven partnerships in 2018.

Who’s Getting it Right?

Which partnerships between brands and artists should get props? A few I think we should all take note of:

  • Migos & Finish Line: Migos loves shopping at Finish Line – they are personally passionate about the brand. Everything they post comes from an authentic place. Brands get into trouble when they try to “borrow” culture but Finish Line understands where the band comes from, and they’ve been able to do authentic campaigns


  • Switchfoot & Hurley: Switchfoot has claimed they have two loves: surfing and playing rock music. In 2012, they decided to work with Hurley to combine these two loves. They created a surf documentary about travelling the world and adopting different cultures to create songs based on the five different continents. This partnership was 100% authentic because Hurley never had to change their agenda or strategy – they just kept doing what they were doing, while the band went out and created a story.


  • BØRNS & Shure: Shure gave BØRNS full creative control over the concept for their most recent campaign promoting Shure’s colorful wireless headphones. BØRNS is an incredible painter so he combined his love for art and music together by filming himself painting with lots of colors in a white room. It’s always important to give an artist input from day one because at the end of the day they are the artist, the creator and they can have incredible ideas for how to integrate their music into what the brand is already doing. Another smart tactic by Shure was to work with an artist who was on tour and already getting a lot of organic media attention.


It all comes down to trust; when a brand and an artist decide to work together any collaboration must be based on mutual trust and respect.