There was a time when Broadway melodies would play on radio stations across the country, a time when showtunes were part of a crooner’s nightly set list at the club. Those were the days of musical heavyweights like Oscar Hammerstein II, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin. When one of these musical masterminds crafted a song, chances are, people around the country wanted to hear it.
It was called the Golden Age of Broadway — a period of time between the 1940s and 1960s that is often recalled by theatrical historians and Broadway devotees. Sadly, nostalgia does not pay the bills, nor does the current exposure Broadway musicals have been getting these past few years.
While the average twenty-something isn’t dying for another Gershwin-like hit, innovative musicals have been offering up songs that could strike a chord with the iTunes and YouTube generation. If only someone in the marketing community would hurry up and figure out a way to reach these unaware future fans.
The musical ‘Next to Normal’ uses a contemporary sound to deal with themes of depression and emotional crisis — dark themes reminiscent of Emo rock. ‘In the Heights,’ another currently running show, takes soft-rap music and combines it with Latin flair, making it an easy fit for contemporary hit radio playlists. And the soon-to-open ‘American Idiot’ is, well, full of music by the already hit mainstream band Green Day.
It is the latter musical, ‘American Idiot,’ that’s making the biggest strides in Broadway marketing, thanks in major part to Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and his push to get the Broadway actors on stage at this year’s Grammy Awards telecast. Musicians joining Broadway shows as producers isn’t a new concept, and this season has a few big names joining the crowd, including ‘Fela,’ which boasts an affiliation with Jay-Z. It’s time to take advantage of that relationship.
While the concept of a music video getting major airplay on a channel like MTV is dead — MTV seemingly gave up on music television a decade or so ago, opting instead to push for mindless reality TV programming — music videos continue to live online.
Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group joined forces late last year with Abu Dhabi Media to launch the online music video site Vevo.com, a site offering official music videos without all of the white noise usually associated with YouTube. The site had more than 35 million users logging on within its first month, according to comScore. Yahoo hosts music videos, as do sites including MTV.com, AOL.com and Facebook.
Broadway marketing agencies need to take advantage of this growing new media audience and start pushing music in their direction. A step in the right direction would be to produce glossy music videos that can bridge the gap between music fans and Broadway aficionados. Diverting funds usually set aside for a full-page color ad in The New York Times Sunday section to new media campaigns, like music videos, is the future of Broadway marketing. Between 2008 and 2009, the Times saw its Sunday electronic edition go from 6,385 to 34,435 views, while the print edition lost nearly 22,000 home delivery readers.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man behind such pop culture phenomena as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’ has been hyperactive in promoting his upcoming musicals. In 2006 Webber headlined a BBC One reality program, ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,’ geared towards finding a leading lady for his London production of ‘The Sound of Music’ — the program was merely a glossy commercial airing on TV every week. This model was copied by NBC in 2007 in hopes of boosting ticket sales for Broadway’s revival of ‘Grease.’ While the show was a ratings loser and the stage production was a critical disaster, ticket sales were reportedly high, according to the New York Post.
Now, Webber is at it again, only this time it is in the form of a music video for ‘Love Never Dies,’ the sequel to ‘Phantom’ set to open in London next month before transferring to Broadway later this year. Rather than slapping together production video clips and packaging it as a TV spot, the creative team behind ‘Love Never Dies’ produced an MTV-style music video.
In fact, there is no Phantom mask in sight, only the leading actor sexed up in hopes of appealing to women everywhere. Packaging the Phantom as a heartthrob prone to belting love ballads might not sit well with theatre fans, but let’s face it, the theatre crowd is already aware of the new musical. This ‘Love Never Dies’ music video appeals to a completely different crowd, one that doesn’t troll Broadway websites and The Times for show listings.
Beyond the recent Grammy Awards appearance, Green Day released a new music video featuring the song “21 Guns,” a track from ‘American Idiot.’ The band joins the Broadway cast throughout the video, further solidifying the link between Green Day’s music and the theatrical production.
As traditional marketing methods prove incapable of creating enough buzz to sell out a new Broadway musical, now is the time for producers and marketing executives to get creative. Whether it’s big budget reality shows or viral music videos, there are options for any budget. With so much creativity coming to life on stage every night, there is no excuse for not pumping that same amount of thought into marketing campaigns.