Capitol Music Unit Holds First New York Upfront

Brand Partnership Division Seventeenfifty Merges Four Operations Into One

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Kandace Springs was one of four artists who performed at City Winery Wednesday.
Kandace Springs was one of four artists who performed at City Winery Wednesday. Credit: Leann Muller

The record label that's home to Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and Beck has launched a new operation that shows a deeper commitment to partnering with brands and agencies.

Seventeenfifty, the newly formed brand partnership division of Capitol Music Group, held its first New York upfronts last week at City Winery, treating an audience of about 200 to performances by the pop R&B star Ne-Yo and three up-and-comers: a plaintive Christian rapper called NF; a photogenic sibling duo called Broods; and a young jazz talent called Kandace Springs. Earlier this year, the group held upfronts in Los Angeles with a different group of artists.

Attendees also received books featuring descriptions of CMG's entire artist roster, including each artist's social media reach, plus factoids including their favorite charities, hobbies and foods.

"Capitol is coming out and making a statement," said Steve Gordon, author of "The Future of the Music Business" and an entertainment lawyer. "It's about taking advantage of what the advertising and marketing communities have already developed."

Capitol is not the first label to try upfronts. Atlantic Records tried them once before a few years ago but stopped, presumably because they did not bring in enough business. Atlantic, along with its parent Warner Music Group, recently debuted a global brand partnerships council designed to coordinate brand-marketing matchups across multiple territories.

Before Capitol assembled seventeenfifty, four separate teams pursued syncs (music placements in commercials or TV), brand partnerships, research and media buying independently for the label group. Keeping those operations in silos, said seventeenfifty Exec VP Kate Denton, limited the company's ability to serve brands.

"Our partners think of those things as being intertwined," she said. "By putting them together, it enables us to be more effective in communicating what opportunities are out there."

That might mean offering brand partners more robust research and insights about their targeted demographic or securing product-placement deals across a number of artists' music videos rather than just one.

The event's guest list reflected the agency- and brand-friendly agenda: agency reps from Ogilvy & Mather rubbed shoulders with marketers from Zinepak; execs from companies including Birchbox and HBO mingled with music supervisors and talent bookers.

"We invited a number [of partners] we worked with in the past and a number we're interested in working with in the future," Ms. Denton said.

In the past, brands and labels have struggled to partner because they operate on incompatible product cycles. A label typically starts promoting one of its artist's albums two to the three months before release, but a brand manager is working with a much longer time frame of a year or more.

That creates a headache Ms. Denton, who worked as a senior marketing director for Tropicana before joining CMG, has experienced from both sides. "I was budgeting 12, 15 months in advance," Ms. Denton said, "and I would get calls from a label about something happening in two, three months, and there was no way for us to do anything."

The programming at City Winery reflected that. All four artists that performed will either be promoting albums or touring for the next 18 months, and most artists' 2015 plans were spelled out in the book handed out to attendees.

It may take a while to figure out whether upfronts like this one will bear any fruit, but tthey have certainly planted seeds: Ms. Denton had a meeting scheduled at Ogilvy a few days after its upfront, and a bloc of other stops have been planned in New York for the next few weeks.

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