Crafting Musician/Brand Partnerships That Feel True to Both Sides

One Grammy-winning artist's collaboration with a brand after decades in the industry

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to work with several of the music industry's most established superstars and upcoming talent. I currently lead the UTA Music Brand Partnership's East Coast business, where I develop and execute organic partnerships between the agency's clients and top global brands. I have collaborated with artists ranging from Jonas Brothers and Young Thug to Karol G and Tierra Whack, and have established strong relationships with brands including Mastercard, Smirnoff, Louis Vuitton, Celine, NYX Cosmetics, GrubHub and many more.

Since every client and brand has different ambitions, no two partnerships have been the same. However, I have noticed some patterns across these wide-ranging campaigns that have showcased some key takeaways, including one vital guiding principle: the importance of establishing mutual trust between the artist and the brand. 

Early in my tenure at UTA, I began working with a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning artist who is a true icon within the music landscape. Although she had spent multiple decades in the industry, she had never once partnered with a brand—a rarity for one of the most influential singers of her generation. Her hesitancy was understandable. For years, she had watched her peers collaborate with brands that hadn't given them any creative control. This resulted in partnerships that didn't feel authentic, which left a negative impression on fans and made them feel as though their favorite artists were "selling out."

I realized that in order to help her feel comfortable working with brands, I needed to build partnerships in which both parties felt aligned in their values and objectives, and I had to ensure that she would be able to play a significant leadership and creative director role in the campaigns.

When a centuries-old fashion company approached me with a desire to rebrand themselves and increase their cultural relevance while paying homage to their longstanding roots in American history, I recognized the opportunity as a perfect fit for the artist. I pitched the brand on not only having the artist be the face of the campaign, but also having her design a limited-edition collection, where part of the proceeds would benefit the artist's foundation.

This alignment leaned into her passion for the fashion industry and using her platform to help others. The brand was excited for a fully integrated approach, and the artist was excited to have the opportunity to design a campaign, which marked a major career milestone. The artist and brand shared a true understanding of a very collaborative partnership, creating a safe space for her and the company to develop innovative ideas together. As the parties grew more comfortable with each other, an element of spontaneity emerged throughout the shoot. At one point, the artist gave an impromptu a cappella performance for the crew, which ended up serving as the musical score for the campaign's video.

Throughout the process, the artist was hands on with every detail down to personally editing campaign videos, sketching over 30 apparel designs (including logos, concepts and materials), and selecting the fabric and embellishments that would bring the collection to life. 

The partnership was a hit, launching with a very curated showing of her collection during New York Fashion Week, which was later featured in Vogue. The campaign marked a new era for the fashion company, which is rooted in authentic creators who embody the spirit of American innovation and symbolize the creativity at the heart of the brand. In addition to delivering significant ROI for the artist and brand, it showed the artist that the advertising industry has evolved when working with talent so they not only contribute, but have true ownership and creative input in the campaigns they are appearing in.

Since then, I have paired her with other major fashion brands in one-of-a-kind partnerships that have resulted in over 100 million views on social media and have directly preceded the brick-and-mortar stores' biggest sales weekends in history. These collaborations have helped the industry pivot to a virtual landscape amid Covid-19 and have featured meaningful charitable components of the artist's choice.

Ultimately, the experience taught me the importance of communicating openly with artists who are initially opposed to brand partnerships, and of establishing mutual trust between clients and brands. Furthermore, this deal demonstrated that partnerships are more successful when artists are given creative freedom, which leads to more risk taking and innovation. After all, these artists have gotten where they are today largely due to their creativity and trusting their instincts. Thus, as branding executives, we should actively seek out and champion for collaborations that embrace their visions and engage their audience. 

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Melissa Newhart
Melissa Newhart is a music brand partnerships executive at global talent, entertainment and sports company United Talent Agency.

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