|Hollywood Record's Rob Souriall says a 'big idea that organically marries a brand and a band can be an extremely powerful platform that is beneficial to both parties.'
Why you need to know him: Mr. Souriall is the liaison between brand marketers and the artists on Hollywood Records, owned by the Walt Disney Co., and its sibling labels that span pop, classical, country, rock, world and alternative. Mr. Souriall helped hook up Hollywood Records' tween idol Jesse McCartney with OfficeMax for the reality special "Schooled" that appeared on Disney's ABC Family last year.
Credentials: After Mr. Souriall, who attended a private music school in Los Angeles, couldn't make a go of a career as a songwriter, he went back to school to focus on advertising, marketing and promotions. With his music background, he eventually went to work for an independent record promoter before working for a few marketing/promotion agencies. He was then hired by Hollywood Records by a colleague he had worked with doing radio promotion. He entered the record industry during a transitional period for the business, just as the digital revolution was emerging and threatening the comfortable, lucrative business model of the compact disc. Mr. Souriall has been with Hollywood Records for nine years.
Talk about the artists on your label and how you go about finding appropriate brand tie-ins for them. "The Buena Vista Music Group, consisting of Hollywood records, Walt Disney Records, Lyric Street Records and Walt Disney Publishing, is very diverse. We are everything from the classic-rock band Queen to Hilary Duff. We play ball in all contemporary-music genres with the exception of hard-core hip-hop/rap -- it just doesn't have a place within the Walt Disney Co. We are fortunate to have carved a nice niche for ourselves in the tween/teen marketplace. Having Disney Channel and Radio Disney as media partners gives us a tremendous advantage over our competitors in this space. We have worked hard to fine-tune the machine and are starting to reap the rewards. ... Every artist is different. [In addition to Hilary Duff and Jesse McCartney, the label's roster includes teen/tween favorites Raven Symone, Cheetah Girls, Jordan Pruitt, High School Musical, The Jonas Brothers and Hayden Panettiere, among others. Older acts include Indigo Girls, Los Lobos and Rascal Flats.] Some are more brand-partnership-friendly than others. I generally sit down with the artist and their management early on in the record-making process and find out the kinds of things the talent is passionate about, as well as any brands that they are adamantly against being associated with."
How have sponsorship deals changed over the years, both for the artists and the marketers? "The walls of defense from the artist's perspective have come down. In fact, having corporate brand partners is a significant part of every marketing campaign we launch. Artists/managers are becoming savvy and expect these kinds of deals to be a part of their marketing efforts. The great thing about music is that it is easy to match a target demo with a genre of music. Artists realize they need the exposure that a big brand partner can bring in order to break through the clutter. Brands know they can capture some cool and credibility via associating with an artist. Brand marketers are much savvier today than they were 15 years ago. It's not just about writing a big check to be able to attach a name to signage on tour. It's actually a great time to be a big-picture, creative thinker in this space. A big idea that organically marries a brand and a band can be an extremely powerful platform that is beneficial to both parties."
How do you think they will they evolve further? "We will see certain lifestyle brands and media juggernauts attempt to create their own imprint labels associated with traditional labels, for example MySpace Records and Interscope. I see labels offering brand marketers back-end profit-sharing deals based on results. In other words, expose my new artist in your multimillion-dollar ad campaign and I'll give you a piece of the profit based on attaining certain sales goals."
How can deals be structured so that marketers feel like they're getting what they want and artists don't feel compromised? "I often joke that my title should really be VP-marriage counseling. First I have to sell a client -- and their various agencies -- on why my particular artist is the right fit for their brand. Then we work together to develop the 'big idea.' Then I have to sell my internal staff on the concept. Then I have to sell the project to the artist, the artist's 'mom-ager' and management team, and ultimately all of the lawyers involved. What inevitably happens is we end up in a room in a tedious negotiation -- each side fighting for the upper end of the deal. I'm the guy who sits in the middle and says, 'Hey everyone, let's remember why we all fell in love in the first place.' It takes a unique personality to fill this role. Diplomacy is key, as is being able to bridge the creative and corporate mindsets involved."
At a time when so many artists work hand-in-hand with marketers, do you still find some that refuse? Is it possible to change their minds? "There are still artists out there that have very strong convictions about art and commerce never converging. This is a rare bunch and generally falls into an older-demographic-targeted genre of music. Nothing is ever easy. Artists/managers need assurance that they are not selling out and doing something cheesy. My job is to find a happy middle ground where the brand gets what it needs and the artists get what they need. It does no good to force a bad idea on either side. I have to work with the talent on an ongoing basis, and I will likely want to work with the brand again. If a project turns out to be a nightmare, I jeopardize relations with both my artist and my client."
Have you seen any sponsorships in the marketplace that you think missed the mark? "I'm not comfortable criticizing the competition. I know how tough it is out there."
If music is so important to so many people, then why do you think the record industry is in such a slump? "Based on end-of-year record-industry statistics, overall purchased music is up from the year prior. As we see physical sales clearly declining, we see tremendous digital sales climbing. This is a transitional period. Music consumption is different today as compared to when I grew up. There were over 53,000 CD releases in 2006. Guess how many of those sold more than a million units? Seventy! Kids don't buy [full CDs] anymore. The brand loyalty that existed when I was a kid is gone. I bought into bands as brands. I knew I loved the sound and image of the rock band Boston. It didn't matter if there was a big hit song on the radio. When the 'Don't Look Back' album came out in 1978, I was there at the record store just because I knew I was going to love it. Kids today like one song from this artist, and one song from that artist. They don't want to buy the other nine tracks on the album. They are bombarded by messages online, on their mobile phones, on the radio, TV, word-of-mouth from their friends. More options, more often, through more channels. This is how the record industry is changing. Instead of selling one shiny disc with 10 tracks via a bricks-and-mortar retailer for a high margin, we will sell smaller pieces of content, via numerous distribution channels, more often, but for a smaller margin. The onus is still on us -- the record label -- to create quality content. Are there really less talented bands today than there were in the '70s? There will always be a demand for great music content. Our business will rebound. The fat labels of the '80s will fade into oblivion. The business model of the traditional record label is changing. Everyone has to adapt. New technological formats change the playing field every 10 to 15 years. Radio to TV. Cassette to CD. VHS to DVD. CD to iPod? Resistance is futile."
Do you have a favorite band, either a contemporary one or of all time? "I love music, new and old, all genres, but I'm a classic rocker at heart. Zeppelin, Beatles, Boston, Styx, Foreigner. I'm a sucker for a hair-band power ballad."
Do you play any musical instruments? "I play guitar and keyboards. I'm fortunate to have some talented musician colleagues at Hollywood Records. We have a rock cover band that plays out every couple of months -- a bunch of 40-year-old record execs reliving their unfulfilled rock-star dreams. Keeps us young. I like the fact that our label is staffed with people who play and have a genuine appreciation and respect for music."
What's the best live show or performance you've seen this year? "The 'High School Musical' the tour blew me away."
What's on your TiVo? "'Dirt,' the new FX show starring Courtney Cox. First [FX] got me hooked with 'The Shield,' then 'Nip Tuck,' then 'Rescue Me.' I figure I've got to give 'Dirt' a chance."