The lucrative power of musical emotion

The lucrative power of musical emotion

May 30, 2019
It’s easy to dismiss musical theatre as no more than jazz hands and enforced jollity, but the power it has on the public makes it a real show-stopper. In the 2017-2018 season alone, revenue from Broadway shows topped $1.44 billion, while its London counterparts on the West End achieved an equally respectable £765 million in the same period. Fans from across the globe flock to these theatrical hubs to see stories come to all-singing, all-dancing life in front of their very eyes – but what exactly is it that makes a story successfully translate to the stage? Just like an audio brand, it’s a careful combination of music, script and performance – all of which pack the right emotional punch. 

Last week, it was announced that Back to the Future would premiere on the stage – making it the latest in a long line of shows that have been adapted from a movie. Looking at the lineup playing in London and New York right now, a significant majority have been translated from the silver screen: School of Rock, Aladdin, Mary Poppins, Big, Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, King Kong – the list goes on. Obviously, producers look to source material that has already proven itself a hit to strengthen their investment. But box office success doesn’t necessarily equate to theatreland triumphs. Spider Man: Turn off the Dark had the backing a Marvel superfranchise and music penned by U2’s Bono and the Edge and, yet still managed to lose $60million – while incarnations of epics Gone with the Wind and Lord of the Rings closed mere months after opening night. Clearly, you can’t craft a song out of just any story – it takes the right kind of tale to inspire money-making melodies. 

The lucrative power of musical emotion
One movie adaptation currently packing in audience on Broadway and the West End is Waitress – a recreation of the 2007 indie comedy drama about a young woman facing an unwanted pregnancy from an abusive marriage. With a rather more dark subject matter than your average musical, it’s not an obvious hit on paper – yet Composer Sara Bareilles (Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriter and #1 Billboard artist) said it was this very aspect that lent itself so well to the musical treatment.  Speaking to SHN, she stated that:
The darkness and the light are inextricably linked, and embracing that really helped bring the story to life. The songwriting process had to be fluid about where we were in each moment of the story and what it was calling for.
And it’s this careful balance present within the music that’s made the show such a success (it’s playing in six different countries and has picked up one Grammy and four Tony nominations). Music inspires emotion like no other medium, which is why real heart is so vital to every great musical. By creating a score that’s charged with sadness, humour, longing and triumph, Bareilles has taken the original source material to the next emotional level – which is why it’s struck such a chord with audiences. 

While adaptations like Waitress craft the songs around an existing story, what’s known as the jukebox musical takes rather the opposite approach – conjuring a narrative around the body of music, usually from one successful artist. Current West End and Broadway examples include Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Beautiful – the Carole King Musical, and perhaps the ultimate jukebox show, Mamma Mia: the Abba-based behemoth that’s grossed $2 billion worldwide and been seen by more than 60 million people. Despite this success, the format has attracted criticism as a nothing more than lazy, money-spinning repackaging of fading artists’ back catalogues. Yet when we consider the emotional element of a musical once more, it’s clear why this approach has struck gold. So beloved are the songs of these artists, fans everywhere already have their own emotional attachments to them that make seeing them performed on stage such a draw. When this combines with the emotion injected from a new story performed by live, lovable characters (in the case of Mamma Mia, a young girl yearning to learn the identity of her real father on the eve of her wedding), it heightens meaning and attachment even further, resulting in a body of work that leaves an even greater impact on a viewer. 

While musical theatre world may seem a far cry from the corporate world, there are actually many parallels to be drawn that illustrate why audio branding is so important to a marketing strategy. Theatre goers pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to be moved by a musical’s unique combination of story, song and performance – all of which work together to create the ultimate impact on an audience. In the same way, a consumer can only invest in a brand when they have an emotional connection with it – and creating a unique Brand-Sound-Track™ that reflects the personality traits of your business is the most effective way to forge this.  And just like a musical delivers the triple threat, an audio brand also unites script, voice and music to further strengthen a consumer’s belief in the company’s story.

Broadway means business – and when it comes developing an emotive marketing strategy, an audio brand really performs.