Rock On

The music sector is one of most active in the licensing and collaboration field these days, with new deals announced almost daily. Initiatives are wide ranging: Ariana Grande has lent her name and likeness to a new bundle of virtual goods, as well as presenting a concert series, in Fortnite; My Chemical Romance released its second cosmetics collection with HipDot; English singer-songwriter Paloma Faith launched her lifestyle brand Paloma Home; the Grateful Dead’s unisex apparel and accessories collection at Selfridge’s paired the Dead’s 10th studio album Shakedown Street with the retailer’s summer theme, The Selfridges Garden Centre. The list goes on and on.

While music-related initiatives extend into every nook and cranny of the licensing business, some key trends have been particularly notable in the last year or so:

  • Pop-up and permanent shops. Music-based pop-ups have been on the rise for some time, typically to support a tour or a new album. Recently they have focused more broadly on the musicians’ brand and history. The Rolling Stones last year opened a flagship store, RS No. 9 Carnaby, in Carnaby Street in London’s Soho neighborhood. It includes exclusive merchandise for all ages, from Baccarat glassware, to chairs from The Soloist, to Stuttenheim raincoats. Queen also turned to Carnaby Street as the location for its Queen The Greatest pop-up this fall. Each month (of three total) has a different theme, including music (featuring limited-edition music releases), art and design (apparel and collectibles collaborations), and magic (Christmas-themed products), with merchandise from the likes of Wrangler, Champion, and jewelry designer Jonny Hoxton on sale. David Bowie’s estate launched two 75th birthday pop-ups, one in London near where Ziggy Stardust was born and the other in New York where Bowie’s final album was recorded. The shops incorporate immersive audio and HD video screening rooms, guest appearances, limited-edition releases of apparel and collectibles, limited-run LPs and CDs, and fine art photography of Bowie’s many eras.
  • Collectible figures. Musicians have been accounting for an expanding share of the collectible figure market, and recent deals suggest the trend is nowhere near waning. Super 7 added to its roster of musician action figures through new deals with Run the Jewels, the Grateful Dead (for its skeleton and roses theme), and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Funko expanded its Pop! music roster with Pearl Jam and DJ Khaled, as well as launching a Gold line of collectibles featuring athletes and musicians, the latter starting with Notorious B.I.G. Kollectico is selling a line of collectible bobbleheads of Jimi Hendrix, including one of his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, in an edition of 1,967 to commemorate the year it occurred. Fisher-Price issued collectible Little People figures of the three members of Run DMC. And Hasbro created a Transformers action figure of J Balvin, portrayed as rainbow-hued Decepticon J Balvintron, who transforms into a cassette player.
  • Marijuana and CBD. While the landscape of properties tying in with the cannabis industry becomes more varied every day, musicians are still one of the groups at the forefront of partnerships in this industry. Recent collaborations include a deal between Ziggy Marley and One Farm for CBD pet products and another between Jay Z and Caliva for a new cannabis line called Monogram, part of a broader relationship between the Caliva brand and the rapper, in which he serves as brand strategist and investor. These join a number of existing ventures in the cannabis arena involving musicians from Snoop Dogg to Billy Ray Cyrus.
  • Experiences tied to musicians’ estates. Beyond immersive experiences in retail shops, musicians are being featured in other experiential configurations. Superfly just announced an immersive experience with the Prince estate, for example; few details are available yet except that it will launch in Chicago in 2022. And the Ella Fitzgerald estate and its representative Evolution USA announced a deal with TCG Entertainment for a symphony experience featuring Fitzgerald’s greatest hits performed by multiple singers, a full band, and an orchestra, with accompanying multimedia content including video, photography, spoken word recordings, and writings. The show will launch in 2022 in locations such as symphony halls, theaters, and performing arts centers.
  • QSR partnerships. Megan Thee Stallion, a new Popeyes franchisee, paired with the chain for a promotion highlighting three meals that introduce her signature Hottie Sauce, namely the chicken sandwich and 8- and 12-count chicken nugget meals. This marks the first time the chain has altered its chicken sandwich. The promotion also features three drops of merchandise including long-sleeve shirts, hats, tumblers, bikinis, and plush dog toys in the form of chicken tenders. McDonald’s also has been working with musicians, including Travis Scott and J Balvin, on meal-and-merchandise deals of late. They are among a growing number of celebrities to tie in with QSR chains recently.
  • Musicians hiring new representation. Several musicians or their estates have recently signaled their intent to enter licensing, or a desire to expand on an existing foundation, by retaining a new agent. Examples include Cindy Lauper signing with Epic Rights, Notorious B.I.G.’s estate with WME, Ja Rule with TreImage, and Amy Winehouse’s estate with MDR Brand Management. Plans typically include fashion, beauty, digital content and gaming, and collectibles, among other opportunities. In another example with a slightly different configuration, Darryl McDaniels, DMC of Run DMC, paired with ViacomCBS for a consumer products program—including an already-announced book deal with Random House Children’s Books—and content, starting with an animated, educational music video series called What’s the Word? on Noggin.

Initiatives like these help musicians compensate for declining revenues in traditional areas of their business. Recorded music sales are down from historic levels, despite the growth of vinyl; streamed music earns musicians relatively little compared to the physical sales of the past; and concerts have been on hold for a year and a half and still may be subject to cancellations, attendance limits, or lower ticket sales due to some fans’ reluctance to be in a crowd. Musicians tend to be relatively adventurous when it comes to jumping into new opportunities that can potentially supplement or replace existing revenue streams, and therefore often find themselves at the forefront of licensing trends.

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