Movies as Music Marketing Vehicle

When director Dome Karukoski was interviewed about Tolkien and what, if any, involvement the family and estate of the late author might have had in crafting the story, he responded by saying he avoided such entanglements, fearful that in doing so things might become watered down. He was concerned they would want certain aspects of the story removed, hidden or downplayed because they cast Tolkien in a less than favorable light and instead wanted to remain as true as possible to the facts, with certain creative license taken, of course.

Karukoski’s point of view runs in stark contrast to the approach taken by the filmmakers behind a spat of recent “authorized” biopics, particularly those focusing on bands and musicians. On a number of different occasions those movies, which purport to offer behind-the-scenes “real” stories of how artists rose to fame or bands went through the years of paying their dues before becoming worldwide phenomena, not only have the blessing of the people being portrayed but their active involvement as well.

Consider the three following examples:

  • Bohemian Rhapsody has been in the works for a number of years, with the surviving members of the band Queen shepherding the project along. Their involvement and the desire for it to be a glossy history of the band and not one the delved too deeply into the troubles it had or lead singer Freddie Mercury’s sexuality kept it from moving forward for a long while, at one point leading to Sacha Baron Cohen dropping out due to “creative differences.”
  • The Dirt covers the early years of Motley Crue and adapts the book of the same name that was written with the band’s involvement. As the movie was nearing release, band members gave it their endorsement by appearing at numerous publicity events and promoting it on their social media channels.
  • Rocketman, which tells the story of the rise of Elton John from obscure club musician to international superstar, has received his approval at every step. He’s been interviewed about it and is quoted in stories often, emphasizing how true to reality the story is. John’s husband serves as a producer on the movie as well.

The verdict on Rocketman is still out, but if it follows the pattern established by the first two it’s easy to understand why John would want to not only get his story out there but do so in a way that he had some measure of control over.

the dirt pic

Bohemian Rhapsody was criticized for glossing over Mercury’s personal life and playing up the involvement of the rest of the band, but sales and streaming of their music increased dramatically and Queen launched a new tour to take advantage of the attention being turned their way. So too Motley Crue’s music became more popular than it had been in a long while despite pushback on the movie, which many pointed out conveniently overlooks allegations of serious sexual misconduct and other problems.

These movies have become marketing platforms for classic rocks acts who need a shot in the arm that’s less damaging to their livers and kidneys than the shots in the arm they enjoyed in their heydays. While “classic rock” is still prevalent on the radio in many markets, it’s not as popular as it once was as it fades further into history. Stations find more success playing soft rock hits from the last few decades or Top 40 hits. There are still fans, of course, but as Boomers age and Gen X (which invented the category, thank you very much) get older and are less attractive to advertisers, stations that once specialized in classic rock are going under much like Chicago’s 97.9 WLUP, which folded last year when it was sold to Christian rock syndicator KLOVE.

Getting a movie out there brings these acts and artists back into the conversation. As mentioned, Queen launched a new tour with Adam Lambert taking on vocal duties. Rocketman arrives between legs of John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, touted as the singer’s final big outing before he joins the ranks of singers like Neil Diamond, Paul Simon and others that have hung up their touring equipment because life on the road in their 60s and 70s is very different than it was in their 20s and 30s.

rocketman pic

The difference between how the subjects are producing and developing these authorized biopics and how Tolkien, like many recent movies about famous authors, is unauthorized is that the former have something to sell while those late authors don’t. That’s even the case with an upcoming movie like Judy, a case where the family of the late Judy Garland has disavowed the project entirely. Garland doesn’t have any new music to promote or an active touring career to support, nor does Tolkien have any new books hitting shelves. So their estates and families have moved into “protection” mode to safeguard the reputations of their famous ancestors instead of actively developing new projects that draw attention to new offerings.

The movies are, in essence, a form of owned content marketing.

