The Drum's 'Unsung Heroes' series is a celebration of the people in the industry who slog hard behind the limelight for their companies, brands, and clients. As they are seldom in the spotlight for their contribution to the success of campaigns, this is their time to shine.
As the director of artist relations at Texas-based Music Audience Exchange (MAX), Maxwell Zotz gets satisfaction from being able to offer artists of all sizes brand partnership deals that make an actual and significant impact on their career. He puts a lot of weight in the transfer of communication when it comes to delivering both for the artist as well as the brand, which is unpredictable.
Why is your job important?
Brand partnerships are typically only relevant to the music industry's top 1%, as in, the 'Taylor Swifts' of each respective genre. Meaning the top players bring in the majority of the brand dollars and thus the value proposition is skewed, given their size and notoriety.
As essentially the head of music at MAX, my team and I are disrupting this space, not only delivering hundreds of brand partnership campaigns to emerging and break-through artists but also educating the market on the opportunities and benefits of aligning with a brand, while streamlining the overall process.
The big overlooked factor here and a huge part of our education to the industry is the inherent and potential value of the media that exists in each of these brand partnership campaigns. Today, for an artist to reach their existing fans, as well as new fans, with a new song, they must pay for that reach in some capacity.
This may come in the form of boosted or sponsored Facebook or Instagram posts to media buys on Pandora, Spotify andYouTube, to creative influencer campaigns. Needless to say, labels and independent artists alike must pay for that inherent reach to ensure people hear that new music. Organic marketing can only go far; this is a business after all.
Particularly with a MAX campaign, we are often pairing an artist rate (for their time on camera and overall likeness), a licensing/publishing rate (for the use of a song- ideally their new single) and then a level of media engagement and impressions ( i.e. five million impressions w/ 10% fan engagement) to create a well rounded, drastically more beneficial campaign that attempts to form a true partnership between the brand and the musician.
Identifying talent that is not only appropriate demographic wise but also has a brand affinity for the company at play becomes one the most important facets of my job. We curate and present at minimum five fully vetted artist options to each brand to consider for their respective campaign, to ensure not only the brand gets what they want, but also so that we have leverage in contracting an artist that truly wants to form a partnership with this brand and isn't doing it just for a money grab.
What is the hardest and stressful part of your job?
Over the past decade, I have worked with artists as a fan, promoter, tour manager, manager, talent buyer, tour producer, festival producer, brand partnership lead, and everything in between. My understanding and perspective are unique because I am more adequately prepared to align with an artist or their representations interest, given my experience. That said, working with artists, in general, can be unpredictable regardless of how far along in their career they are.
As director of artist relations at MAX, I am almost always dealing with a set of middlemen (agents, managers, tour managers, label representatives etc.) to contract and push the process forward.
Because of this, I put a lot of weight in the transfer of communication when it comes to delivering both for the artist as well as the brand, which is also unpredictable. Regardless of what that manager or representative may have advanced or agreed to, in preparation for a video shoot or live show activation, the artist makes the final call.
If the artist's representation has not adequately prepared the artist or does not have the leverage or ability to steer things as needed, things could potentially get off track.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to offer artists of all sizes brand partnership deals that make an actual and significant impact on their career, particularly as we increase the awareness for their music that they would not have received otherwise.
Because of the drastic imbalance of brand partnership deals that skew to the 1% of the music industry, educating break-through and emerging artists on the power and value of brand partnerships is not only satisfying to me but also slowly sets the landscape for the brand partnership space in music we as a company are looking to create.
First thing that comes to people’s minds when you tell them your job?
Since I mostly work with musicians and their teams, I’m often asked: "So can you like to sponsor our tour?" The common misconception with working in brand partnerships is that there are just all these companies with all this money who need to slap their logo on an artists tour bus.
That literally couldn't be further from the truth. Brands that are really wanting to invest in music in a meaningful way are actually looking for deeper connections and create opportunities to partner with artists in mutually beneficial ways.
How would you correct/explain to them what you do then?
We at MAX work with brands that want to organically align their marketing initiatives talented, deserving artists who have a brand affinity for their respective product or company. I want to find that artist who just absolutely loves Dr Pepper, drinks it at every show, and has a hundred ideas of how to authentically incorporate it into his content.
Show me that artist, provide me with a schedule of single releases, tour dates etc. and THEN let me approach the brand. Otherwise, keep doing your thing and if you are making the right level of noise and have the right vibe, those brand partnership opportunities will come to you!
Is there anything you want to change in your job?
When it comes to disrupting multiple overlapping industries, particularly as a member of a rapidly growing four-year-old company, I consistently wear multiple hats in my day to day job. And for right now, at this stage of both my career and this company, I couldn't see it any other way.
This ensures I am experiencing and becoming educated in a handful of different areas and constantly getting to learn new things/meet new people etc. I love my job and am really excited about what’s yet to come!
Which was the campaign that you worked on, that you are most proud of?
Having joined MAX a few months ago, there are several campaigns I’ve been actively working on that I’m excited to see a launch soon. That said, a few years ago, I paired Spotify with this emerging band called Radical Something in 2014, where we activated on 25 college campuses.
We drove an incredible amount of Spotify app downloads per campus as well as authentically aligned the brand with a band that was cool and relevant to students; pushing intimate live music sessions in the campus center to a targeted demographic.
Who is someone you want to emulate in your industry?
I have tremendous respect for the Jimmy Iovine and Steve Berman's of the industry; individuals who have been successful at pairing brands with artists in very impactful ways.
That said, what I am looking to accomplish in music, no one has done yet. Instead of only the top 100 artists in the world benefiting from brand partnerships, I want to create a landscape where the top 50,000 artists are benefiting, with room for growth in that market for the hundreds of thousands of developing artists.
The overwhelming opportunity and value proposition just make sense to me; there is just too much-untapped value for brands to align with emerging and break-through artists, and then too much need when it comes to covering marketing and media costs to help those artists grow!
If you weren’t a director of artist relations, what would you be?
Heading into high school and then college I thought I was going to be either a lawyer or a politician. Though I appreciate the legal side of the music industry, I have since learned I just don't have the patience necessary day in and day out to be successful in that lane.
Similarly, I think throughout my coming of age, witnessing the Florida re-count in the 2000 Presidential election and the various corruption in different segments of the government, I realized I had no interest in actually becoming a politician myself, as I found I really did not like the level of attention and scrutiny they fell under.
That said, given my years of experience in marketing, advertising and branding, particularly in the music and lifestyle worlds, I think I would be a great advisor to a political campaign, taking my knowledge of the aging millennial demographic and applying that to making real change in the world.