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Jeff Burroughs from Def Jam Recordings on the important role that record labels play in decoding culture for brands.

Guides & Inspiration • Written by Catherine Graves - Marketing Director, Genero

These days, Genero helps some of the world’s biggest brands scale their content production. But what some might not know, is that we originally launched the business for the music industry. 

The first five years of Genero were focussed on building our end-to-end production platform and growing our global network of creatives, while providing briefs to produce the official music videos for huge artists like Moby, Alicia Keys, James Brown, Duran Duran and Muse. And although we now work right across the advertising industry, we still work with a range of music industry clients to produce all types of content for music artists. So we were thrilled to sit down with Jeff Burroughs, Senior Vice President of Brand Partnerships at the home of Hip Hop – Def Jam Recordings. 

A pioneer in leveraging the power of brands to amplify activations in the music business, Jeff is also known for integrating multi platinum award-winning superstars into the cultural conversation. His illustrious career has seen him hold senior positions at Columbia Records, Bad Boy Recordings with Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment. As well as being a serial entrepreneur with two labels under his belt and a management company called Rise Entertainment. 

We chatted to Jeff for our latest series Masters of Disruption. We’ve been interviewing the marketing brains behind some of the world’s best brands about how they’re approaching the forces disrupting the marketing and advertising industry, exploring topics like strategy, structure, in-housing, the role of agencies and technology.

Jeff Burroughs, Masters of Disruption Episode #8

This episode is for music lovers and marketers alike. Jeff discusses the tech disruption that transformed the industry, and why there’s never been a more exciting time in the music business than right now. In his own words “Thank god for streaming. The advent of streaming really saved the traditional model of the music business in terms of the majors, and completely shifted the way that people digest their music and keep their libraries.”

Speaking to that transformation, Jeff discusses the way music marketing has changed, and the most essential tactics used to promote artists today, stating:

“The most seismic shift would be the power of radio. Where radio was our number 1, 2 and 3 marketing and promotional output - radio is now perceived as 3rd base...Timing of records has also completely shifted. Now records come out on Thursday night. And we’re looking to position them on playlists - that’s the new radio.”  

Another key difference is how content is used in the promotion of artists. Jeff takes some of the credit for jacking the game when it comes to music videos, having invested huge money into producing videos for artists like The Notorious B.I.G, Faith Evans and Mase during his time at Bad Boy Recordings with Sean Combs. He says, “There was a strategy behind us spending a tremendous amount of money to make those videos. That’s how we got mainstream success, because we were able to get on MTV which put us in front of an audience that we traditionally wouldn’t have been in front of. And that shifted the game. And I think that that shifted culture”. 

Today, he says, video is an important part of their revenue modelling because they are able to monetize the majority of content that’s put out. Videos are now seen as commercial products – “they all have a skew and a code to generate income, and they live on well beyond the initial release of an album. So we’re always looking to collect on the longtail of videos.” And record labels are no longer limited to the type of content they can produce – they can create anything from the traditional three minute video through to mini-movies, lyric videos, animated videos and more. Jeff says, “There’s an unending amount of options to create content that is going to make the audience excited about what the artist is kicking, and how they’re kicking it. If it’s a conversation, if it’s an acoustic piece, whatever we find exciting, we’re able to create it.”

Jeff’s career has had a key focus on developing the use of brand partnerships in the music industry and it’s an area he’s passionate about. He says these deals are ‘critical to helping us break new artists. And putting artists in places that we wouldn’t be able to, in the way that a major brand can.’ But on the flip side, he also sees that brands are doing very well by engaging with music and artists.

“Everyone understands that music drives culture. And today, marketers are trying to figure out how to get into people’s culture and into their mind in a way that feels organic. I think there’s a continual evolution of that conversation as people start to understand that it’s really very difficult to buy people’s belief.” 

He adds some additional advice, “So if you’re going to be a brand that’s gonna get down with the music industry, then you should probably get down and stay down. Because if you’re in and out – I think kids are very suspicious and get it right away. The equity that brands get from the power of artistry and their influence on culture, and their ability to move kids emotionally – it’s pretty much impossible to exchange it for anything else.” 

Watch the trimmed down edit of the interview with Jeff above, and additional recent interviews with marketers from Unilever, Virgin America, The Atlanta Hawks, Tourism New Zealand and more here.

Watch the full series

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