It's not even six months old yet, but many of us are more than ready to turn the page on 2020. Unless there's an amazing comeback in the offing, it's looking like the worst year ever in most of our lifetimes.
Unless, of course, you're in the Classic Rock community of radio stations. Despite a pandemic with people hunkered down in their homes, most stations in the format have already enjoyed a nice run this year, at least in the ratings. Even though in-car and at-work listening, industry-wide, has been way off since things started going south in mid-March, most of these stations have held up well, or even grown their shares.
And perhaps some of that is explained by Classic Rock's presence in pop culture – and our culture in general. Classic Rock's multi-generational popularity makes it easy to create mass appeal marketing.
Today's post will highlight a half dozen recent Classic Rock news stories, guaranteed to make you smile, perhaps raise an eyebrow, and maybe even groan. But unlike so many other music genres that are…well, just music…Classic Rock's ability to survive and thrive during good times and bad is important.
For a format whose “newest” songs are nearly three decades old, current news stories have been part of what's kept the music fresh and relevant.
Classic Can 1: Pandemic Oldies – That's the term that ended up in a Wall Street Journal story by Anne Steele. Titled “Classic Rock Gives Comfort To Music Fans During Coronavirus Lockdown,” Steele walks readers through Spotify music streaming trends back in March and April when most Americans were cooped up in their homes.
Faced with home schooling kids, engaging in DIY projects around the house, or learning a new skill, many opted to listen to the Doobie Brothers, Queen, U2, and the Stones.
Steele quotes the same Nielsen/MRC data you've read here in this blog. From mid-March through April, contemporary and pop music streaming sagged, while consumption of older music has taken flight. Asked to explain this phenomenon, Spotify music exec, Jeremy Erlich, put it this way:
“Over the past weeks, we’ve seen a shift in how people are engaging with content due to the change of routines and more time spent at home. Our listeners come to Spotify for all of the moments within their lives and this time is no different.”
During difficult times, we carbon-based creatures seek a flight to familiarity and comfort – yes, Classic Rock.
The best thing about this article? It's in the Wall Street Journal, a New York-based, credible source that many media planners and marketers read and respect. Every time Classic Rock makes a positive appearance in one of these prestige publications, it's a reminder of the music's ongoing relevance.
Thanks, Bill Weston.
Classic Can 2: Black Sabbath and #BLM – While a mashup of heavy metal classics and racial awareness might seem a bit incongruous, not to three of the original members of the seminal Black Sabbath – Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and of course, the always fashionable Ozzy Osbourne.
According to Forbes' Quentin Singer, they first noticed the Instagram account of Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello sporting a familiar T-shirt alongside his 96 year-old mother, bearing the exact same font and design as Sabbath's 1971 album (yes, now 49 years-old), Masters of Reality.
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My 96 yr old mom has been a tireless advocate for Black Lives her whole life. From being a foreign student advisor at the Univ. of Illinois, to teaching in Kenya and supporting the anti-colonial movement there, to teaching African Studies and bringing a radical perspective to a white conservative high school for 30 yrs, to being a member of the Illinois Urban League and campaigning for civil rights, to helping homeless African American men get their GED at the Salvation Army, to telling anybody who came at our family with any racist garbage to go straight to hell, to arming me with pride & confidence, to being a lifelong proponent of racial justice and ruthless critic of racist police. Proud to stand with her today, as always, in solidarity in the fight for a more just and humane country & planet. (Photo by Rhoads Morello)
That photo motivated Sabbath's Geezer Butler to spring into action. One week after Morello's post, this one appeared on Sabbath's Instagram, announcing the sale of these shirts (net proceeds going to #BLM). They ship mid-July.
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Did I mention the story was in Forbes?
Thanks to Alan Cross.
Classic Can 3: Classic Rock in space – Speaking of classic metal, you no doubt saw the historic launch of that SpaceX rocket late last month, hurtling astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into space.
According to Loudwire, CNN anchor John Berman reported the SpaceX Dragon crew needed a little “mood music” on their way to the launcher. In the same way baseball players love that special “walk up” song before taking their at-bats, astronauts apparently need to psyche up, too.
@JohnBerman anchoring CNN coverage of the #spacexlaunch is 💯: “We were told the astronauts listened to ‘Back in Black' from AC/DC on their way to the rocket. In that vein let's just say, for those about to launch, we salute you.”
— Caroline Kenny (@carolinerkenny) May 30, 2020
And the song the duo requested for their wake-up music? Black Sabbath's appropriate “Planet Caravan.”
Classic Can #4: Lizzo, meet Lennon – You're Facebook, and you have a new product – Messenger Rooms (designed to compete with video chat platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams) – and you're late to the party. On top of that, your target audience is all human beings with a pulse.
What soundtrack do you use to pull together Boomers, Gen Zs, and everybody in between?
As Muse by Clio's David Gianatasio cleverly framed it: John, Paul, George…and Lizzo.
Agency Leo Burnett and Facebook's Creative X studio masterminded the project, licensing the lyrically perfect “All Together Now” (from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack in 1969), and then adding the considerable talent of young pop icon Lizzo, guaranteeing multi-generational appeal.
Facebook's Rooms is well behind Zoom, but a little Classic Rock ditty makes this demographically diverse marketing approach memorable – and shareable.
Classic Can #5: Face mask chic – There I was, surfing the web during a recent lazy weekend afternoon. These days, it's hard to avoid ads for face masks – from the practical to the very hip and fashionable.
And then I ran into this one that had a vague whiff of familiarity, like I'd seen it somewhere before:
The graphic on the right was actually part of my original marketing for the Classic Rock format, designed by Motor City ad maven, Chato Hill. It ended up on billboards, sales pieces, T-shirts, and other merch for some of the early Classic Rock stations, including WMMQ, CSX, and KLSX.
And now, you can show off your musical taste by wearing your favorite albums (on cassette) on your PPE. And note the Black Sabbath album on the mask, obviously the hidden theme in today's post.
Classic Can #6: The sincerest form of flattery – And of course, we're talking about parody. Whether they send you up on Saturday Night Live or you end up as a bit on the The Bob & Tom Show, humorists never parody things that aren't famous, popular, and top-of-mind.
So, when The Onion recently incorporated the genre and radio format into its humor, you just have to smile. The headline alone is brilliant:
Scientists Discover Mysterious Radio Transmission From Space That Repeats 50-Minute Intervals Of Nonstop Classic Rock Blocks
And you have to love this quote from fictitious SETI researcher, Duane Hess:
“Our technicians have been jamming out ever since we were able to position our satellites to pick up a clear frequency of the Who, which provided our strongest indication yet that we are not alone in our appreciation of iconic, album-oriented rock ’n’ roll. There remains much to be studied, including an unexplained phenomenon in which, on Tuesdays only, the signal transmits double shots of all our favorites, from the Eagles and Foreigner to Eddie Money and Billy Squier. It’s truly a groundbreaking development. We have noticed they tend to play the same songs quite a bit, though.”
Obviously, he's forgotten about No-Repeat Workdays.
Thanks to Jeff Smith.
I'm often asked to what explains this music (and these radio stations) managing to defy all odds by not only holding onto their appeal among those who grew up with the Doors, Aerosmith, Floyd, and Fleetwood Mac decades ago, but also building a fan base among their children (and in some cases, grandchildren).
But as we've learned over the years, earning a continued place in pop culture and the news is what helps make a classic phenomenon feel very current.
Go ahead, have another beer. We have more.