Jay-Z Writes New Rules for Music Millionaires


Jay-Z says he’s writing new rules. But for whom?

The multi-millionaire rapper created a firestorm of PR by launching an innovative deal with Samsung to distribute 1 million copies of his new Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly July 9. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy. Samsung became a music distributor overnight. And the Recording Industry Association of America was inspired to change the way it tracks the sale of digital albums to account for the 1 million units sold instantly.  It’s no wonder Jay-Z has been tweeting about creating #newrules, and Billboard has gushed about “Jay-Z’s New Blueprint.”


Essentially, two big brands, Jay-Z and Samsung, are distributing music together as Jay-Z and Nokia did 10 years ago. But how repeatable is the Jay-Z model for the entire music industry? The example of Radiohead is instructive. Radiohead, another Continue reading

Shawn Lee: A Cool Rock ‘n Roll Dad


Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, right? Wrong — for Shawn Lee, anyway. The hip rock musician is a devoted husband, dad, and vegan. Married for 13 years, the American ex-pat living in London takes his kids to school five days a week and is an avid drinker of soy milk to fuel his busy life recording and producing albums and film scores. And his music is both prolific and acclaimed: since 2000, he has released nearly two dozen albums, contributed to movie soundtracks such as Ocean’s 11, created music for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, and scored soundtracks for games such as Rockstar’s Bully.

He is currently touring to support his latest collaboration with musician AM, the album La Musique Numerique — an eclectic blend of “electro soul” that received 4.5 stars (out of 5) from AllMusic.

The rock ‘n roll life takes its toll. He makes no bones about the fact that going on tour makes him miss his children and makes him feel guilty for “turning my wife into a single parent.” The demands of recording and touring made him miss his daughter Mela’s first birthday.

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The Innovative Sound of AM & Shawn Lee

The rock and pop music industry is alive and well. The business of music as we once knew it might be dead, but musicians continue to thrive and innovate — if you’ll let them. Case in point: today AM & Shawn Lee released La Musique Numerique, a striking blend of rock and electronica that received a four-star (out of five) rating on Allmusic. Their new single (“Two Times”) and video were featured USA Today, which describes La Musique Numerique as “a blissful experience from start to finish.” I met AM at a concert in 2010, and we ended up creating an innovative co-branding relationship for AM and agency Razorfish, where I was vice president of marketing at the time. I’ve maintained a relationship with AM in my current role as senior vice president of marketing at iCrossing. I continue to be impressed not only by his music but by how he works. For instance, as Billboard and Mashable have noted, AM & Shawn Lee typically build tracks by sharing their music online across multiple studios (AM is based in Los Angeles; Lee in London) without collaborating face to face. Moreover, they boldly combine retro moog-synth sounds with contemporary dance and rock.
So here’s my challenge: check them out. Give them a fair listen. If you don’t like them on first listen, try them again — remember, sometimes your ears need time to get accustomed to fresh music. See them on tour (here’s where you can find them — and you won’t need to fork over hundreds of dollars to experience their music as you would with the Rolling Stones). Their future is in your hands.

Hanging out with the Black Eyed Peas

Well, I did not exactly hang out with will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas – just with the scores of fans who responded to will.i.am’s open invitation to participate in a Black Eyed Peas Google+ Hangout at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time before a September 30 show at Central Park. The experience promised to give fans backstage access to the Black Eyed Peas through the power of the Google Plus Hangouts feature (through which people can schedule the equivalent of video chats with their Google Plus friends). After the Hangout, you could witness the actual concert through a webcam onstage. The September 30 Black Eyed Peas Hangout, although imperfect, was an intriguing approach to using technology to build brand in the entertainment world.

As will.i.am commented during the Hangout (which I watched on a YouTube replay), “I don’t think anybody has had a one-to-many webcam interactive experience like this with fans before and during a show.”

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Nice guys finish first

Last year I blogged about how Twitter was a catalyst in the forming of a co-branding relationship that I formed with indie musician AM and Razorfish (where I was in charge of marketing). Since then, digital has once again helped launch a relationship – this time between AM and musician Shawn Lee. On the strength of a trans-Atlantic collaboration formed entirely in the digital world, AM and Lee have launched a new album, Celestial Electric, which was just named one of Yahoo Music’s “Ten Utterly Fantastic New Albums” of the week.

As discussed by Mashable and my post on the iCrossing Content Lab, AM and Lee essentially used digital to launch a new sound, “electro soul.” The initial fruits of their work, the single “Dark into Light,” caught the attention of publications such as Rolling Stone. AM and Lee are now on tour (with Thievery Corporation) to support Celestial Electric, whose positive critical reception includes reviews such as this one and this one.

Seeing AM succeed is satisfying on a number of levels. I have been captivated by his sophisticated style of music since hearing him in concert in March 2010. But I’m also glad to see a genuinely likable and cool guy like AM and his collaborator Shawn Lee get the attention they deserve. AM’s personal warmth is evident the moment you meet him, and I’m lucky to have worked with him.