These certainly aren’t the first movies being used in this manner – all those films based on comic/video game/other properties do the same thing – but it’s still somewhat surprising to see it happening this blatantly. The reputations and stories of those in the movies are being burnished by the subjects themselves or those with an active monetary interest in doing so. It’s not so different from what authorized biographies and autobiographies have always done, but having it happen on film is still a bit disconcerting, especially with a cluster of examples like this.

It’s not hard to imagine more projects along these lines coming soon. The success of Bohemian Rhapsody and even the two Mamma Mia! films shows there are plenty of people who want to see their favorite sing-along rock hits on screen, so more artists and bands could jump aboard before this particular train runs out of steam.

The Dirt – Marketing Recap

the dirt posterThe excesses of early 80s rock and roll come to life in the new Netflix exclusive feature The Dirt. The movie tells the story of the early days of heavy metal hair band Mötley Crüe and how its members embodied the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle to an outrageous degree, setting the standard for bad boy behavior while also creating some of the era’s defining music.

This is hardly some scandalous version of the band’s history, though, since it’s based on the biography authorized by its members. Still, there’s plenty of dirt (so to speak) to dig up that illustrates just how over the top and destructive the behavior of those in the band really was on a personal and professional level.

The Posters

Everything about the poster looks like it’s pulled from an album cover circa 1984, from the gritty black and white photography used to capture the band to the typefaces that look like words that have been cut out of a magazine or newspaper and then pasted on posterboard. There’s heavy usage of words like “infamous,” “unbelievable” and “notorious” to play up the level of the band’s antics. Mostly, though the design works hard to visually evoke the era the story takes place in.

The Trailers

The trailer was released in mid-February and starts off by showing the early days of the band, including how it’s made up of a collection of misfits. They’re determined to give the fans a show they won’t forget, though, and start out living lives of excess, drama and tragedy. In between setting hotel rooms on fire and such we see them go through internal conflicts and personal upheaval, but the focus is always on the larger-than-life approach the band had. Even when they’re going down, they’re doing so in flames.

Online and Social

Nothing here, as usual.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Outdoor billboards used the key art to make sure passers-by knew the movie was coming soon to Netflix.

Media and Publicity

This is yet another project that originated years ago at Paramount and has bounced around to different studios and with different casts before Netflix acquired the rights to it a couple years ago.

The band produced a handful of new music to coincide with the movie, the first it had put out since it called it quits a few years ago. That occasion warranted a profile of how the song came to be and how the band reacted to getting back in the studio as well as what it was like adapting a memoir that includes such outlandish, hard to believe events and personalities.

A behind-the-scenes feature story recounted the movie’s production, including how members of the band were often on set seeing their lives and antics recreated in front of their eyes.

Because the movie, like the book it’s based on, has the band’s blessing, all the members of Mötley Crüe engaged in a number of promotional activities to get the word out. That included appearing at a recent NASCAR event, participating in various interviews and lots more. Machine Gun Kelly, who plays drummer Tommy Lee, was also interviewed about his work and love of the band.


It’s easy to quibble with little parts of the campaign, but the whole thing isn’t really about selling anything other than a dramatic retelling of Reagan Era debauchery. The trailer isn’t all that great at setting up the story and the poster, while interesting in a throwback way, is also kind of bland and not engaging.

One big problem is that because the band is involved in the movie’s production, there’s zero chance the story goes deep into anything they still want to remain off limits. It may be able to deliver on the promise of sharing what made the band “notorious” during its heyday but it likely won’t be anything more than superficial when it comes to other topics. Most notably, it’s not clear if the movie deals with the modern-day fallout of what made the members “infamous” or reconsiders their actions with the benefits of 30 years of hindsight.

Picking Up the Spare

Kelly was interviewed about why he worked so hard to play Tommy Lee while the direct spoke about how he tried to get in the band’s head.

The reason Motley Crue was so heavily involved in promoting the movie was they were hoping for just the kind of sales, streams and social media bump they just got.