Music Marketing

Is Occupy Wall Street Fair Game For Music Marketing?

Occupy-wall-street[Update] Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the Manhattan sector of a growing international protest movement-in-the-making, has already seen a few famous musicians drop by including Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. It's also being used by some musicians to promote their music, including an artist called Penguin Prison that took a previously released song and repurposed it for OWS. But is it really a good idea to use social movements for music marketing?

High profile visitors to Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, where the New York contingent of the Occupy movement is based, have included Lupe Fiasco, who has been very supportive and even donated tents, and Talib Kweli, who performed and encouraged park occupiers to keep it going. These appearances fit both artists' identities as politically minded performers who stand with their fellow citizens rather than with representatives of political parties.

Kanye West also made a brief, well-publicized walkthrough with Russell Simmons, apparently keeping his gold chains on and saying little to nothing with, for the most part, a somewhat clueless and defensive facial expression. In a bizarre misreading, many in the media called this an endorsement of the movement on Kanye's part, not recognizing that it was simply another example of Russell Simmons playing consciousness educator with a clueless superstar.

All these guys are playing their expected roles and don't seem especially likely to be making money off their manuevers but what can you say about a musician who takes a previously released song about a personal relationship, claims it's related to OWS and uses that to publicize himself as he heads to Zuccotti Park to use the protest as a background for his music video? The claim was even made that this lightweight track by Penguin Prison, "Don't Fuck With My Money", is "already becoming the anthem for this movement!"

Music journalist and Occupy participant Justin Hampton blogged in response, "fuck Penguin Prison and fuck them using this as a means to market their hipster bubblegum."

Stars do what they do but the question of whether or not up and coming artists should align themselves with social movements while also marketing music is one well worth considering. I'm very interested in what Hypebot readers have to say about this, but here's my quick take:

1) If you have a history of creating political art and expressing your take on social issues then participating in emerging movements with high media visibility is simply part of that process. Truly political artists tend to be embraced by protestors and, even if they're not well known, provide inspiration for the difficult task of social change.

2) If you have no history of such involvement but you find yourself wanting to learn more about a movement that seems to be expressing something you believe, then becoming involved and even publicly endorsing a political perspective can be a positive move. It may inspire new work and it will let people know that you may have more depth than previously recognized. Of course, it may also polarize fans who have embraced you because they dig your sound without having to hear lyrics that conflict with their politics.

3) If you have no history of such involvement and think taking a stance would be a great way to build your profile and sell some music, then you should seriously reconsider what it means to attempt to manipulate the dreams and desires of human beings struggling to create change.

That said, if you're cool with manipulating people, go right ahead because it's most likely to make you look like a fool and deservedly so. I'd say that's what's happening with Penguin Prison and it's well deserved.

Bottom line, if you want to give your support to a social movement in which you believe, go for it. If you see it as an opportunity to get some cheap publicity, as a wise man once said, "you better check yo self before you wreck yo self."

Update: I received an email from Penguin Prison aka Chris Glover.  I think it's worth reading and he allowed me to share what he said:

"I wrote and recorded 'Don't Fuck with My Money' some time before the Occupy Wall Street protest began but I felt that some of the lyrics reflected the sentiments that a lot of people have right now. Inspired by OWS and by the other protests that have sprung up all over the world I decided to film a video for 'Don't Fuck With My Money' at the Occupy Wall Street March that went from Zuccotti Park to Times Square. I intended the video to be a tribute to and not an exploitation of the protest. Filming it was an amazing experience and I hope the video can help to bring their message to even more people than it has already reached."

"The press release that was sent out recently claiming the song was 'fast becoming an anthem of the movement' was totally over the top and does not reflect what I think at all. I apologize for the confusion and look forward to working with the occupy wall street movement to help their cause in any way I can."

