From Kellee Maize to Lady Gaga, artists find that brand deals can take the place of a label | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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From Kellee Maize to Lady Gaga, artists find that brand deals can take the place of a label 

"What's the type of relationship? What's the philosophy behind the collaboration?"

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A marketing deal can cover everything from a few months' rent to a few years' salary, depending on the brand — and on the authenticity of the partnership. Maize, whose contract includes commercial face time and driving a Prius as a "brand advocate," says she has a lot of affinity with Toyota.

"For me to promote something that I really believe in, with the environment, there's so many fucking issues," she explains. "If we can't get people to start thinking about it and their everyday choices, then it's all a wash."

Just because some brands and artists are working toward an authentic outcome in a partnership, that doesn't mean they all do. According to one advertising professional, it takes all kinds.

"I've worked with many artists who will do anything for money," says Bonny Dolan, executive producer at Comma Music. "But I've had some pass up a million dollars because they don't believe in the product. My job is to always give them the offer."

Dolan, who moderated a panel discussion titled "The Shifting Brandscape" at SXSW this year, says she's watched brands infiltrate the music industry over the past decade. Having worked at Leo Burnett Chicago for seven years as a music producer, she's seen artists and fans alike take a more forgiving approach to partnerships.

"At Comma, I'll do a showcase when bands come through," she says. "These artist showcases happen with advertising agencies in New York and Chicago. And what we do at Comma is invite all the agencies, so the band can get in front of all the agencies to let them know they're interested in getting their music out there."

Dolan says the roster of bands interested in such partnerships spans the spectrum from indie to mainstream. And while El Ten Eleven, for example, may not be getting sponsorships with American Express a la Jay Z, Dunn and Fogarty have found balance in making art and a living simultaneously. Having toured the festival circuit for years, they've landed spots at North Coast Music Fest and What the Festival, just to name a few, alongside names like Wu Tang Clan and Afrojack.

As for Gaga, her actual performance at SXSW was just about the last thing you'd expect to see in a commercial from the Frito-Lay brand. She spun around on a spit like a pig while singing songs from last year's album Artpop, as her backup dancers completed the tableau of rebellious revelry around her. To finish off her performance, she had fellow performance artist Millie Brown vomit paint on her.

Vomiting in relation to a snack brand? The Internet went crazy.

In her keynote afterward, Gaga praised the experience of "watching the fans have an experience with me and then having Doritos support that to its core, not telling me how to do the show, what it should be like, or putting chains around my neck." Frito-Lay, she added, "just said, ‘We just want to support you in having a great experience [at the festival]. We want to help your foundation. We want to help spread the message. How do we do that?' And they came up with ‘Bold Bravery,' and it all came together."

"The truth is, without sponsorships, without these companies coming together to help us, we won't have any more artists in Austin," she added. "We won't have any festivals, because record labels don't have any fucking money."

(NOTE: An earlier version of this story, and the print version, contained an error in the transcription of Kellee Maize's quote about her relationship with Prius. We apologize for the error. -- Ed.)

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