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Audio Archaeology: Corporate Music

on February 29, 2012, 11:30am

Back in November, wild man garage rocker King Khan released a new EP with a new project, the King Khan Experience. But, rather than finding an indie label to get that next batch of tunes out to the world, the project went to Scion. As our very own Chris Coplan put it, Scion A/V is “a subsidiary of the company that makes those box-shaped vehicles.” That may seem like a strange choice, but maybe it’s just that Khan had been breathing in exhaust whilst jamming out in the garage. Regardless, this sort of strange affiliation of good, independent music and little offshoots of huge corporations is a budding romance, one that crosses genres, countries, and styles. Whether or not this sort of relationship is a viable option in a world where labels lose money and record stores go out of business remains to be seen. That said, the track record that collectives like Scion A/V are establishing is interesting.

Maybe it all started when a bigwig at Scion, wondering where the next revenue source would be, heard King Khan singing “Welfare Bread” blasting out of the mail guy’s headphones and thought, “Hey, that might sell some cars.” Or maybe it’s something less cynical than that, where someone actually thought that giving exposure to deserving artists was a good idea. Either way, one of the most entertaining showmen in rock got new listeners, and a faceless corporation received some positive karma from the indie world.

Khan wasn’t the only one. L.A.’s electro-funkster Dâm-Funk put together a four-track called InnaFocusedDaze, a dreamily club-ready EP all set for the car ride to the dance party. “Don’t U Know (That This Funk Iz Real)?” clacks and drips with synthy burbles, and the whole thing slides by smoothly. Unlike corporate crossovers of, say, 15 years ago (music on commercials, perhaps), there’s not even a hint that this music was being made for a corporate audience. Neither Khan nor Funk sound any different on their Scion collections than they do on their own.

Everyone from hip-hop’s Big Freedia to Japanese metal maestros Boris to even the Melvins (their latest grab) are working with Scion, broadening the corporation’s appeal to pockets they couldn’t imagine and giving musicians an opportunity for a new audience. But perhaps that’s just an optimistic look at what fans, for decades, have called selling out. Aligning your music with a corporation is a risky move. This sort of release could be taken as Boris endorsing Scion as their car of choice or that they approve of Scion as a corporation, which isn’t a small deal for artists in the public eye. Are Dam-Funk fans more likely to buy Scions? Is this something that anyone needs to worry about? At the moment, it would seem that there isn’t any nefarious intent behind the scenes, but this kind of crossover could be the beginning of the proverbial slippery slope.

Mountain Dew, on the other hand, would seem to be an easier sell than a car. Dew’s Green Label Sound has been involved in similarly great releases recently, including both the Cool KidsWhen Fish Ride Bicycles and the first single off of WavvesKing of the Beach, “Post Acid”. I can imagine Nathan Williams pouring some Mountain Dew down after a bagful of Cheetos more easily than I can the members of Boris driving around in a Scion, so maybe this corporate crossover makes a little more sense, but it’s still a strange connection. The Cool Kids defended themselves against arguments that they’d sold out, arguing that “I don’t even drink soda, but if they asked me to drink a whole case, I would.” If they’re to be believed, Mountain Dew swooped down with a pot of money and let them do whatever they wanted with the record, just to get the cache of being associated with the hip rappers. If that’s the case, it would seem to be the best possible form of selling out, an ambivalent rather than malevolent one.

Nike got into the mix with their Nike+ Original Run series, mixtapes of sorts designed by musicians to go along with a nice run. Perhaps the most logical of the connections, the continuous music was designed to facilitate a practiced, routine workout. The Crystal Method‘s take, Drive: Nike+ Original Run, was a combination of new tracks, remixes, and samples of old songs pushed together into one fluid mix. The Aesop Rock mix, titled All Day, is an evolving, catapulting, 45-minute workout blast. While it’s surely part of Nike’s plan that these mixes will get you, somehow, to buy shoes, the idea of allowing musicians to create new music (especially with such a specific, interesting intention) for an ever-growing audience is an interesting development.

This sort of collaboration would seem to be toeing the line of selling out, whatever that may mean. Some artists may not want to be so easily associated with a product, but if King Khan received more listeners from this sort of deal without having to compromise any of his insane garage psych credentials, so be it. If people assume that Mountain Dew is a cool, fun drink because they love Wavves, then that’s on Williams and Co. to deal with. Either way, it would seem that musicians are getting money to fund projects in a world where that kind of funding just isn’t always there, and that’s at least a step in the right direction.