If life were normal, A$AP Ferg might have invited key music supervisors from TV, movies, sports and gaming to a Manhattan or Los Angeles studio stocked with cocktails, snacks and booming bass to showcase soon-to-be-released new music. Instead, on Aug. 11, the rapper sat on a couch at his L.A. home playing and discussing songs from his upcoming album, Floor Seats II, for 100 influential synch executives over Zoom.
It’s a scenario repeated frequently since March, when the surge in COVID-19 infections triggered lockdowns across the United States. With large gatherings prohibited, labels and publishers have shifted their synch marketing strategies from live events to Zoom showcases for both A-listers and promising new talent. A pregnant Katy Perry did one early on, appearing via her laptop — tagged on Zoom with her birth name, Katheryn Hudson. Chaka Khan’s showcase included a Q&A. Rufus Wainwright performed three songs during an Austin City Limits taping soundcheck and answered questions afterward. Aloe Blacc chatted about preparing oatmeal for his kids every morning. Interscope Geffen A&M’s monthly “Hippy Dippy Canyon Hangs,” which started live at the home of vp film and TV creative licensing Brigitte Green, have pivoted to Zoom and featured Carly Rae Jepsen, Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.
The convenience, efficiency and popularity of these virtual pitch meetings suggest their usefulness will outlast the pandemic. No commuting is required, and both the acts and their audiences take part from the comfort of their homes. The artists can reach more listeners directly, and the supervisors can check out more acts, bumping up the odds of a placement.
“The Zoom calls have actually improved our ability, in a weird way, to be able to hear music. [Artists, labels and publishers] are not going to want to send you music over email because it might get leaked, and it’s hard to carve out a day to get down to New York,” says ESPN music director Kevin Wilson, who linked in to A$AP Ferg’s August presentation from his home, liked what he heard and made deals to license multiple songs, including “Hectic” (featuring Diddy), potentially for use in the NBA or MLB playoffs.
“They got to come into one room, hear the record and get to know him personally, which may not have happened otherwise,” says Ferg’s manager, Deon Douglas, who estimates that he places three synchs a month for the artist. The process, he adds, is “way more efficient” than face-to-face schmoozing.
Some showcases come with fringe benefits. “If you RSVP in time, they’ll actually send a bottle of wine to your house,” says Julie Glaze Houlihan, a veteran music supervisor who has worked on Malcolm in the Middle and Roswell, referring to the Interscope Geffen A&M events.
Synchs have long been an important income stream for artists, labels and publishers. Placements pull in anywhere from $500 for a low-budget reality show to $75,000 for a popular scripted series to seven figures for a major feature film, according to sources at labels and music publishers. With touring at a standstill, they’re even more crucial. “Live revenue makes up 60 to 80% of many artists’ income,” says Michael McDonald of Mick Management, whose clients Jepsen and Jon Batiste have showcased music for online video showcases. “Everyone’s turning over every stone they can, just to create revenue to get through to where we can start playing live again.”
For up-and-coming acts, video synch showcases are a way to introduce themselves to music supervisors who can offer both revenue and crucial exposure — and it doesn’t hurt that these executives are largely homebound and craving new music and social interaction. In June, Sony artists Sam Fischer and Saygrace performed four songs apiece and discussed their backstories during a video conference — an event that Fischer’s manager, Brad Beausir, hopes kick-started the Australian pop singer-songwriter’s synch career. “We’re just now starting to see TV shows and movies coming back into production, and we’re set up really nicely,” he says.
Virtual showcases also allow artists to make a more personal impression. (There is no “mute all” option for the bar crowd.) Aloe Blacc’s performance and musings about his child-care routine at a BMG showcase resonated with Lindsay Wolfington of Lone Wolf Music Supervision, whose recent projects include Netflix’s Warrior Nun. “I had started on a movie, we needed some original songs, and his name came up,” she says. Blacc didn’t place a song in the movie, but he earned a different kind of placement. “That conversation was three days after the showcase, so he was top of mind. That put him in my brain in a place that it hadn’t been before.”