Q&A with Superhype blog author David Deal
Written by Ed Lopez-Reyes   
Tuesday, 19 February 2013

David DealThe next in our developing series of interviews with people either instrumental in the world of Pink Floyd, or with some interesting views or insights, continues with something a little different.

David Deal is vice president of marketing at iCrossing, a global digital marketing agency that helps companies build connected brands. David is also a devout Floyd fan. A blogger who covers music and the music industry extensively, David has quite a bit to say about bands and what corporations can learn from them. David took some time off from his busy schedule in Chicago to talk about Pink Floyd, branding, and music -- topics he often explores on his Superhype blog.

He talks of his views on the band, offers some thoughts on the recent Why Pink Floyd reissue campaign, and looks at the world of music today, with a look at the different methods that people enjoy (or consume?) music these days...

How did your marketing career converge with your passion for music?

Long before I was in marketing, I worked for a book publisher, where I edited a book about rock music, You Say You Want a Revolution, by Robert Pielke. Our collaboration made me realize I could enjoy my personal music at a professional level. Years later, I created a convergence with music professionally and personally by launching a co-branding relationship between musician AM and digital agency Razorfish, where I ran the marketing team. No one in the digital agency industry had ever co-branded with a musician. AM and I were operating without a blueprint. We ended up applying social media, the power of the live event, and outreach to Razorfish employees to build a broader audience for AM and his music. At iCrossing, I formed a co-brand with music mogul Jermaine Dupri. The relationship builds awareness for Jermaine's Global 14 social media community and enriches iCrossing's reputation for creativity and audience insight. Jermaine says that he and iCrossing are creating a model for co-branding because of our focus on creating content together, like our video series on creativity and social media. The relationship matters to anyone who cares about music. To have a future in the fractured music industry, artists need to think beyond traditional approaches as Jermaine Dupri is doing with iCrossing. The worlds of marketing, technology, and entertainment are converging. I love being part of that convergence.

On your Superhype blog you wrote about Pink Floyd's 2011 "Why Pink Floyd?" re-issue and remaster release campaign. What was missing in that campaign?

The "Why Pink Floyd?" campaign did an excellent job building awareness for Pink Floyd in the digital age. But the campaign should have delivered more Pink Floyd music in a fresh way. I was disappointed that EMI did not issue Immersion boxes for Animals and Meddle. And why on earth didn't EMI issue The Wall in 5.1 sound as was done with The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here? More than any other Pink Floyd album, The Wall deserves to be heard in 5.1. But the Immersion sets for Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were revelations and deserved the build-up they received.

Would a band like Pink Floyd succeed if it were starting out in today's digital download age?

In the digital download age, album-oriented bands like Pink Floyd can still succeed the way Pink Floyd first got its start in the 1960s: through live performance. Digital downloading is a convenient way for people to snack on morsels of music, which is why we've returned to the era of the rock single. Established artists like Neil Young and Lucinda Williams have adapted by playing their albums from start to finish in concert for the sole purpose of exposing fans to their albums as full bodies of work. Digital gives emerging artists a chance to share album-length music through performance, as well. For instance, musicians such as Daria Musk and Pomplamoose are using social media platforms and services like Google+ Hangouts and StageIt to perform global concerts on shoestring budgets. Social media also gives artists ways to connect with fans more personally. In the world of hip-hop, young artists use social media to expose audiences to mixtapes as part of their marketing strategies. And Roger Waters has demonstrated with his Facebook page for The Wall tour that he understands the power of social media to not only connect with fans but also collaborate with them.

Do you think people will ever have the chance to appreciate music the way fans first discovered Pink Floyd in the era of album-oriented rock -- exploring album packaging along with the music? How does the demise of album packaging have an impact on the way people relate to bands and music?

The album as we used to know it is dead. We live in an era of mass attention-deficit-disorder. Music is but one form of entertainment competing with the Internet, mobile apps, eBooks, digital games, and God knows how many stations you have on your cable TV. And thanks to the iPod, music is just a digital commodity you consume like a snack while you're on the go. As a result, an entire generation raised on digital relates to bands as pleasant entertainment, not personal immersion. But every once in awhile, someone comes along to use album cover art to shock and disrupt the norm, as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are doing with the new Mosquito album, which features an evocative design by Beomsik Shimbe Shim. Or a band like Simple Plan uses ThingLink technology to create an interactive album experience. Those moments give me hope that the experience you describe -- interacting with the packaging -- is still alive. If albums have a future as an experience, I think digital plays a necessary role, ironically. In 2012, digital album sales exceeded sales of albums from retailers like Target and Walmart, according to Nelsen SoundScan. For the rock genre, digital album sales actually increased in 2012, while compact disc album sales continued their decline. People do have an appetite for digital albums.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I originally thought the "Animals" album cover was a sketch until many years later, when I worked for Hard Rock Cafe in London and a colleague told me he passed Battersea Power Station every day on the way to work. Was there anything about Pink Floyd that eluded you for years before being struck by a "eureka moment" of sorts?

