How Taco Bell Quietly Feeds Cash-Strapped Young Bands

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Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons

For young bands on the road dreaming of music stardom, Australian legends AC/DC said it best: It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock & roll. Long before the groupies and awards shows, most emerging bands have to prove their mettle onstage, one audience at a time.

While music videos have long romanticized life on the road for a rock band (i.e. Bon Jovi‘s “Wanted Dead or Alive”), the reality is closer to grueling stretches of travel, under-attended shows and lots of really bad food – when one can afford to eat.

Since 2005, popular fast-food chain Taco Bell has quietly been subsidizing one hundred different emerging bands every year with $500 worth of gift cards good at any location to take with them on tour. Over the course of those seven years, such acts as All-American Rejects, Dr. Dog, Girl Talk, Portugal, The Man and the Gaslight Anthem have all been part of the company’s “Feed The Beat” campaign.

“We don’t really need to be a part of it anymore. That promotion is better for new bands that really need food on the road,” admitted Jeremy Dawson of L.A. electro-rockers Shiny Toy Guns, who are part of the 2012 class which includes the Lumineers, JEFF The Brotherhood, DJ Dillon Francis and rapper Killer Mike. “It’s a cool thing to see companies really diving in and helping music in general. A lot of these bands are too small to help Taco Bell, but the company is still gives them Taco Bell bucks and puts them on a big website. It’s a great time for corporations to be helping bands in a very unusual music business market right now.

“$500 in Taco Bell is a lot of food. I remember from back in the day,” he continued. “We trained ourselves when we first started this band. You can get full at Taco Bell for $2. That’s a lot of meals.”

For Wayne Sermon, guitarist of rapidly rising Las Vegas band Imagine Dragons (pictured), having access to “Taco Bell Bucks” has saved the day on more than one occasion.

“When we heard about it, it was cool,” remembered Sherman during a phone interview. “But then we received the Taco Bell Bucks, which they give you in $5 gift cards. That’s when it got real,” he laughed. “Even though we’re grateful for all of our success, we’re still a young band on the road. We’re not rolling in dough by any means. There have definitely been times when I would have gone hungry without one of those cards. We pass them out to the crew, too. I know they really appreciate them.”

For emerging bands hungry for a spot on next year’s Feed The Beat line-up, there are some stipulations to being eligible. According to the website, this year’s line-up “needed to have a dedicated fan base, be on tour during the fall and have a dedicated Web page.” The site was open for submissions in June of this year, so aspiring bands will want to keep an eye on the Feed The Beat site to see when submissions will be accepted for the 2013 line-up.

Taco Bell made music news earlier this year by featuring Passion Pit song “Take a Walk” in a TV campaign for the Doritos Locos Tacos.

–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local

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