A Rising Tide of Branded Content
a.k.a. Within electronic music media, the line between editorial and advertising has become exceedingly fuzzy.
Every Thursday, I send out a digest edition of the newsletter, rounding up news items, new release announcements and links to other electronic music-related happenings that have popped up during the preceding week. As part of the preparation process, I always make a point to look through recent content offerings from a wide range of publications, just to see if they’ve published anything that might be of interest to the average First Floor reader. Mixmag is one such publication, and when I landed on their features page last week, two things caught my eye:
Actress was the subject of the magazine’s latest “cover story,” which I wound up sharing in the newsletter. (The scare quotes are due to the fact that Mixmag’s print edition has been “paused” since 2020. Digital cover stories continue to be a profoundly weird phenomenon.)
Four out of the next five features listed stemmed from brand partnerships. They included:
A photo-heavy wrap-up of Mixmag’s 40th birthday party, sponsored by Ballantine’s.
An unbylined guide explaining “How to get your track signed,” sponsored by Amex Gold Unsigned, an initiative that “exists to create breakthrough opportunities for emerging artists and offers a unique platform to celebrate new music of every genre.”
The third installment of the five-part Street Covers series, which is sponsored by Vuse (an e-cigarette company owned by tobacco giant Reynolds American) and aims to spotlight “emerging music and art talent from around the world, showcasing the cities and streets that inspire them.” The article and accompanying video, both of which require viewers to state that they’re at least 18 years old, feature Anfisa Letyago and designer Brian Cannon paying a visit to Barcelona.
A gallery retrospective of the photo exhibition that Mixmag staged earlier this month at the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), which was done in conjunction with the publication’s “official fashion partner” A|X ARMANI EXCHANGE.
Branded content is nothing new of course—I myself worked at Red Bull Music Academy for many years, and still stand behind the quality of that project—and with other revenue sources drying up during the past few years, music publications have increasingly turned to corporate sponsorships in order to maintain some level of financial viability. In many ways, the dividing line between editorial and advertising is thinner now than it’s been in decades, as journalists working at these outlets are now frequently asked—some might say required—to devote their time and contacts to the creation and execution of marketing campaigns, as opposed to actual reporting. In the electronic music realm, the negative impact this shift has had on the quality of coverage is obvious, but it seems that things haven’t yet hit rock bottom. As jarring as it is to see a supposedly independent music media outlet like Mixmag post four separate branded features within the span of a single week, it’s far from the only offender.
The percentage of sponsored content seems to be on the rise everywhere, and in some cases, publications are barely even trying to make what they’re doing look like editorial anymore.