Blue Note for a blue company

I just spent a very happy week or so digging deep in my local music emporiums researching a piece on the combination of art and sound that is Blue Note records for Amex Expressions magazine. As this topic is close to my heart the project was its own reward but in the weeks since I handed it in I have been wondering if it might also have some value as a challenge to certain preconceptions and judgments about branded content and content marketing in general.

You may have experienced it yourself, you are discussing your latest written work with a journalist or writer and happen to mention that you have done something recently for a media channel of a company that has nothing to do with the particular topic and they aren’t a newspaper or news-stand magazine either. It might be almost imperceptible but there it is, a flash of disdain, a certain looking down ones nose, a reaction at odds to the pleasant ‘Oh, really?’s that betrays the judgment that the work is somehow ‘not real’ or even ‘inauthentic’, the assumption presumably being that a writer cannot maintain the critical distance or conversely, necessary absorption, in a topic when the organ paying for it is ultimately about shifting product units that are unrelated to the subject under discussion.

Now of course I may be lucky with the clients that hire me, but in my experience when I am working for commercial clients I find that I am always given freedom to curate and opine as I wish, free from the red pen of editors fearing for their job or advertisers piling on the pressure for certain things to be said. The pieces read by the audience are totally the pieces that I submitted.

Schooled as I am in the work of the Left Bank and Frankfurt school and fed a diet of Adbusters, IndyMedia and Living Marxism magazine at an impressionable age, the thought that creative freedom might be found in producing content destined for an entity whose intentions are purely commercial (I make the distinction that a newspaper needing to sell copies to sell advertising space is a different kind of business, as ultimately their product is, or at least should be, the intention of the journalist to share a story) is completely at odds to my personal sensibilities.

Of course I am a purveyor of Arts-led texts, I am not the next Woodward and/or Bernstein (although I often court the fancy) so it probably is one step removed from my own work but nevertheless the thought crossed my mind that, like that other relic of the early 1970s, intergalactic space travel, the future of truly free writing might be corporate business. Could it be that when the particular media channel is broadcasting only as a side-project – in other words not reliant on sales for its own existence – it has bestowed on itself a certain freedom to operate how it wants?

Have a think about that. And you can also check out my tasting notes on the graphic design of a jazz label here.

Circling The Square: Top 20 Album Covers from Blue Note

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