Success (especially in the fractured music industry) does not always come to decent and talented people. AM and his manager Mia Crowe are not waiting for success to come to them; they have worked hard to help AM find an audience for his music, which has been described as a mélange of “the best of musical worlds, rippling through classic roots sounds: pop and rock, steamy soul and R&B, Brazilian tropicalia, British Invasion, and ‘60s Bay Area psychedelia.”

On the Content Lab for iCrossing (where I am vice president of marketing), I provide more insight into the story behind AM’s success. And you can learn more about AM on Facebook, Twitter, his website, and on YouTube.

How Twitter united indie star AM with Razorfish


How does an emerging indie artist in the dysfunctional music industry find an audience anymore?

My employer Razorfish is tackling that challenge through an unusual co-branding relationship with indie musician AM, which sees Razorfish playing the role of quasi-record label, concert promoter, and DJ. And so far we are having a lot of fun while building our brand with a creative and smart musician.

Even though he is not yet widely known, AM has garnered critical acclaim among journalists and bloggers. His most recent recording Future Sons & Daughters was cited as “one of the pop albums of the year” by the U.K. Sunday Express and given a 4-star rating by Q magazine. And at Razorfish he has a huge fan: me.

I was personally smitten with the beauty of his laid-back yet smart songs one night in March when I saw him open for the French rock band Air. After the concert, I sent him a Tweet to let him know how much I enjoyed the show. And to my surprise, he replied with a heart-felt thanks. We began communicating more frequently, which led to my visiting with his manager Mia Crow of Visionworks while I was in Los Angeles for a Forrester Research conference.

From there, a client relationship between Razorfish and AM took root. Razorfish saw an opportunity to build our brand by associating with a forward-thinking artist who plays in the same social media sand box we do; and AM’s management recognized the value of Razorfish applying our own marketing and PR skills in a client capacity.

Fast forward to October: AM and Razorfish are creating the kind of co-branding relationship that you often see between emerging artists and business-to-consumer firms like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew (the latter via its Mountain Dew Green Label). Our relationship is based on the three pillars of experience, technology, and community. To wit:

  • On October 13, AM will perform at the 10th Razorfish Client Summit, where Razorfish and our clients discuss the state of the art in marketing, technology, and design. He’s customizing a set list for nearly 700 Razorfish employees and clients including Axe, Best Buy, Levi Strauss & Co., and Mercedes-Benz. We’ll also make his music available to attendees via a specially created StickyBits application and mobile site.
  • His music is being streamed to 2,000 Razorfish employees around the world as well as a StickyBits download, hence fostering word-of-mouth marketing amid a highly social employee base.
  • Razorfish and AM are sponsoring a design-a-poster contest on Creative Allies, which invites artists to create poster art to promote the vinyl release of Future Sons & Daughters. Razorfish Vice President of Experience Andrew Crow will help judge the entries. The winning entry will be used in the actual promotion.
  • Razorfish has been using forms of social media to build awareness for AM’s brand, helping him boost his presence on Facebook and Twitter.

So what does Razorfish get out of the relationship? We benefit in a number of ways. We give our clients and people access to great music, and, through the Client Summit, an experience they’ve never had at our event. We also associate ourselves with a creative, up-and-coming artist who aligns well with the forward-thinking nature of the Razorfish brand — which is ideal for relationship building with clients and job seekers (we recruit actively at SxSW Interactive).

Meantime a relationship with Razorfish is one more stop in the unconventional and resourceful journey AM has taken to gain a following. Like other artists, he has embraced social media, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube to complement his website. And as evidenced by how he and I met, he really uses Twitter to reach out to fans in a genuine way. In 2010 he also successfully solicited fans’ financial support to fund the vinyl launch of Future Sons & Daughters. And by licensing songs to movies and TV shows ranging from Big Love to Friday Night Lights, he has not only kept his music visible but gotten paid for it. In addition to touring with Air, he has toured with Charlotte Gainsbourg and will head to the United Kingdom soon for more touring, building his fan base one venue at a time the good old fashioned way.

Our relationship comes at at time when it is acceptable for musicians to find corporate partners. Gone are the days when a corporate relationship meant “selling out.” As discussed at the September Billboard Music & Advertising Conference in Chicago, artists like Zac Brown find companies like Ram Truck to be essential conduits for their music and causes. As Zac Brown said at the Billboard conference selling out means doing something you don’t believe in, a sentiment AM shares. In many ways, companies like Mountain Dew and State Farm are little different from record labels in that they distribute music for the artist. With Razorfish, AM gets access to sources of potential deals (e.g., by performing at the Client Summit), and our employs act as brand ambassadors if we like what we hear.

By letting his music speak for itself through the power of live performance, AM does what Razorfish likes to do: build a brand through an experience.