Meet the Matchmaker: Hooking up Sony Artists and Marketers

Q&A: Kenny Ochoa on Using Music Licensing to Benefit Both Brands and Musicians

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NEW YORK -- Kenny Ochoa may initially make heads turn because of his tattoos and style, but don't let that fool you. This VP-music licensing for Sony BMG is a 24/7 deal maker, and his business savvy comes from experience with his own indie record label (subsidized by a stint at an entertainment-law firm) and helping the U.K.'s Sanctuary Group build a music-licensing department from scratch on North American soil.

Kenny Ochoa

Today he takes artists both burgeoning and well-established and helps them further their careers and music by hooking them up with brands and advertising platforms. He's a busy guy who's quicker with a BlackBerry than with a phone, so Madison & Vine interviewed him via e-mail.

(If you happen to meet him face to face, though, ask about the tats: "There's a lot of Mexican heritage, in particular Mexican cinema art from the '40s, and some references that lean more Chicano," he said. "Also a bit of Basque heritage, all thrown in with a bit of early '80s punk-rock history.")

Madison & Vine: When most people think of licensing, they think of selling out -- getting a movie-related toy in a Happy Meal or selling a song as the background for a commercial. What's so intriguing about music licensing today for you?

Kenny Ochoa: Music licensing to commercials has evolved and continues to do so tremendously. Back in the day, it was considered "gravy" to the music business, and now it's not only a crucial revenue center in this current climate but often considered an essential marketing and promotional tool. It's a double-edged sword in that not every commercial where music is featured translates to ideal exposure and/or tangible record sales.

M&V: What are some of the greatest challenges you face when attempting to promote your artists in new ways and via licensing?

Mr. Ochoa: Overall, I think managing expectations at all levels: record label, artist/management, ad agency and client. Placing and licensing music in a commercial is not a simple process. It's finding the right song that creatively best fits and drives the picture, which should be the first priority regardless of the record label, publisher, agency, client or anyone's agenda. And then, educating all parties of the value, monetary and/or promotional, that both sides have to offer to each other is more often than not the most challenging.

M&V: Any particular triumphs you are proud of?

Mr. Ochoa: Personally, the exposure of a new or unknown artist in a commercial to an audience they normally would not be in front of, not to mention contributing income to an artist in the early stages of their career, is rewarding. Also, being able to walk an artist that has historically been against licensing (i.e., "selling out") through and helping them feel comfortable with their first deal can be equally rewarding when it does happen.

Currently, we have Columbia recording artist Nicole Atkins appearing in and having her music featured in a American Express spot, which during the first week of the campaign she landed at No. 2 on Google Trends (most-increased searches on Google), received a mention in the New York Post and got more than 3,000 hits in one day on her MySpace page. Other recent examples are Almost Gold's Peter Bjorn and John in an AT&T/Napster spot, which we were able to be a integral part of the creative from inception, which is a rarity. And last but not least, I think a few eyebrows will be raised when a very well-known artist's song and likeness appears in a major automotive campaign in October.

M&V: What do you think are some of the new and creative approaches to licensing?

Mr. Ochoa: I think creating a dialog directly between artists, labels and brands as early as possible in the creative process is imperative for the future. It's important that we can get beyond our relationship of a simple "transaction" for goods or budgetary element and treat music as talent, which it really is, and a brand in itself that the client can tap into for many benefits.

M&V: What do you look for when pairing an artist with a brand? Do you have to play matchmaker or are brands clamoring for help from you?

Mr. Ochoa: It goes both ways. We go after them in many cases, and now more than ever they are seeking our help. As just mentioned, we still need to allow more access to each other on many levels. It's my job to make sure we and our artists are approachable and willing to work with brands.

M&V: Why do you think consumers are more open to artists pairing themselves with brands now than they were 10 years ago? (C'mon, when Led Zeppelin sold music to Cadillac, it made a splash, but not all of it was good.) What stops the backlash?

Mr. Ochoa: This is an interesting question, as opposed to why artists are more open to pairing with brands, which is more commonly asked. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think consumers have a different perspective now than 10 years ago, when there were several more filters to what they were exposed to, which the internet has completely removed, thus possibly making them more open-minded and accepting as the artist's individual choice and right. Ironically, I just heard a story today about a very hip and credible artist nervously posting a letter to their fans on their website about an upcoming car commercial and being just blown away with amount of support they received in response.
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