Glenfiddich, Richard Hawley and “selling out”.

Just listening to the new songs by the ever-excellent Richard Hawley. He’s taken a different tack to releasing some new music by going full-on with the sponsorship of Scotch Whiskey (whisky?) maker Glenfiddich.

I’ve not read anything about his motivation for the partnership, but doubtless if asked it’d be something about the “changing face of the music industry” and “brand partnerships being a viable artist platform”.

This is a thorny line to walk – fans, especially in a new transparent area of fandom, do have a sensitivity toward brand partnerships, but there’s certainly not the vehemence against them there once was. The big question, I think, is what do Richard Hawley fans think? I can’t say many – who admire his heartfelt and “earthy” sound- would be too impressed by the clearly marketing-department-politico-spin of Richard’s “quote” that leads off the website –

“(I) enjoyed the time I spent in Scotland learning about Glenfiddich’s pioneering approach to whisky making and talking to people who have worked there for years. It has given me some wonderful ideas for new songs.”

I think there’s a line Richard’s crossed here with this partnership – it’s a subtle line but it leans too heavily in the brands favor (songs like “In The Barrel” scream of outside pressure on Richard’s creativity). I can see the logic from the brand’s point of view – leveraging Richard’s support of the product as heavily as possible. But is it all for naught if it FEELS forced, false? Who wins, really, when the brand and artist aren’t properly balanced.

This post over at MBV addresses the issue in an interesting way – that art is only art if we choose to engage with it as such, and we tend to be much more forgiving about music when it’s in the form of “content” – easily digestable, shareable links which pass us by daily and leave little impression. Art requires an effort to engage, content is throw-away.

But apply this to the Hawley example and you’ve got crossed wires – content trying to be art and vice-versa. Nobody wins.

Brand sponsorships still work – they always will. But getting the balance right, making the artist and brand message work in concert, is clearly as elusive as ever…


One Response to Glenfiddich, Richard Hawley and “selling out”.

  1. charlie coney says:

    Your first comment is the reaction of Richard Hawley fans to the partnership – and you wonder how they have taken the news. It’s quite easy to find out – just check the Richard Hawley forums where you’ll find many comments from both ardent fans and Richard himself on the EP:

    Reaction to The Barrel: “5:33 seconds of utter bliss. roll on the next tracks” / “That’s lovely And it’s turned up just when I wasn’t expecting it Can’t wait for the others now.” i should say that ive listened and loved the tune… top stuff as always boss, looking forward to the other tracks as well… the river sounds like a good’un- i like the idea of the kind of rhythmless track with swells and etc”

    The second one is the title of the tracks and how much pressure we put on Richard to create a piece of branded content. The main reason we decided to work with Richard is his utter authenticity – he’s a man with a highly tuned ‘bullshit detector’ who would have resisted any pressure from us to coerce him into producing ‘on-brand’ content.

    The tracks, the names and the instrumentation were all led by Richard – with no guidance whatsoever from Glenfiddich.

    If you watch the videos on the site, you will see Richard at the distillery and in the studio talking about his creative inspiration and how he developed the new songs.

    There’s also an interesting interview in the Scotsman where he gives a little more insight on this:

    I hope this provides some additional context and perhaps gives you some additional perspective on the overall balance of the campaign. Richard has said ‘The River’ (which you can listen to on the Glenfiddich site) is one of the best pieces of music he has ever created – something I think adds a hugely interesting angle.

    Glenfiddich has a long history of sponsoring and enabling artists through its Artist in Residence programme, and for the brand to have played even a small be part in the production of such an amazing piece of work is testament to the Glenfiddich’s longstanding heritage in this space.

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