Leaving its skull and roses stamp on snowboards and more
No to caskets, sanitary napkins and rolling papers.
Yes to snowboards, skateboards and wine.
After closely guarding their music and logos for decades, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead are significantly increasing their merchandising and licensing deals. The pioneering jam band’s music has appeared in at least four movies since April, and over the last several months, the number of licensees has increased 20%, including new deals with Burton snowboards, Dregs skateboards and Wines That Rock.
It’s all in an effort to raise the Dead’s profile among younger folks who may have no idea that Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia flavor is named after a real person.
“The band wants to turn on that 18- to 25-year-old audience,” says Mark Pinkus, the keeper of the Dead’s legacy at Warner Music Group’s Rhino Entertainment.
Or to put it in the Dead’s vernacular, “What we’ve generated — this energy, this music — is never supposed to end with the last note,” says the Dead’s Mickey Hart. “We hope our legacy goes on with that power intact.”
That means gaining new fans while keeping the old. To that end, the first copies of a 73-CD limited-edition boxed set, “Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings,” began shipping last week. For the less obsessed — and more frugal (the collection costs $450) — a two-CD version, “Europe ’72: Vol. 2,” comes out Sept. 20 for $16.99.
Expanding is a smart move, says Bonny Dolan, executive producer-managing director for Comma Music, which produces and licenses music for commercials."The Grateful Dead are in their own echelon. It’s a culture,” she says. “These deals can start a whole new demographic of people who want to know where to get that music. Then they get it, they blog about it and tell their friends. There’s no better way to spread the word.”
Burbank-based Rhino has handled the Dead’s merchandising and music interests since 2006, but it took a Deadhead assuming control last September for the gates to swing wide open. Pinkus, Rhino’s senior vice president of Grateful Dead Properties (yes, that is his title) and proud attendee of 73 Dead shows, and Rhino Chief Executive Kevin Gore, himself admittedly more of a show tunes fan, traveled to the Grateful Dead’s Northern California headquarters to meet with the four remaining members of the Dead — Hart, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann — and to talk about expanding their partnership.
To prove his devotion, Pinkus volunteered to perform any song from the Dead’s voluminous catalog. The next day, Hart called him and challenged him to sing “Victim or the Crime,” a relatively obscure track. “I stumbled for a second, but, yes, I did sing it to him,” Pinkus says.
In that moment, the relationship between Rhino and the Dead surged ahead. Convinced that their interests were now being handled by “one of us,” Hart says, “it became a business renaissance... They really care as much as we do.”
While it helped having Pinkus, who had already worked tangentially with the Dead over the years as Rhino’s head of licensing, Hart says there was also a coinciding shift in the surviving members that only time and healing could bring about. Shattered by lead singer Jerry Garcia’s 1995 death, “we really didn’t pay much attention once we stopped touring as the Grateful Dead,” he says. “And then we saw that the people, the fans, wouldn’t let it go.”
Longtime followers need not worry that the Dead will turn into a KISS, which has licensed more than 3,000 products; the band is looking to add only 15 new items a year from literally thousands of offers. All four Dead members and Garcia’s estate have to approve new entries.
Ideally, the products match the Grateful Dead zeitgeist of community and inclusiveness and, as Hart says, “promote life.” Tie-ins with outdoor sports make sense, because “they exalt the consciousness,” he continues. “If it does that, that’s cool. Sanitary napkins do not.”
Also unlikely to make the cut: any drug paraphernalia. “We want to avoid as much as we can of projecting our image as the stoner band, because, God, that was just a part of it all and not necessarily the life and soul,” Hart says.
Similarly, when it comes to licensing music, the band prefers film and TV projects that don’t glorify drug use or violence, but in that September meeting, “it was agreed [upon] collectively that they would not be precious,” says Pinkus, who works closely with Ice Nine, which handles the Dead’s publishing.
There are limits, however. The Dead has turned down all offers for its music to appear in commercials, so don’t wait for “Truckin’” (the most requested song by potential licensees) to show up in a shipping company ad.
Dovetailing with the increased branding and licensing comes the aforementioned titles as part of the ongoing mining of the vast Dead archives. Pinkus estimates that of the 2,300 or so shows the Dead played, Rhino has around 2,000 of them in its vault.
The most ambitious undertaking so far is “Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings.” Housed in a replica steamer trunk, the compilation chronicles 22 shows and more than 70 hours of music.
“We needed to sell a minimum of 3,000 units to move forward so we didn’t get killed on it,” Pinkus says. “The great thing is not only did we blow past the 3,000, we got pre-orders for the [total run of] 7,200 in four days.”
Hart did not preview the remastered concerts. “I don’t listen to the [old] music, because it’s kind of like eating the same meal, and all I hear is the mistakes,” he says. Like the other members, he’s far too busy concentrating on making new music to focus on the past. That’s what they have Pinkus for.
“I go to sleep at night and know our legacy is not being plundered by some evil corporation,” Hart says. “It doesn’t make me cringe, and I think they’re doing good business, as opposed to being evildoers.”
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