Business of Music

Forget sex; Nostalgia does it better

A few weeks ago I found myself at a throwback Hip Hop party, and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had. Now I’m sure it wasn’t the slight buzz of the whisky I downed, or the fresh enthusiasm of everyone in the open backyard. The party was fantastic, because of the music. Back to back hits from familiar places in time that formed the soundtrack to my childhood. It was like the DJ had been there with me in the backseat of the car as when I heard (against my will) Jay Z’s Blueprint for the first time. Or had been a fly on the wall of my bedroom as I tried (and failed horribly) to practice the steps to Missy Elliot’s “Work It” on the huge Macintosh monitor I shared with my siblings. They knew my heart, and twisted the right nobs to match the BPM that moved my mind and my emotions to every single record.

The art of the Past

Nostalgia, one of the most powerful emotions known to mankind. A type of sorcery birthed from memories and triggered by sight, sound and even smell.

In the past few years, the biggest selling marketing campaigns have bottled the magic of nostalgia and used it to sell everything; including music. The passion for the past has influenced the creation (or re-creation) of the present. From art, film, fashion and music, the familiar has been re-purposed, re-packaged and resold to audience that can’t seem to get enough of it.

For musicians like Joey B, the quest to sell the past came as easily and naturally as all memories do. His first single to allude to this was in the music video of his single  89, which saw him riding a bike a few sizes too small, decked in near-vintage attire. His most recent work, ‘Greetings from Abroad’ featuring long time collaborator and friend Pappy Kojo, cemented his rebirth as the Father of Nostalgia. With clothing and  video editing styles ripped right out of the 90s, the video for Greetings from Abroad, an ode to the similarly named Ghanaian TV show from the mid-90s, reawakening a wave of nostalgia in his audience.

Odunsi the Engine’s “Rare” is another example of recycling the zeitgeist of a time long gone for a modern audience. With samples and inspiration drawn from the 80s and early 90s music of America and Nigeria, the 20-something year old produced what many are calling a modern day classic.

Ghanaian musicians Kidi and Kuami Eugene are also tapping into the past to inspire their arts. With a flip on popular hi-life music from Ghana, the two have won the hearts both young and old alike in Ghana. Gathering massive airplay on local radio stations, and gaining fans across the globe.

Nostalgia is popular now because it presents a warm familiar cocoon to wrap ourselves in and feel safe as we go through this fast paced world. It reminds us of the good old days and simpler times and is closely linked to happier, better and easier moments.

Nostalgia gives our lives a sense of continuity and meaning as we get older

Research shows that nostalgia gives our lives a sense of continuity and meaning as we get older.

In order to sell music, many musicians and their teams are looking to use nostalgia. Not only does it create a strong emotional connection, it also makes it easier for fans and consumers to connect easier and also trust you. This strategy is known as Nostalgia marketing. As music grows more into a business and less like an art, these marketing strategies are being adopted, whether intentionally or accidentally. From Niantic’s revival of the classic Pokemon game with Pokemon Go, Nintendo’s resurgence in the gaming market with the NES inspired, dual button, hybrid handheld console the Nintendo Switch, through to Coca-Cola and Spotify, musicians have taken the cue. International acts like Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and more are  employing entire sub-genres such as New Jack Swing and other popular melodies, looks and styles of the 80s and 90s to sell their music. Even UK breakout star Ella Mai did something new while doing something old; old school R&B.

On the continent, African musicians are using Nostalgia marketing as well. Ghanaian Hip-life musician Tic Tac’s comeback and rebrand as Tic is a typical example of Nostalgia marketing. Remixing his classic “Kwani Kwani” with Kuami Eugene, he blended the old and a new in a spectacular way. Serving consumers with a hot well done piece of nostalgia with a ravishing mouth watering essence of popular culture on the side. Other excellent comebacks have been Nigeria’s 2Face now 2Baba and Wande Coal, using the same method.

Sex will always sell, but it is no longer the only surefire bestseller on the shelves. It’s great to see the occasional scantily clad woman, or the sweaty, well-oiled man, but its all still superficial. Creating an emotional connection with consumers provides a more long term bond than the momentary pleasure of seeing a bootylicious hunnay drop it low.

Research tells us that nostalgia counteracts boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. It also makes people more tolerant of outsiders, and more generous to strangers. In fact, nostalgia can literally make people feel warmer on a cold day. Some research even suggests that nostalgia can be triggered as a way of coping with difficult life transitions and stressful moments. In other words, nostalgia marketing campaigns aren’t just a strategy for selling, they’re a psychological phenomenon.

Here’s how you can utilize nostalgia in your music

From adverts, to games, to movies to songs and even clothing, the history of a place and people can be where you draw inspiration from .

However, make sure it’s relevant to your audience. If your audience you wish to sell to is predominantly generation Z, there’s a very high chance they have no idea what the VHS you’re referencing means. Research your audience, put yourself in their place and find what makes them tic.

Pay close attention to detail. Perhaps it’s in replicating the way your favourite cartoon character from your childhood dressed. Or perhaps the font from a popular TV show. Stick to the details, and draw out your marketing plan to the T.

Don’t go too hard, as that may backfire and create an excess. Humour is a great offset to to an overdose to nostalgia marketing. Doing a parody or flipping a story in some way brings in some authenticity as opposed to plain CTRL+C / CTRL +V function.

Nostalgia works because it deals with emotions. It draws a connection with an audience that’s deeper that digitals and numbers, which a lot of us are used to today. Using nostalgia to sell your music, is also a great way to engage your audience as it makes it easier from them to share. Your audience becomes more trusting of you and your music and will most likely make a purchase (Yay). Using nostalgia in marketing your music is like utilizing a lot of other strategies, it’ll take work, a ton of research and authenticity to get the results you desire.

Benewaah is the lead curator and editor at Harmattan Rain. Her love for music is closely rivaled by her love for plantain.

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