Commercial collaborations are the way forward for an industry that has seen sales fall through the floor, says Tim Heming

So, is the music industry a cracked record that needs to change its tune? The answer appears to be ‘yes’ – and big brands are queuing up to fill the void.

Mike Mathieson from Harmonic, an agency that specialises in building relationships between brands and acts such as Lily Allen, Plan B and Rudimental, pulled together a panel of industry experts to discuss if commercial collaborations are the way forward.

The problem is that music sales are going through the floor and the appetite for streaming through websites like Spotify isn’t making up the difference.

‘It leaves a gap for brands to enter the fray,’ Mathieson said. ‘Brands can offer distribution in its own right and they have big budgets the talent wants a slice of.’

They off er an opportunity to reach new audiences, too, but not those of Radiohead or Arcade Fire: access to their combined 13.3million Facebook fans is off -limits. ‘They see it as an aff ront to creativity,’ Mathieson conceded.

Others are more agreeable. Buy the new Samsung handset and you get a copy of the Jay-Z album. ‘That gave Jay-Z an extra million album sales. For a record industry that is being fi nancially squeezed, the brand work cuts out the need for a marketing budget for new releases,’ said Mathieson.

Does it really undermine the integrity Thom Yorke and co hold so dear? ‘Pushback is a generational thing. When Pulp were on stage in 1996, they stood in front of a big Virgin ‘V’ and people were angry. Recently brands have percolated into youth culture to a huge extent.’

Jamal Edwards, a 23-year-old multimillionaire and CEO of SBTV, which produces music videos for YouTube, has no problem with product placement: ‘Hip-hop is quite a boasting culture. My audience don’t see it selling out and that’s a winning formula.’

Companies don’t always get it right. When Apple included U2’s latest album on its operating software upgrade it faced a backlash. ‘People see libraries as something personal and felt their private space was invaded,’ Mathieson conceded.

Last year Harmonic pushed the parameters with Rudimental (who are headlining AWE’s wrap party in Camden) in a tie-up with Virgin Atlantic for the launch of a new route between London and Atlanta. The band played a DJ set on a fan-fi lled plane, streaming it live to show off the Wifi. It moved the band from gig-review pages to the front of national titles.

The main issue is partnership longevity. Of the £43 billion annual ad spend on the sport and entertainment industry, less than 10% is put into music. ‘Sports teams deliver a consistent product year-on-year with fans and attendances,’ Iven Pols, creative director at Adam an d Eve, said. ‘Bands are more mercurial. Will the next album be great? It’s a fast-changing landscape but it can take five years to shift a brand.’

‘It’s hard getting brands to commit to artists over a longer period,’ Bob Workman from Warner Music said. ‘We did a three-year deal with Professor Green for Puma, and two years with Relentless energy drink. That’s the holy grail.’

Rock’n’ roll can also be a bit wild for conservative corporate sorts. ‘There will always be that ‘Wayne Rooney with a granny’ situation,’ Mathieson admitted. ‘For example, Coca-Cola did a lot of due diligence before becoming involved with Mark Ronson for London Olympics.”

What’s the magic formula? ‘It comes down to allowing creative juices to flow,’ Mathieson said. Plus, a love of finding the right tunes, of course. ‘For a two-minute beer commercial we went through 12,000 tracks before landing on one, a remix of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer,’ Pols said. ‘That passion is why I’m here.’