Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the “With the Brand” panel at Billboard’s Music & Money Symposium is this—sponsorships are over.

“We’ve almost completely moved away from the idea of sponsorship, said Hot Topic’s chief music officer John Kirkpatrick, echoing the sentiment of the other panelists. “We focus more on the experience and connecting fans with what they love inside of our store in some way.”

The instigator of this is a combination of an economic environment that has forced a new era of frugality, with a music industry that is more open to brand partnerships.

“What cost me a million dollars two years ago doesn’t cost that anymore,” said Katrina McMullan, senior counsel for music and entertainment at Mattel. "Only about five artists are in that [top-tier] category that can command that kind of money.”

Mattel for instance is launching a new music portal around Barbie next year, and McMullan says labels are jumping at the opportunity to participate. Additionally, she points to a new product coming out this fall for which Mattel will license a theme song, and if successful, will provide the template to licensing additional recorded music for future products.

For Hot Topic's in-store appearances, Kirkpatrick says the company works with artists who not only perform at their retail locations, but also get them to engage fans to attend by tweeting and posting Facebook updates on what’s to come, and that drives far more traffic into stores than a banner at a concert.

Kirkpatrick also says that working with emerging artists gets the biggest bang for the buck. Labels are most interested in providing emerging acts to branding campaigns as a way to generate attention over a new release. Meanwhile the brand gets a better lift out of the campaign by virtue of being known as a source for new music discovery.

But all on the panel had strong thoughts on how an artist can best take advantage of this environment.

Cynthia Sexton, EMI's executive VP of global brand partnerships for licensing and synch, kept it simple—pick a brand you love. Vevo president and CEO Rio Caraeff backed that up by saying artists will only benefit if they remain true to who they are. “If it’s forced, everybody can see through that.”

And Kirkpatrick stressed the need to build a fan base. Brands look for a proven fan base, such as the ability to bring fans to stores. So the more measurable fans base in hand, the better artist-brand partnerships are formed.