Friday, June 14, 2013

Marvel and Motown

I saw Iron Man 3 not long ago. The short verdict is: middle of the trilogy, closer to the first (which I liked a lot) than to the second (which I disliked a lot for story reasons I might go into later).

But the thing that really caught my eye about this and the other Avenger adjacent films is how carefully they've cultivated a house style. This really struck me with Thor and the Avengers. Both those films seemed like hybrids, halfway between Branaugh or Whedon and Favreau. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing (I greatly enjoyed both movies), but it was clear that the studio was making sure that the components of the megafranchise were compatible (perhaps even interchangable).

(I've spent a lot of time in marketing meetings and it has clearly warped the way I look at the world)

I mentioned the idea of house styles and cross promotion to Ultra Sonic Remote's Brian Phillips and he immediately came back with the perfect example. Motown was a company built by Berry Gordy on a house style that covered every aspect of the music from the recording to the finishing school that artists were required to attend. While the label was packed with creative people -- musicians, writers, producers -- the major decisions tended to be top-down and were designed to produce a consistent, coherent and marketable stream of quality pop music.

Like Marvel, Motown's house style was set up to promote cross promotion, whether on the radio, in the record store or on tour. This allowed them (also like Marvel), to hothouse promising acts, building them up by associating them with more established names.

There were artists who chafed at these restrictions. The most notable was probably Marvin Gaye who openly complained about both the music he was told to perform and the style he was forced to adopt (Gaye preferred to perform either standards or his own compositions, something he finally managed with great success with What's Goin' On).

Of course, lots of labels (and movie studios for that matter) have had a house style. Having one that succeeds seems to be the challenge.

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