Not until recently did I appreciate that Roger Waters conceived of The Wall as a visual experience even before the music was completed. For years, I assumed that Pink Floyd created the music first and then Gerald Scarfe designed album cover art and props to reflect the songs. But as I'm sure Brain Damage followers are aware, Roger Waters and Gerald Scarfe collaborated on the visual imagery in the early stages of the song writing, as Waters explained to Rolling Stone in 2010 and Scarfe himself has discussed. Now I appreciate even more Roger Waters as an artist and musician. He was ahead of his time, thinking visually long before the advent of Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.

"Delicate Sound of Thunder" turns 25 later this year - any thoughts on the album?

I believe Delicate Sound of Thunder was a message from David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason to Roger Waters: "We own the Pink Floyd legacy, and you don't." Delicate Sound of Thunder was supposed to document the tour for Momentary Lapse of Reason, the first Pink Floyd album since The Final Cut and one that pointedly did not include Roger Waters. But Delicate Sound of Thunder also includes landmark songs from the Roger Waters era, like "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." Gilmour, Wright, and Mason were telling Roger Waters that Pink Floyd could successfully reinterpret the Roger Waters era without Roger Waters.

During its glory years, Pink Floyd could perform at a gig and then circulate among its fans without being recognized by anyone. Given your marketing expertise, what do you make of Pink Floyd's broad appeal even though the band seemingly made a conscious effort to remain anonymous? Can anyone pull that off today?

Well, it certainly helps that Pink Floyd recorded music with timeless power. Pink Floyd's anonymous appeal comes down to one word: mystique. During the peak of its popularity, Pink Floyd succeeded by never giving away too much. Everyone loves a mystery, and Pink Floyd was a mystery when the band became a global phenomenon. By staying in the shadows, the band members actually added to the appeal of Pink Floyd music, especially during the 1970s. Who were these unknowable and unreachable artists creating music so powerful it hit you in the gut? What was the meaning of those strange voice-overs in Dark Side of the Moon?

Since Pink Floyd never explained anything, we were also left to interpret its mysterious, iconic album designs on our own, which created what we would call word-of-mouth marketing today. For instance, who were the two guys in flames shaking hands on the cover of Wish You Were Here? What did the cover of Dark Side of the Moon mean? Pink Floyd refused to explain meaning like magicians who don't explain their tricks. As a result, today we continue to talk about the band's music offline and online -- just check out the stream of conversation about Pink Floyd that occurs on Twitter each day, to name one example. The only band that came close to creating mystique like Pink Floyd was Led Zeppelin with its untitled fourth album, which we remember for its anonymous cover, runic symbols, and hypnotic sound.

Today Radiohead succeeds through mystique, as well. I'm sure I would not recognize a single Radiohead member (except maybe Thom Yorke) if I bumped into one on the street. Radiohead's music has that similar Floydian ethereal quality. Radiohead has mystique.

Starz just cancelled "Boss," a great show about a Machiavellian Chicago Mayor. It should have never been cancelled... plus, it was a real treat listening to Robert Plant's rendition of "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" during the intro. For what show or movie do you think Pink Floyd music would be a good soundtrack?

Pink Floyd music is best experienced as a soundtrack to the movie you construct with your own imagination, whether you're driving on a road trip or chilling out late-night in your own room. Pink Floyd creates its own self-contained, powerful atmosphere. For that reason, the band's most famous works would either overwhelm a conventional movie or television scene, or feel out of place. For instance, "Comfortably Numb" is like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" -- nearly impossible to use as background music for a movie or a TV show because the song is so famous it would distract viewers. That said, I think some of the songs from Piper at the Gates of Dawn would work for the upcoming season of Mad Men, which will occur chronologically in 1967. "Astronomy Domine" fits especially for the experience Roger Sterling is having.

What do you see as Pink Floyd's place in music history?

Pink Floyd taught us that rock can aspire to be art. What separates art from entertainment is a personal vision that moves people. And Pink Floyd music touches people personally, like the works of Impressionist painters do.

Pink Floyd endures because the band connects with people by tapping into universally human themes such as materialism, anxiety, alienation, and our innate desire to connect with one another. We claim songs like "Wish You Were Here" as our own, and we associate those songs with important times in our life. Pink Floyd has always been there for me at an intensely personal level throughout my life. Dark Side of the Moon has helped me forge two lifelong friendships through the shared listening experience. I made it through some hard times in college thanks to The Wall. And my older brother and I, who were estranged for a time in high school, renewed our relationship one memorable summer as we explored The Final Cut together.

Is there any other band that has forged such a personal bond with its fans?

What other bands or other types of music do you listen to?

