The connection between artists and brands, and the future of this relationship, was the focal point of “The Power of Connecting Brands and Bands” panel at Billboard and Adweek’s Music and Advertising Conference in New York.

Moderator Mike Tunnicliffe of Filament Entertainment/Tuna Music led participants in the discussion and all agreed that differentiation is the driving force behind the use of music in a branding campaign. The artist should go into the relationship with the ability to communicate how his or her music fits the brand and how it can make the brand stand out in the mind of the consumer. "You have to know your story, you have to be succinct and it has to create differentiating value," voiced David Keefe of Siegel & Gale.

If you are aware of this, you can also ensure that the sponsorship opportunities you pursue do not harm the connection with your fans: "[fans] welcome brands if they're getting something beneficial and worthwhile out of it," Tunnicliffe noted. And maintaining the fan relationship is key. "The reason people want to do things with Rihanna or Madonna is because of who their fans are," said panelist Larry Mills of Getty Images.

This prompted moderator Tunnicliffe to encourage panelists to move the case studies into a more realistic level, with less focus on pure celebrity endorsements. But, if brands are not solely using endorsements for the value of the celebrity of an artist, and if they're willing to take on less developed artists, are brands becoming the new record label?

Jack Horner, founder of FRUKT suggested that a vacuum has been created in the wake of record labels' slowing growth. "It's no surprise that so many brands are getting involved with talent competitions because [young artists want] an opportunity to get discovered." He continued by outlining new ways brands can play different parts of the record label role in an artist's career. For example, Joe Killian of Momentum Worldwide cited Denny's effort to bring in the late-night high school crowd by offering free food to local bands after their gigs. This used to be a service the labels provided in the form of a per-diem.

The panelists wrapped up with a discussion of the future of the industry. Mills imagined that we will see more promotions where a brand affiliates with a small group or genre of artists, and cited examples like Heineken, Jagermeister and Converse, which all worked with communities of artists rather than individual endorsements. Still, you cannot depend on advertising to sell your music. As Horner states, "You have to find other places where your music can play and work all of those outlets as creatively as you can," because you cannot control what happens on the cutting room floor.