Were Sony behind the RATM campaign? Maybe. But should we care?

So, now that Rage Against The Machine have made it to Christmas number one, the conspiracy theorists have moved into overdrive. People all over the internet are devoting their Christmas holidays to uncovering the mechanics of the ‘scam’. The claim being that the whole thing was planned and run by Sony Music.

“Look at all you people,” the conspiracy theorists say with a smug grin. “You all mindlessly bought into this campaign and you were just lining the pockets of Simon Cowell and his cronies.”

Of course, both Killing In The Name and X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s single The Climb were released and published by divisions of Sony Music and the company stands to gain the most financially. The same was true in last year’s unsuccessful campaign to get Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah to Christmas number one ahead of Alexandra Burke’s. As rats go, this one stinks.

Then, of course, there’s the question of who Jon and Tracy Morter, the people behind the RATM campaign, are. A couple of people who love music and hate X Factor? Or evil scheming marketing people? There are those who are determined to prove the latter, who will tell you that Simon Cowell’s claims that he offered them marketing jobs after they beat him on Sunday were empty, as they are already working for him in exactly that capacity. His apparent anger at the pair in the last few weeks wouldn’t be the first time that he’d used clunky misdirection to boost the popularity of something (Jedward being just one example).

I have a feeling these questions are going to hang around for some time. But should we care? Is it really that shocking that a company whose sole reason for existence is to sell records – gasp – might have tried to sell us some records.

It’s not the first supposedly grass roots campaign of this type, of course. And not the first with two Sony-owned songs pitted against each other. Or even the first with two Sony-owned songs pitted against each other run by the Morters (though, if you’re looking for consistency in the conspiracy theory, the Jeff Buckley campaign wasn’t them). All of which does make it easy to think this wasn’t as spontaneous as we’ve been led to believe.

Sure, either way, it’s all money in the bank for a major label, but this campaign had to be fought on major label terms. Yes, the message of Killing In The Name can be bent to fit the message of the campaign, and that is partly the reason it was a success, but it’s the major label money that was put behind it seventeen years ago that sealed the deal. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there in the world for whom that song meant something in their teens, and who also grew up at a time when the charts were an exciting and important part of pop culture. What’s more, they’ve also had time to grow nostalgic for both of those things. A more worthy, independent artist is unlikely to have had the fanbase of the right size and age to pull this off.

Even if it was orchestrated by Sony, it still needed that public feeling to work. And the intent of all those people was to stop X Factor’s monopoly of the Christmas number one and make the charts more fun in the process. On those terms, I’d say it was a job done. I don’t think many went in without knowing that both acts were signed to the same label. No one thought they were supporting independent music, surely. It was just something half a million people thought might be funny.

That’s why I forked out 29p. I loved Rage Against The Machine when I was a teenager, my entire childhood was mainly planned around hearing the charts on the radio on Sunday and watching Top Of The Pops on Thursday or Friday, and I think that inappropriate swearing is funny. I don’t think I stuck it to Simon Cowell and I don’t think the charts will be changed by this. Joe McElderry will almost certainly be at number one this Sunday, and he’ll probably be followed by something equally tedious at some point in January. But I don’t care that much.

I did consider the possibility that Sony could be behind the whole thing, but I went and bought the song anyway. If anything, I think this is the sort of thing the record labels should be doing all the time. If all music marketing enthused people like this, maybe things would be going a bit better for them.

Okay, if it turns out the Morters were in the employ of Sony (and I’m still pretty sure they weren’t), all those claims of independence are going to irritate a lot of people. But it’s marketing, people. Even if they were acting alone, they were still running a marketing campaign. Companies lie to you every day and some of them lie to you about things that actually matter.

Bill Hicks used to come on stage to Killing In The Name and rant about the manufactured pop acts of the day, like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, in a routine that peaked with a scream of “PLAY FROM YOUR FUCKING HEART!” He didn’t care that both Rage Against The Machine and those pop acts were products of the major label system. Still, he also used to say, “If you work in marketing or advertising – kill yourself.”

3 thoughts on “Were Sony behind the RATM campaign? Maybe. But should we care?

  1. I have lot’s of love for Bill Hicks. The banality and mediocrity he campaigned against is exactly the type of shit xfactor peddles.

    I reckon it was Sony, they do something like this every year, last year was of course “hallelujah”. Rather than it being a Cassandra complex, I think it was clever of them, sinister, but clever. However knowing this, I could never buy it. I don’t watch xfactor, I don’t listen to the charts and I’ve never heard Joe’s track. For me, there’s nothing to campaign against. With Sony pulling the strings, it was machine against the rage. You’re right people weren’t aware it was going to the same company, one of the reasons it would work. The two working the campaign also loosely work in music already, enough to raise an eyebrow.

    What would be rebellion against the xmas no.1 is something like the 3 minutes silence tracks (there are a few about), not only for the fact that radio is dead against anything over 2 seconds of silence in case people turn over. Would be hilarious.

    There is an upside, there’s about just under 100k making it’s way to a charity over this. Also hearing them sweat on 5 live at about 9am , epic.

  2. I think it’s a better story if it was orchestrated, it would be nice to think there were still some people with brains working in the music industry. Plus it might well be the first ever proof of concept of social media being actually useful for anything other than people making inane comments at each other.

  3. Anthony – Yes, I would normal watch campaigns like this as a casual observer. I’m generally too cynical about these things to get involved. But I think RATM succeeded because it won over a lot of cynics like me. Once it started to look like they might actually do it, some giddy childish glee at the idea was switched on. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Bruno Brookes was presenting the 5Live breakfast show.

    Silence for next year’s Christmas number one sounds like a good idea. 4’33” by John Cage would be the obvious one, I guess. Sony must own a recording of that by someone…

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