business / news

The Business of Miles Davis: Building the Brand for A New Generation, But A Digital Plan Remains Elusive

blue-kind-of Making Sure Miles Stays Forever Young is a very good article in the Sunday New York Times about the business of Miles Davis and how the estate is working to keep the brand going strong for a new generation of fans.

But something is missing.

Amid all the conversation in the article about collaborating with hip-hop artists, the Don Cheadle biopic, the museum exhibition, and the Lord only knows how much music remains in the vaults, there was not a single mention of the Internet, not a word about digital strategy, or even if a digital strategy exists.

“We’re talking to everybody, because we’re involved in growing and promoting and exposure,” Erin Davis said during a long joint interview late last month at the office of the heirs’ publicists here. “It’s taken me 20 years to realize what we’re doing and how it affects the future.”

I can only hope that “talking to everybody” includes digital media folks.

For the brand to truly develop and continue to remain strong down the road then there must be an aggressive digital drive, a creative plan to embrace the new digital landscape.

This might be happening. But it surely wasn’t mentioned in the NY Times article.

Davis’ three heirs who manage the estate – his son Erin, his daughter, Cheryl, and their cousin Vince Wilburn Jr. – have done a masterful job with the re-releases and pushing the brand into new areas, but there continues be a disconnect between the Miles Davis brand and digital media.

There was a time when the estate owned and operated MilesDavis.com. Then they handed over the management to Sony. I think this was a big mistake.

Sony handles plenty of artists’ websites, and MilesDavis.com isn’t so terrible. But it’s just another official website, nothing special, nothing to get excited about. It’s nothing to keep a Miles Davis fan coming back for more. MilesDavis.com doesn’t need to be Elvis.com, which you must admit is terrific for Elvis Presley fans, but it should absolutely be the hub for the Miles Davis brand online.

MilesDavis.com should be the definitive digital platform for All Things Miles Davis. It’s not. At least not right now.

If anything, Miles Davis Online is the place for All Things Miles Davis, even if we are just a simple Blog without any of the resources and access. But we’re trying hard – and have been since 2007.

I firmly believe MilesDavis.com could deliver endless entertainment for fans, plus provide numerous advertising/sponsorship opportunities to actually drive a profit online.

They could be streaming concerts. They could sell exclusive mp3s. The could put a greater emphasis on multimedia. Why not release a collection of rare tracks online-only? How about unseen photos? How about an online auction for charity?

Where is the awesome Miles Davis App?

We produced an Artist Series on Miles Davis Online to feature designers, photographers, painters, etc. who have incorporated Miles Davis into their work.

It’s easy for me to make suggestions. No doubt there are legal/rights/other issues to deal with when working with so much content from various sources. But still, the opportunity for a first-rate digital strategy is not out of reach.

To keep the Miles Davis strong, and ready for the next generation to discover and enjoy, digital media is where this endeavor needs to happen. Sure, collaborations with hip-hop artists has some appeal, and might lead to something interesting, but it seems like a short-term play. I like Questlove of the Roots, but I, personally, have zero interest in hearing a collaboration between he and Miles Davis. But that’s just me. I’m a little older, so I would rather have access to unseen photos, hear rare studio tracks, etc…

It’s clear the estate have a big box of ideas. And they have mentioned in the past that they get offers all the time – many not so good. So I applaud the careful approach the trio takes in building the brand.

But with no robust digital strategy, the brand is left to play catch-up online.

With Sony managing the ‘official website’ it’s unclear how much input the estate has in content, etc. But there is no doubt a void.

The Miles Davis Biopic is a project that’s been in development a long time (with blessings from the estate), but there is no mention on the official website. Is that odd? I think so.

Currently Don Cheadle (set to star and direct) is at AFM trying to get the project a deal, but the article has this:

Ms. Davis said that they have been in discussions with the actor and producer Don Cheadle about a biopic — Mr. Cheadle would star and direct — but that “some questions remain.”

In discussions? Cheadle has been linked to the project since 2007! To read that quote is to believe the idea of the movie project was just thought of a few weeks ago.

What discussions could they be having? Maybe they aren’t sold on Cheadle’s quirky plot for the non-biopic. Cheadle has already said filming is set for next summer. The whole point of having the estate involved is to have access to the music. That is the key to the entire movie. Does anyone want to see a movie about Miles Davis and not hear at least a few classic tunes? Anyone can make a movie about Miles Davis. But not everyone can have the rights to the music.

But back to digital strategy. If and when this biopic gets going, is there going to be a synergy between the official website and the film? There should be. I have already written plenty about how the movie can generate even more buzz via the web.

“Thank goodness, we all get along, that we’re on the same page, so that there can be movement,” Mr. Wilburn said. “You can’t get locked into one thing. You’ve got to keep it fresh. Hey, this is global, this is Miles Davis.

Miles Davis is global. But the brand needs a strong digital strategy to properly link the worldwide audience of Miles Davis fans, new and old, together.

Many of the releases in recent years, including Monday’s, seem aimed at completists and other longtime fans. The bigger test is the casual listener, especially a new generation that may be only vaguely aware of Davis.

That “new generation” is online, on tablets, and on a mobile phone.

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