The music industry is learning Hollywood’s lessons about the power of franchises

Murder On The Dancefloor by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (originally released in 2001, and propelled by its star turn in movie Saltburn) has this week hit No.2 in the UK chart and No.58 on the Billboard Hot 100

MBW Views is a series of exclusive op/eds from eminent music industry people… with something to say.  The following comes from MBW founder Tim Ingham. It first appeared in December as the leader in the latest issue (Q4 2023) of MBW’s premium quarterly sister publication for and about the UK market, Music Business UK, which is exclusively available for MBW+ subscribers.

There is a reason, of course, why twice in Q4 I found myself nestled into Slurpee-stained seats at my local cinema – nine-year-old in tow – to watch a film that is 30 years old.

The first was Hocus Pocus; the second The Nightmare Before Christmas. Both were originally released in 1993.

All of the usual nostalgia-sell tricks of entertainment applied:

  • An arbitrary round-number anniversary? Tick.
  • A theme tied to the cash-gouging holiday of the moment? Tick.
  • A heart-warming generation-to-generation introduction of a family classic? Tick.

But something else was going on here, too.

First, these were not discount nostalgia rushes: I paid full-whack both times.

Second, each screening’s theatre – at a time when many of us Dolby and 4K-festooned entertainment heads question the value of ‘the pictures’ – was full.

And then there was the moment the penny dropped: the pre-event teaser trailers.

The big tentpole cinematic launches for families during 2023’s festive season?

All – and I mean all – sequels, or re-births of well-established brands. For the older rugrats, Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds and Snakes and The Marvels.

For the whole brood? The cinematic event of the winter: Wonka, born from the commercial success of a 1971 cinematic original, and the lesser-commercial success of a 2005 copycat.

Here, of course, is the bit in the column where I say Hollywood’s run out of ideas, all it knows how to do these days is recycle old IP, and slap Lycra over anabolic-boosted biceps etc.

Yet all of this merry excavation by Tinseltown got me thinking about a paradigm to which music doesn’t often pay much mind: franchises, and how etching an enduring artist brand into the consumer’s mind has become a lost art.

The most prestigious example in music today, of course, is Taylor Swift – not just the world’s biggest megastar, but an industry in and of herself.

As I’ve written before, Swift’s gargantuan talent and razor-sharp smarts are the biggest factors in her modern-day success.

But the fact she came to prominence in the early naughts – when paths to consumer attention spans were far narrower (and, yes, record contracts were less artist-friendly) – is also crucial.

“It warrants pause for thought – as I ready myself for yet another £50 annual trip to see Elf at the Cineplex.”

It was enough to warrant pause for thought, as I readied myself to shell out yet another £50 on a trip to see Elf at the Cineplex this December.

The music industry exhausts huge effort and resources tirelessly trying to break new artists, as it should. But might there be any acts whose ‘franchises’ are somewhat imprinted on the minds of the great unwashed – from back in that narrower-cast naughts era – that could be built on and re-amplified in 2024?

I’m talking about acts that had a ‘moment’ in the public’s affections, before wavering and/or being dropped like a stone by the record biz. (During an era when said biz was at its most… capricious.)

Hollywood is often accused of recycling ideas, but what if this recycling is not just a sign of creative bankruptcy, but a testament to the power of re-establishing enduring brands in the collective consciousness?

In an era dominated by streaming and an ever-expanding pool of new artists vying for attention, the question arises: Does the music industry under-utilize the potential of artists whose ‘franchises’ were imprinted on the public’s mind during earlier, less crowded times? Even if those artists relatively swiftly tumbled from their commercial peak?

Could these semi-established ‘franchises’ be better leveraged today?

The nostalgia-fueled success of cinematic revivals demonstrates a hunger for familiar brands.

In an age where attention is a scarce commodity, building on established franchises can provide a bridge between the past and the present – creating a space for artists whose initial spark may have dimmed but whose legacy may have some life left in it yet.Music Business Worldwide

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