Red Bull has long been a bit of a pacesetter in the brand content space. From crazy action sports videos bearing the branding of the drink that gives you wings, to its out-of-this world Stratos stunt that dropped a man from the edges of space, the brand brings an uncommon level of ambition to the art of content—after all, the company has a dedicated unit devoted exclusively to making media, and making money from it.
Among its recent cutting-edge efforts, perhaps its most robust undertaking is Red Bull Music Academy, a month-long music festival that includes lectures, public concerts, and hands-on instruction in a purpose-built space for 60 fortunate music heads. Founded 15 years ago, the Music Academy has a long legacy of creating in-person moments for participants to meet music heroes, as well as bringing tons of live music to its host city (it’s held somewhere different each time). In the last two years, however, Red Bull has elevated the volume and quality of content produced to new heights.
In addition to the live events, which were held in New York and wrapped last week, this year’s RBMA content output included more than 70 pieces of video content created by NYC integrated commercial production company m ss ng p eces. Some of them were directly related to RBMA, like videos of the Academy’s sessions, lectures, and concerts. Others were more loosely related to the music of New York, in general, like four short documentaries on seminal aspects of the NYC music scene (featuring DFA Records, the light art of Brian Eno, NYC’s electro scene, and the city’s new hip-hop sound), and Daily Note, a daily music newspaper published by Doubleday & Cartwright for the duration of RBMA.
RBMA’s Davide Bortot says the increased editorial output certainly reflects the times—content marketing is exploding, and Red Bull itself has become a significant force with its Media House—but the real thrust behind creating so much more interesting content was simply based on opportunity.
“We have some of the most profiled music journalists as part of the event, and a lot of us on the team are former music journalists,” says Bortot. “We just wanted to find an outlet for that. It’s about taking the sprit of the Academy and applying the philosophy to a media product.”
And what philosophy is that? “The driver in this process is the idea of sharing knowledge,” Bortot says. “It’s about local focuses and a global outlook and that those key values of the Academy are reflected in the content.”
In this case, having knowledge as the foundation of RBMA’s content creation was effective. Not only is the creative output a sterling example of how to do brand content right, it’s amazing and informative content—full stop.
Fans of indie label DFA will relish the story of how the influential label came to be while hardcore producer types will appreciate the deep tech talk from studio sessions, like that with Four Tet. The thousands of people not lucky enough to snag a coveted spot among the 60 Music Academy participants can catch the lectures with luminaries like Brian Eno and Philip Glass. And those with a more passing interest in it all can flip through the snippets of content that were turned into charming animations from speakers like Giorgio Morodor.
In a world where everyone is rushing to create content—itself a word that Bortot says devalues the potential for telling brand stories—here are five bits of wisdom gleaned from RBMA on creating content that’s relevant, entertaining, useful, and just works.
Bortot says when coming up with an editorial focus for a broadened content strategy—which, until the relaunch of Red Bull Music Academy’s website two years ago, primarily consisted of video capture of lectures and sessions—it was important to let RBMA’s principles bind the content together. There were three:
“One of our principles is to take subcultures seriously. This is not something that’s really special anymore, but 15 years ago when we launched it wasn’t happening that much. We provide a platform where everything from drone metal to deep house is taken seriously as an art form,” says Bortot.
He says the second was to create real life and digital encounters between people who usually wouldn’t meet. “You’ll see a lot of things in the Daily Note that normally wouldn’t appear in the same magazine. It’s important for us to expose our audience to as many influences as possible.”
Finally, RBMA is dedicated to giving a platform to up-and-coming artist and musical movements. “If you want the really cheesy brand version of that, Red Bull’s cultural engagement is based on the premises of giving wings to people and ideas. Even though we’d never say that publicly, in the end it’s kind of what we do. We made a decision we wanted to work with up-and-coming artists.”
While there is definitely a source-bias when it comes to areas like music journalism (where legit cred is a must), Bortot believes that with brand content, if executed properly, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
“I think the times of the one definitive [music] magazine are over. The times you can shove something up people’s asses is over. They’re looking for very specific things, so we take that into account when creating content,” he says.
Content marketing works, says Bortot, when it creates something valuable for the consumer. “I think the whole idea of creating something meaningful and useful is beautiful,” he says. “What we try to do is stand for certain values that maybe aren’t out there anymore because of how the world is structured. We pride ourselves on bringing a certain quality to music journalism that might not exist anymore because of financial reasons, like commissioning a six-page article on Brian Eno’s years in NYC.”
He cautions against focusing on the communication vehicle over substance. “To me, the word content is where the problem starts. Content is almost disrespectful to what people do. People will just produce content because they need it, but what we try to do also is look at what people actually want to see and want to read,” he says. “And not everything we do is insanely popular because some of it is very niche and obscure, but at least it’s exactly the kind of thing you want to read if you’re interested in that world. For the people who are interesting in modular synths, we want to have something that’s truly of value.”
As part of its partnership with Red Bull Music Academy, m ss ng p eces was instrumental in determining how the video content would be approached, packaged, and produced. “We had to produce at least one video each day of the RBMA, so we had to really look at it and make it better than it’s been so far,” says CEO, Executive Producer Ari Kuschnir. “In the past, it was good but it was very much event content. You’d look at it and it would be lectures and insidery stuff that got some play in the hardcore music community, but it didn’t really transcend pop culture. We really wanted to hit that with making these daily shorter animation pieces, cut-downs of videos, live event things. We wanted to take it out of the interior dialogue and make it more widespread.”
The short docs, says Kuschnir, are the perfect example of content destined to be passed around. “We made sure they were going to be definitive short films, that they’d be the ultimate reference and the thing that people from then on would remember. No one had done a visual piece on Brian Eno that focuses on the visual work that he’s been doing for 30 years. All the content we set out to make is all incredibly viable, catchy, and sharable. It’s all designed to be shared.”
With so much content to produce at such a rapid pace, m ss ng p eces had to do some serious prioritizing, from determining which bits of the nearly 20 hours a day would be captured to how they’d be put together.
“Content production, particularly when you’re doing so much of it, needs to have a more efficient process than advertising because the intentions behind the content are so different,” says m ss ng p eces executive producer and partner Kate Oppenheim. “Advertising is a finely crafted art, and there’s so much precision that goes into it because you’re creating one asset that needs to last maybe for a year or 18 months. When you’re producing 70 pieces of content in a month, you can’t give it that same level of scrutiny. Which is not to say the quality is not on par, but it’s a different beast.”
If efficiency was important to the success of RBMA’s content production, so was empowering production partners. Oppenheim says that m ss ng p eces presented approaches to each category of content at the outset, but once all was agreed on, they were largely left to just go out and produce. “We made everything with relatively little supervision,” she says, “though we were working in their offices so it wasn’t completely freewheeling.” Having the 18-person production team situated in the RBMA offices helped facilitate on-the-fly communication and give the relevant people a sense of oversight while still letting the production team produce vast amounts of video.
For its part, m ss ng p eces says it’s crucial to have the right people on a project like this. “These projects are so few and far between, and that’s because it’s really resource intensive, so you have to be sure to have the right people behind it.”
Which is why Bortot says RBMA always teams with local partners steeped in the cultural scene to create relevant and ultimately timeless content that at once fits Red Bull’s brand values and informs and entertains those who encounter it.