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The beat goes on: Music partnerships in the age of COVID

Whether it was Woodstock or New York’s parties in the park that gave birth to rap, music has always been a form of therapy and a way to bring communities together. Then came the age of the digital downloads via Napster or Limewire, along with the ability to be discovered on YouTube or Soundcloud which introduced music in a new way — on your own rather than with a group. Recently, music has become splintered and specialized. However, in March when communities were locked inside due to the Coronavirus, it became a unifier once again.


It started with an opera singer serenading Florence from her balcony to spread joy during a very difficult time. That provided inspiration for singers around the world. In Toronto, downtown condo building residents were treated to their own renditions and would clap, cheer and yell ‘encore’. With live music cancelled, this was a simple act to bring a smile to people in the community. The idea of spreading joy was the inspiration for another musical performance during quarantine. Every night at 7pm residents across Canada took to their balconies, porches and front yards to play percussion on pots and pans in support of front-line health care workers. When these opening acts of quarantine were finished, it was time for some of the more well-known musicians to connect with fans and give them an hour or two away from the overwhelming sense of unease on the news.

Saturday nights became all about Verzuz. An Instagram live “battle” between two producers. They would each share 10 songs and the best sounds win. Swiss Beatz, a hip-hop producer developed this idea because he believed that music makes people feel loved.

Whether it was opera, hip hop or other genres such as EDM going virtual, each artist brought us into their home and brought a level of intimacy that fans can’t find at arenas and theatres. These virtual performances allowed artists to connect with fans in a way. What that connection did was eliminate the worry over the DIY nature of some of the virtual performances. The video and sometimes even the sound quality tend to matter less when we get to see inside Lil’ Jon’s basement. The most important factor in a successful stream is the performers interacting with the online audience and connecting with their fans.


Intimacy and connection with fans is something that the advertising world is always aiming for. Using music to connect has been a staple for companies in financial services (RBC, TD, AMEX), soft drink (Pepsi, Coca-Cola) and alcohol (Bud/Bud Light, Heineken, Jägermeister). Without live experiences to capitalize on their sponsorships, brands needed to decide if they could deliver the real-world experiences that fans value, but done digitally.

Budweiser has definitely succeeded with its Bud Stage @ Home events. Artists that were scheduled to perform at the Bud Stage in Toronto over the summer have instead been performing for fans live from their homes. Streaming the events live each Saturday night has entertained not only music fans, but everyone who is feeling a little trapped in their own house. Each of the first 4 shows (as of this writing) have trended number one in Canada on Twitter.

RBC has taken a slightly different approach. Without the ability to execute its RBC music sponsorships in the summer of 2020, the brand has turned its focus to producing virtual performances to support and promote emerging Canadian recording artists and musicians through its First Up program. TD Bank’s support of jazz music in Canada stretches from the Beaches Jazz Festival to the Festival International Jazz de Montreal and many others. These festivals have managed to adapt from live to virtual by not only showcasing the performances, but also offering fans workshops, Q&A sessions and additional behind the scenes content that is not normally accessible with live events.


These brands have all continued to execute their sponsorship of music in the age of COVID. However, many brands would struggle to activate around music if it wasn’t for Live Nation. Being the music industry leader for concerts and events, Live Nation has had to do the majority of the heavy lifting to find new avenues to connect artists and fans. The start was the development of the ‘Live from Home’ website that provides music fans with a full list of all the performances that are happening virtually and how to view these shows. They are also leading with new and innovative ways that continue to bring music fans together by working with brands, all while accounting for the different regulations in cities across the country.


Just as Live Nation is looking for new opportunities to bring music to fans, brands need to be willing to consider alternate opportunities other than placing their name at the top of a festival poster or playing host to a VIP tent on the festival grounds.

The public is becoming more accepting of DIY content and even though your past activations may have been executed flawlessly, partnering with artists and integrating your brand into these virtual sessions will allow you to reach fans that may not be attending live events. By including interactive experiences, brands will have a better chance of success with their music partnerships. Whether that involves Q&A with artists, filters for use on social media or taking live song requests. There has also been a dramatic increase in mood playlists and promoting playlists on services like Spotify or Apple Music. As consumers are getting accustomed to their new work from home surroundings, they are looking for a soundtrack to their day. A playlist can also act as a background to our mood and how we are making it through the day. Many music events and festivals would compose playlists of artists that were on the line-up, and even without these there is a space for a branded playlist that can help to capture a moment like “Summer Road Trip” or “Backyard BBQ” and have your product therefore associated with the sounds for that event.

Music partnerships can be a powerful tool for a brand if activated in a purposeful and strategic way. As we overcome the initial shock of not attending live shows, the musicians, brands and promoters all need to continue to find creative ways to activate partnerships. With a desire for the arts and the emotions that they evoke, brands have an opportunity in the age of COVID now and long after it has passed, to bring people together again through the power of music.

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