It's hard to know what's in anybody's heart but I've seen publicists stretch to sex up press releases before and the line about the anthem sounded like that kind of thing.  I think this series of events does show some of the dangers of political involvement by musicians and also the need to be proactive in screening publicity materials even though artists are way too busy as it is.

What do you think? Is Occupy Wall Street fair game for music marketing?

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. He maintains a business writing hub at Flux Research and also blogs at This Business of Blogging. To suggest music services and related topics for review at Hypebot, please contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. “Bottom line, if you want to give your support to a social movement in which you believe, go for it. If you see it as an opportunity to get some cheap publicity, as a wise man once said, “you better check yo self before you wreck yo self.””
    Great advice and a great post Clyde. Artists like Talib Kweli & Tom Morello have a long history of activism and so have a legitimate affinity with the protests. Tom Morello for example has toiled away for years supporting the disenfranchised with very little fanfare or media coverage.
    Russell Simmons and Kanye West on the other hand are the polar opposite and represent the 1%. They obviously demonstrate this overtly with the gold chains and promotion of crass wealth display (it would be marginally more tolerable if they had some taste!). But also in a more neferious way. The maker in which Russell Simmons promotes his seemingly endless enterprises through association with the worst type of vapid celebrity culture espoused through is a cancer in society that rewards notoriety above actual talent. He has made a career out of exploiting the poor, selling them things that the don’t want and certainly don’t need. Made all the worse by him paying lip service to whatever cause is trendy that week.
    The protestors have to protect themselves from public figures using their movement to wash away the sin of their lives.
    “I see you are going for that anti-marketing dollar” Bill Hicks

  2. I saw a comment on a song I wrote called “Fade Out” that said it should be for the OWS movement. I have been following it wholehearted, even stronger in the last few weeks, but it wasn’t my doing, If someone wants to use my song to inspire who am I to judge that. It’s a positive song. It proclaims that we won’t backdown. And isn’t that the message of the movement, We won’t back down. I support the efforts by making people I know and in my social circle aware of what is going on.

  3. I fully support the OWS Movement and hope that it continue to grow. While my band is not for the most part a political band, I write the lyrics and I am a political person so It is bound to end up with at least a subtle bit of information. We actually Took our song Northern Lights ( I wrote this during the 2008 RNC Protests, and blended it with imagery of Phillip Pullmans His Dark Materials Trilogy.) I had high Hopes of the 2008 Protests to become more but was disappointed, I am happy to see the OWS Movement growing so large 🙂 🙂

  4. Great advice and I agree. As far as judging “celebrities” and artists getting involved with the movement (Kanye and Russell etc.), I think it’s more important to not judge their involvement off of personal taste of their work. How we feel about their career moves of the past has essentially nothing to do with why they may be out amongst protesters. If you follow Talib on twitter and watch some of the senseless banter he gets involved with, thoughts may change on his intentions very quickly. My only personal opinion on the OWS movement is that there needs to be more cohesiveness on a solution

  5. Artists are entertainers and the wise ones stick to that difficult chore . . . the really vocal ones usually make a quick trip to obscurity (think Sinead O’Connor)

  6. I know what you mean, Dave. Take Bob Marley, for example, you never his music or hear about him anymore.
    There are so many artists who had some hits and then faded from the most visible tiers of the music industry who were just trying to be entertainers that invoking Sinead O’Connor isn’t really much of an argument.
    That said, if you’re just in it for the money, avoiding politics is your best bet.

  7. What really bothers me with invoking Sinead O’Connor is that it wasn’t just that she was being political but that she was attacking the Pope.
    That was a pretty dangerous stance, especially prior to the exposure of institutionally protected pedophilia, that went beyond, for example, attacking financial institutions for their greediness and demanding that rich people and corporations pay their fair share of taxes in the midst of a double dip recession.

  8. Great article. As an occupying musician working from Zuccotti, it isn’t difficult to see how this is becoming a reality. We will continue to screen publicity materials, and thanks for your support!

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