My musical tastes are all over the map. I enjoy everything from Frank Sinatra to ambient artists like Biosphere. I live and breathe classic rock artists such as the Doors, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. But I grew up listening to the great soul singers like Al Green, the Average White Band, and Curtis Mayfield. I also became a huge fan of jazz guitarist George Benson long before I ever got into rock and roll. I grew to appreciate the intensity and passion of hip-hop artists like Dr. Dre, partly because when hip-hop musicians such as Dre first emerged, they reminded me of the disruptive power of rock. I remember the first time I heard Public Enemy. My knee-jerk reaction was, "This music sounds scary and noisy." Then I realized my parents said the same things about rock and roll, and I became fascinated with hip-hop. Today, in my role at iCrossing, I work with Music Mogul Jermaine Dupri to develop his Global 14 community. On my own blog I occasionally write about emerging hip-hop artists that I meet on Global 14. I love meeting unknown hip-hop musicians and writing about their passion and hustle.

Would you devote yourself to writing about music full-time if you could?

If I were independently wealthy, I would devote myself to managing the career of my wife, Janice Deal, a fiction writer whose stories carry the same emotional power as the best moments Pink Floyd can offer. Queen's Ferry Press is publishing a collection of her stories, The Decline of Pigeons, in July 2013. Being around our house is like being in a recording studio with Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Between Jan, my daughter, and I, we are always writing and always creating. We have internalized the spirit of Pink Floyd: create art that moves others. When your own wife embodies the spirit of Pink Floyd through her published writing, you have to consider yourself incredibly fortunate.

Do you anticipate writing much more about Pink Floyd or any of its related solo acts any time soon?

Yes. I intend to write about Roger Waters and the success of The Wall tour. Don't you think it's ironic that The Wall of all albums has enjoyed a second life through live concerts, when in fact Roger Waters's contempt for performing in stadiums helped inspire the writing of The Wall in the first place? I should really interview you.

When Richard Wright passed away, you published a blog entry in which you wrote about "believing in rock — in its power to influence your life." Why do some people form such a close bond with rock music while others do not? Is it a matter of listening to the right band at the right place at the right time -- or do some people simply have an ability to internalize music differently?

Listening to music is like dating: you can enjoy it at a casual and superficial level until someone comes along who changes your life. When you connect with someone else at a personal level, you form a relationship that matures as you experience whatever life throws at you. My relationship with Pink Floyd has deepened over the years. A song like "Time" connected with me at a musical level when I was 20 and more so at a lyrical level now that I'm turning 50. Every year is getting shorter indeed.

Did you get to see "The Wall Live" at Wrigley Field If so, what did you think about it?

I missed "The Wall Live" at Wrigley Field, but my wife Jan and I saw the show at the United Center in the fall of 2010. I thought the show was brilliant. As I wrote on my Superhype blog at the time, I appreciated how Waters updated the themes of The Wall as a modern-day attack against corporate greed, and a statement about the horrors of wars being raged in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was impossible not to be moved when Waters incorporated contemporary video footage of modern-day U.S. soldiers being reunited with their families as Waters played "Bring the Boys Back Home." And how smart of Waters to incorporate crowd-sourced images from his fans into the stage set -- a gesture that showed how far Waters has come from the infamous moment when he spat on a fan from onstage in the 1970s.

In 2012, you wrote about the death of rock. Is rock dead? To me it feels like modern rock has lost its edge or element of rebellion. It's as if rock has become something more palatable and less threatening. What's going on here?

Rock and roll is renewing itself. And decay is part of the renewal. The early generation of rock and rollers who stood for "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" are growing old and dying. That's one reason why the Rolling Stones and Roger Waters on tour are so immensely popular: we want to get a glimpse of the rock rebels and disruptors before we lose them forever. Meantime, record companies are so desperate to survive that they're taking fewer chances on musicians who might offend or alienate. Jimmy Page recently told Rolling Stone that the rock music industry is regressing to the days when artists don't write their own songs and "People are groomed to fill a role." And he's right: we're living in the era of the manufactured American Idol -- performers, not artists.

But there are signs of rebirth. I'm encouraged by the popularity of folk rockers like Mumford and Sons and Fleet Foxes, the undeniable spirit of the Black Keys, and the pluck of Jack White. Seeing my 11-year-old daughter learn the songs of Green Day warms my heart, especially because the Uno, Dos, and Tre! trilogy sounds as raunchy and rebellious as rock should sound. Right now, rock and roll is a supporting act for other forms of music like dance, pop, and R&B -- literally a music form that artists in other genres sample. For instance, hip-hop artists ranging from Dr. Dre to the Beastie Boys have famously sampled the opening drum riff from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks."

Rock and roll needs another monster act like U2 to return to center stage. But rock has faced hard times before, going back to the days when Elvis was drafted, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, and Chuck Berry was arrested. Rock is resilient.

You can read and follow David Deal's "superhype" blog at superhypeblog.com.