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Perhaps it’s a rhetorical question”, but each year as we move into summer music tour season, we often ask ourselves given the importance of music in connecting with youth culture, why more brands don’t use it? Music is at the vortex of youth culture lifestyle and is the most essential culture to track in terms of reaching 13-25-year-olds globally. More than sports, fashion, TV entertainment, or technology, music is the thread that links the youth culture marketplace across all economic levels, regions, ethnicities, age groups, and genders. Even in times of increasing economic disparity, music remains the most influential factor in determining one’s identity, opinions, fashion trends, and purchasing patterns among this marketplace.

From our primary data collected since 2000 in our North American Youth Culture Study the averages hover around 70-80% of young people between the ages of 13-25-years-old who say that music has a major impact on their decisions in some way. Why? Because music is personal and emotional -it means something to us inside even though it’s often difficult to articulate. What’s most powerful is that music can provide a sense of identity, even change the way we see ourselves. For a young person coming into their own for the very first time, music provides a source of identity, whether it be metal, punk, emo, J-rock, Tecktonik, nu rave, or a crossover of several different genres.

Ironically”, while the music industry is suffering in terms of business of record labels and distributors the lifestyle of music is thriving: Music is the driving force of the majority of trends in fashion and provides a sense of discovery -which is a motivating factory in youth culture. There are many thought-leaders who have recognized the importance of music on youth culture and have taken their brands to popularity through the lifestyle of music associations i.e., Volcom launching what is essentially a fashion brand as a lifestyle vehicle through music, their own record label sponsorship of up-and-coming artists and now their own independent tour. Vans and the Vans Warped Tour uses music as the vehicle of grassroots marketing; Hurley and the Taste of Chaos tour does the same; Rockstar Energy drink and the upcoming Rockstar Mayhem Fest. Freestyle Rolling and the re-birth of inline skating which has been recognized by DipSet has launched their own pro DipSkate Team and took the power of music and moved into sports and associated lifestyle fashion, events, and tours. In electronics, the increased cred-factor of Apple Computer with the launch of their iPod and their corresponding music-listening campaigns (and iPhone) represents just the tip of the iceberg of opportunity in electronics and music association. As electronics continue to become key style accessories, including cell phones, Laptops, and digi cameras, the brands behind the creation of such important personal communication and entertainment devices have loyal followings and therefore also have potential to expand outside of their genre into corresponding apparel products–using music as the connector.

However many large brands and agencies still do not use music as often as they should as an emotional connection to reaching youth consumers. One reason for this comes from their agencies that turn to TV and celebrity endorsements to launch campaigns. And generally, such brands do not track the latest subcultures in music and trends. Meanwhile you’ve got someone like Crooks & Castles, a small streetwear brand with super limited funds, dedicating dollars to a full-time music director to make sure they’re in touch with what’s fresh in music because they recognize that it’s their lifeblood to future success. And you’ve got rap/hip-hop artists ALL launching apparel lines as though it’s a given birthright with music celebrity.

How influential are musicians to you in terms of your daily lifestyle?

Yet among larger brands” we are often asked we call the “the music question” such as how important is it? which always ends up with the additional question “how effective is grassroots marketing, really?” There’s an element of risk involved when it comes to music for many larger brand based on a lack of understanding about top trends in music and the connection, as well as the unfamiliarity of traditional advertising methods required to use music which usually includes grassroots programs such as event sponsorship, new media campaigns, websites, podcasts, blogs, social networks, plus sponsorship of musicians, and promotion of growth opportunities such as DJ schools, dance, competitions, and so on. While some large brands do make the move into music, more often than not, instead of looking at the up-and-coming artists that are about to break, they sponsor so-called safe bets like Maroon 5 and then wonder why they can’t reach a younger demographic.

Brand backlash for ill-tuned campaigns doesn’t mean shy away from using music at all (and blaming music as unquantifiable), but rather it means you got it wrong, try again, get it right this time.

Not to hate on large brands or anything, but in response to the obvious need and lack of foresight when it comes to music and even grassroots sponsorship, last year we launched a Sponsorship Youth Culture Profile Report (with our second due out this summer) that quantifies for the big guys what young people think of grassroots sponsorship, the effectiveness of swag, the percentages of spending patterns based on music, sponsorship, events, bands, and interactive campaigns via new media in general.

Until the report is completed, we would suggest a couple of things: Start reading music sites and blogs, but not like, Rolling Stone, more like Alternative Press and Prohiphop and J-rock sites; look at the bands’ MySpace pages to see and hear the top bands mentioned in the aforementioned sites and blogs; then go to top youth culture lifestyle fashion sites and even hardgood brands (in action sports primarily) and see what they have going online. See which ones capture music news, sponsor events, bands, stream video, have their own label or support musicians, sponsor tours this summer and which ones and why and go to those sites too, offer interactive components through music, and then feature their fashion and the campaigns they’re using to making moves with their brand. Compare this with fashion and hardgoods brand sites that first ask you which country you’re from (as if to prove their global or something) before getting to whatever’s behind the front page. See the generation gap within the industry already? How far away are you?

There’s a difference between destination site and brand site. Just like there’s a difference between a brand and a lifestyle. And a lifestyle and a life. For some of these guys in streetwear, they don’t live the lifestyle, their brand is their life. That passion makes the difference. Like music, it seeps into the pores of the listener and has a ripple effect that’s scary powerful. If you don’t have that connection with the marketplace, one way to get it is to start with music, get dirty, and sweat in the mosh pit–that’s where you’ll find the connection and power of music and youth culture.