What I didn't know is that content is irrelevant to these people. It's all about brand recognition, and nothing else. The product tied to the brand is secondary to the brand itself -- the key is selling more any sort of product by applying a known name or logo to it.
Across from our booth, for example, were the Disney Pasta people. Staffing the booth were two surly Italians whose job seemed to be stopping people taking samples of their pasta. I think the real problem is that they were pissed off having to make a traditional italian product into the image of a imperialist cartoon rodent from America. What does an Italian starch product have to do with Mickey mouse, you may ask? Well, nothing, of course. It's just the "Mickey" is a recognizable brand and if it can help move product, then Disney is happy to stick the image on it. In the same vein, 20ft away porno-video gods Vivid Video were more than happy to license the titillating photos of their stars to any product you like. Evidently, brand integrity is irrelevant.
As a small company, we're clearly exhibiting at the wrong show. Licensing is all about public recognition of a logo, name, or face. Without that, you're nothing here. Good music? So what, if the artist's likeness isn't known to move product.
The real action at the show was at the media companies, such as NBC, Nickelodeon, Paramount, Dreamworks and of course... Disney.
There is serious, large-scale money in this, and booths were more impressive than anything I've seen in the computer business. The suits arrived in vast quantities:
The marketing often bordered on the surreal:
In our own bid to get attention, we brought in Magnatune musician William Brooks to play at the booth. Major thanks go to William for having a sense of humor about it, since playing an acoustic guitar in a gigantic warehouse isn't the easiest thing to do. A fabulous couple decided to get into the kitch of it, and danced throughout his set. Eventually, William figured out that his singing was scaring people away from the booth, and he switched to just playing acoustic guitar. Evidently, William did a stint in his early years as a street musician, which is where he perfected his charisma!
That's Teresa Malango, standing inside the booth in these pictures talking to prospects--she is my coworker at Magnatune. She has this "jedi mind trick" ability that she exerts on people as they walk by, seemingly uninterested, and when she whispers "music licensing" in a barely audible voice, they stop in their tracks and come back the 15 feet they've walked away to talk to her. And, it works on both men and women, so it's not a gender thing. It's really uncanny: in my 10 years of doing dozens of trade shows, I've never seen anyone do that. Who knew that she was a natural!
On the final day, Magnatune classical artists Asteria came by to perform. Unfortunately, it was the last 2 hours of the show, and thus quite empty and few people got to hear their gorgeous music. However, the people in the nearby booths all had big smiles on. My favorite quote, from the marketing booth to the left of us: "it sounded so real, I thought you were playing a CD!" Ah, what a world we live in...
Once I figured out what the show was about (people who make stuff want no-risk products with other people's brands) I thought that perhaps some of Magnatune's bands could be marketed, packaged and sold in this way. Hey, it's business.
I thought about Asteria, who have a rich visual vocabulary in their artwork, such as the beautiful burgundy-colored velvet and the heart-shaped medieval book on the cover, as well as the way in which they are photographed in such intimate, relaxed ways (as well as the clothing they choose).
When I spoke to Eric (1/2 of Asteria) about my idea, he explained to me that the book on the cover is something they made, by scanning in various medieval manuscripts, isolating and touching up the visual elements in photoshop, then making a new book which they had professionally bound. It turns out that Asteria's visual impact is very much on purpose, the result of much work, and that Eric and Sylvia have built up many visual elements over the years, as part of the "Asteria lifestyle".
For example, below are 3 pictures of Asteria furniture:
as well as some of the marginal illustrations Eric has built:
Besides a furniture maker, we could be licensing these visuals to make diaries and notebooks, dresses, purses, jewelry and other accessories. This could all be part of "The Asteria Look (tm)"
I spoke to a few "licensing agents" at the show -- people and companies who represent other brands in their interests in being licensed for products (most products work through these agents, even very large brands, as this is such a specialized business).
One licensing agent, in particular, was very interested in pursuing this idea. So, I asked Eric to collect everything visual relating to Asteria, and I'm working with this licensing agent to see if we can't pursue this line of thought and get some interest from manufacturers. It's definitely a different area from the "downloads and CDs" that Magnatune has pursued so far, but if it helps the band and Magnatune survive and prosper, without selling our souls, I think it's a good thing.