Thu Jul 28th 2011

Can something good be bad for a brand?

In a recording studio fashioned out of a cavernous work shed in Bozeman, MT, Jake observes in wonderment as Patrick works his magic. Jake, is a formally trained and talented mid-western touring musician, teacher, philanthropist, recording studio owner/engineer and producer. Patrick is his new mentor. Or so he hopes.

While Patrick’s name isn’t very well known to the masses, his list of accomplishments is about as monumental as it gets.

For example, during the session in which Patrick is producing music with all the trappings of chart topping phenom, he receives a picture of himself from a friend of his. In it, he’s playing piano on stage with Michael Jackson. Not as a special guest, but as Musical Director, Mr. Patrick Leonard (if you please) for The Jackson’s Victory Tour.

Leonard also has a few song writing credits that may sound familiar, including “La Isla Bonita,” which was originally offered to Michael Jackson, but was later rewritten with the help of Madonna, who eventually cut it and took it to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts. In fact, Patrick and Madonna collaborated on many songs you probably still know the words to whether you intended to learn them or not. Songs like, “Live to Tell,” “Where’s the Party,” “Who’s That Girl,” “Like a Prayer” and “Cherish.”

Leonard has also worked with late-period Pink Floyd, solo Roger Waters, Boz Scaggs, Peter Cetera, Elton John, Jody Watley and Rod Stewart.

It’s safe to say, that if Patrick’s on the project, it’s not only going to be worth hearing, but also “sticky” as we say in marketing. Patrick has a unique ability to arrange musical textures and patterns in an alluring way that is almost irresistible.

Which is why it might surprise you that when Patrick produced a recent improvisational recording of himself on piano accompanying Train’s lead singer Patrick Monahan, he played it for Jake with the caveat, “No one will ever hear this.”

Not because it isn’t good. Au contraire. According to Jake, who heard the recording just before listening to samples of the highly anticipated “next” David Lee Roth Van Halen album (which will allegedly never see the light of day either) the song has a musical strength and presence that Train’s music does not. And that’s why few, if any, will ever have the pleasure of listening to Monahan’s bristling tenor voice over the top of Leonard’s simple, yet compelling piano playing sensibilities. It’s too big a risk.

Train is a brand. And while there’s nothing wrong with taking risks within a brand framework, experimenting outside of that framework can be risky business. Even if it’s with someone else who’s track record is as or even more notable than yours.

Make no mistake, risk is a good thing. But it should only be taken knowingly and deliberately. Putting something out into the world just because it’s great isn’t reason enough.

It must also be “on brand.”