How to Use Music to Organically Bridge Cultures
Music can be the best way to bridge cultures when allowed to truly be a bridge.
Fifteen years ago the function of any person providing multicultural insights in America was to translate and adapt messages to different audiences. Today the role is vastly different. Today our role is to unite and bridge cultures. The same way as different cultures that are fusing together in the United States.
The worst thing we could do is use music to divide audiences into silos under the mistaken pretense that we are not smart enough to understand. And music, when done right, can be the perfect way to unite cultures in this rapidly changing environment.
The myth that multicultural means fencing in groups of people is one that I hope to put to rest.
Here are some other key insights from our experience:
Using music to market to Hispanics (or other groups) does not mean necessarily using accordions, trumpets and congas (or any ethnic instruments).
Sometimes ethnic instruments and rhythms can be a powerful way to unite cultures and age groups but it has been our experience that when used thoughtlessly those cultural references can feel passé. They may be valid for previous generations, but not so for newer ones, who are hybrids of two worlds and who confidently switch languages and customs back and forth. For these, especially for millennials, the operative word is nuance. Music can bring the passion of Hispanic audiences forward through the use of rhythms and accents rather than tired cliches that can sometimes come through as exclusionary, even offensive.
For example, you wouldn’t necessarily know it, but Gwen Stefani’s beautiful single “Baby, Don’t Lie” is based on Jamaican rhythms done in a way that does not feel antiquated or exclusionary. A prime example of multicultural influences enriching the mainstream.
On the other hand, with a respectful tip of the hat to two awesome musicians and showmen, speeding up Santana’s “Oye Como Va” and adding Pitbull’s rap on top of it is not forward-thinking.
The evolving ethnic makeup of America is bringing another quality to the forefront: authenticity.
From the way the many immigrant waves reshaped the original Puritan view of the world, to the way Hispanics are now re-shaping the public discourse, the trend is clear: messages (and music) are getting more human, more authentic. In the new multicultural America we want to see the blemishes, not an Auto-Tuned version of ourselves.
The insights from cultural segments can enrich the entire experience.
Listen to all your constituents rather than trying to make your message as bland as possible so as to not offend anyone. We reject bland as flavorless. Why not incorporate cultural differences into the overall message in the way music can subtly incorporate rhythms, melodies and influences from the whole world? It’s the difference between music that doesn’t offend anyone (but pleases no one either) and music that’s rich with many bold influences.
The real reason all of this is important.
It is not because audiences keep their ethnic background in mind to make decisions about where to spend money and who to follow. In fact, it’s the opposite. Their ethnic backgrounds shape their decisions and behaviors in subtle, almost subconscious ways. For example, some brands marketing to multicultural millennials will shy away from their ethnic roots without realizing that there are immense opportunities in embracing their intrinsic qualities, such as their level of passion and their engagement with social causes. Why not embrace the same qualities when using music to connect with them?
Sound and music are powerful ways to connect with audiences. Just make sure you leverage all the best qualities of your audiences. Music can be safe or it can be bold with all the richness your audience has. That’s not even a choice if you ask me.
Jose Luis Revelo is Director of Business Development and Music Strategy, Multicultural at Man Made Music.
Talk to him on Twitter @jlrevelo.