Clair Adds Streaming Technology and a Broader Business Base

by Dan Daley
in The Biz

Kevin Sanford, president, Wireless First/Clair Global BroadcastBeing the best at what you’ve always done might not be good enough anymore. At a time when a computer maker has become the biggest distributor of music in the world, it’s apparent that you can’t just make computers anymore. That’s what’s happening at Clair Brothers, which had rebranded itself Clair Global as it expands its range service offerings. It’s not enough to mix the live sound — Clair’s next mission is to deliver it, as well.

Setting the Stage

The stage was set in 2010, with Clair’s acquisition of Wireless First, an RF management specialist, which was integrated into Clair as its broadcast division, helping Clair move further into awards broadcasts, including the Tony Awards and the Country Music Awards, and eventually into network reality shows, such as MTV’s Real World. Now the division, helmed by Wireless First founder Kevin Sanford as president and third-generation Clair executive Shaun Clair as CEO, is about to embark on a streaming venture that will let Clair offer live and delayed streamed versions of concerts that it provides the live sound for.

Talking from the division’s base in Van Nuys, CA, Sanford says streaming is a natural outcome of the combination of Clair’s huge touring client base, the company’s growing expertise in production and post production, and the path that the music industry at large seems to be following, one that lets artists choose the formats and platforms through which their music travels.

“We have the tech platforms in place for all of this, such as the Sony 800 and 1500 HD cameras, and the ability to shoot, capture and post all in HD,” says Sanford, whose vision for the future of the division he likens to the film studios of Hollywood’s golden era that offered their stars a cosseted and comprehensive professional and technology environment. “We already have the capability to do everything an artist needs to take a show onto DVD; it’s not that big a step further to add in the ability to stream it anywhere the artist wants, too.” Sanford adds that while some of the few competitors that Clair has at this level of live production might also have well-developed video recording and editing capabilities that can also be leveraged into a streaming play. What they don’t have is Clair’s client base, which includes artists at the level of U2 and Katy Perry, who are also becoming more at home with streaming as a way to maintain engagement with their fan bases.

This, in turn, sets the stage for another new wrinkle. Clair has entered into a joint venture with Glow Marketing, a marketing and PR consultancy whose client list has ranged from the Audio Engineering Society and mastering facilities to Tyra Banks and Irene Cara — the kind of spectrum coverage that makes sense at a time when someone like Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes is designing boots for Timberland between remixes.

Chandra Lynn, owner, Glow MarketingNew Directions

Chandra Lynn, Glow Marketing’s owner, says the combination of streaming and Clair’s A-list clients make a receptive brew for branding possibilities, such as putting fashion and other lifestyle marques together with the appropriate artists for the right events for things like branded webcasts. It’s a digital extension of the banners that adorn venues from clubs to arenas. But it’s also a move that leverages the growing empowerment of artists and, in the case of those with 360 deals, their labels, too — those same labels that have managed to shut themselves out of much of the digital music revolution so far.

“The concert industry continues to use the traditional sponsorship revenue model, but you really don’t see a lot of branding in that space yet,” says Lynn, explaining the difference between the bannered and the embedded approaches. The latter, which would ideally integrate brand identities with band identities in a single stream, offers synergies that static sponsorship techniques — even in the form of digital signage — can’t. “The next wave of opportunity is branded entertainment. And it’s still the Wild West out there in terms of how you go about it.”

This is a case where the technology really does make a difference. Many lifestyle brands have used affiliations with music artists to promote awareness of their products and identities, but when the venue is conventional advertising, the results can be uneven. A television commercial pairing Lady Antebellum and Lipton iced tea makes some sense — it’s a medium the country-esque Schlager singers are well contoured for. On the other hand, combining Nicki Minaj and Pepsi on TV creates a bit of a credibility gap — it’s a marriage made more for viral media than anything as quaint as TV. Advertisers have been looking for ways to leverage popular music for decades. Even the brief storyline on Mad Men last season that saw Don Draper looking for a way to cram Heinz ketchup and the Rolling Stones together had its roots in reality — the Stones recorded a jingle for breakfast cereal Rice Krispies in 1964.

Neither Lynn nor Clair president Troy Clair would discuss any artist/brand pairings that might be in the works. That’s understandable — Lynn’s “Wild West” comment underscores one fact: There are few guidelines when it comes to these kinds of connections, in terms of choice of venue, costs and, especially, disposition of IP rights, which is a minefield in almost every aspect of music at the moment. Clair’s steering clear of that by focusing on the service side, creating a turnkey proposition for streaming. In the process, what it’s also doing is showing how a big player in the live music business can evolve in a shifting digital landscape, synergizing content without becoming entangled by it.