Nobody commands an audience quite like a musician. Playing to thousands of fans while on tour gives the world’s most famous acts the chance to perfect the art of giving crowds exactly what they want, when they want it.
But what do they do when they want to target new audiences? How can acts who are bound by the constraints of their genre find ways to reach out to people who normally wouldn’t listen to their kind of music?
Jay-Z and Aerosmith found themselves in exactly this kind of situation and discovered an innovative way around it.
It’s 2004 and Jay-Z is one of the world’s leading rap stars. His roots very much in ghetto rap culture, he rhymes about drug-dealing, pimping and crime. With eight platinum albums and countless awards to his name, he could have been forgiven for sticking to the formula that was working for him.
It’s 1985 and Aerosmith are on the wane. A platinum-selling band in the mid-70s, their most recent albums had been successful, but nowhere near what they had experienced a decade before. Perhaps their brand of feathered hair, tight trousered, high pitched rock was not what the kids wanted anymore…
Two artists with very different, yet well-defined audiences. Both had experienced mainstream popularity in the US and around the globe. One was at his height, the other in decline.
But both did the same thing: both did something unexpected.
In 2004, fresh off the back of his number 1 selling Black Album, Jay-Z walks out on stage at the Roxy Theatre to wild screams of excitement. But this isn’t his usual environment. Not only is the audience made up of fans from a very different genre, his backing music is heavy guitar, explosive drums, and screaming vocals.
This is part of the MTV Mash Up series. This is Collision Course.
Rewind to 1985 and Aerosmith’s manager, Tim Collins, takes a call from Rick Rubin, the 22-year-old producer and founder of Def Jam, the record label focused on promoting rap music. Rubin, a kid who had grown up on rock music, wanted to talk about the idea of remaking Aerosmith’s 10-year-old song Walk This Way with a rap group on his label: Run-DMC.
The call doesn’t go quite as planned. Collins’ first question: “What’s rap?”
Back to the Roxy Theatre. To the accompaniment of thrash guitar and thunderous drum solos, Jay-Z and Linkin Park bridge genres with their performance. A true ‘mash up’ containing a balance of both artists’ songs, the performance is a cacophony of sound, fronted by a whirlwind of rap and rock lyrics.
Fans of two distinctly different styles of music, and likely from very different backgrounds, are thrust together in collective euphoria.
Two decades earlier, the same happens with Aerosmith and Run-DMC. The new version of Walk this Way becomes a smash hit, paves the way for further collaborations (like Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s) and 30 years later remains beloved by multiple generations of music fans.
Jay-Z’s venture into the world of rock music opened him up to a whole new audience who may never have considered themselves fans before.
Aerosmith benefited even more. The collaboration reignited their career, which was fading fast at the time.
So, what do Jay-Z and Aerosmith think about your audiences? That portion of our market we spend all of our time trying to reach?
They think it’s bollocks.
They think that if you expand your horizons a little, and focus on those that will be open to your product, rather than those that you know have purchased before, then you will reap the rewards.
Whether it’s reigniting a career, or accelerating one, look outside of your ‘core market’ and focus on those slightly further afield.
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