September 22, 2021

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Olivia Rodrigo’s team discusses ‘talk’ marketing, creative, A&R strategies

6 min read

After a lightning-fast rise in superstardom that began in January with her “Driving License” single, Olivia Rodrigo’s reputation as a 2021 breakthrough artist looks promising.

Whenever an artist becomes a household name so quickly, it seems inevitable in the eyes of the past. But every success story like this requires a strategy, infrastructure, a little luck – and most of all, a team. Read more about the rise of Rodrigo DiversityIts cover story – its debut single began long before the fall.

The 1-year-old “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” star began drawing attention for the first time with the show’s groundbreaking hit “All I Want”. He caught the eye of Geffen Records before the epidemic and officially signed with the Universal-Distributed Label in 2020. However, just days before the publication of the “driver’s license”, Geffen waited until January 2021 to announce his signature.

The success of the song has surpassed him and is the wildest dream of the label. “Driver’s license” Spotify reached number 1 on Apple Music and Amazon Music streaming charts, breaking the record for most single-day streams for more than 15 million holiday releases worldwide. “Driving License” also debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, making Rodrigo the youngest solo artist at just 1 year old. It was there for eight weeks in a row.

But Rodrigo soon proved that he is not a one-hit surprise. A few months later, his debut album, “Talk,” marked the biggest opening week of this year’s album sales with 295,000 units. It debuted at the top of the Billboard album charts and broke Spotify’s record for the biggest streaming debut of a female artist.

So who is the powerhouse team that helped bring him so far? It takes a village, but key players include Camp Far West manager Kristen Smith, Interscope Geffen A&M EVP and co-head of A&R Sam Reebok, Geffen Records EVP Nicole Bilzarian, IGA Digital Marketing Senior Director Kirsten Stabs and IG, Lead Visual Creative Michelle Ann, Video Producer Cristiana Devona and Marisa Ramirez, Senior Director of Creative Content. But across the board, a feeling is unanimous: as Smith says, “Olivia’s boss.”

Smith, who founded Camp Far West in July 2019 and signed Rodrigo shortly thereafter, wanted to give the singer as much autonomy as possible in his career – especially when choosing a label.

“In the end it was Olivia’s decision,” Smith said of signing with Geffen. “But it was clear that they recognized Olivia as a lyricist, and saw the full potential of what she was able to do, just beyond what is on paper. You can take things on paper based on price or you can really see the person in front of you, and I think Geffen has done a really good job of it.

Reebok said Rodrigo’s songwriting attracted him. “What fascinated me was the storytelling and the economics of the words he used in his songwriting, where it gave you a vivid picture of what he was trying to portray in each song,” Reebok said. “I’m really fascinated by how he was able to get these things so that you can not only hear them, but fully imagine the picture he’s trying to draw.”

The visuals were also a huge part of the rollout for “Driver License” and “Talk”. Despite the album’s title, the accompanying art color palette was a sweet one, with a bright purple background and Rodrigo adorned with a rainbow of stickers with his face (and tongue).

“Olivia knew exactly what she wanted to do for the cover art and ‘talk’ photoshoot,” said Ann, head of IGA’s EVP and Visual Creative. For him it was important that we got in the mood for ‘talk’, in which we were stuck with a color palette. For the album packaging, Olivia was going for a ‘Zine’ feeling. Olivia wrote all the lyrics, picked out each sticker and photo and cut each element individually, cut, lay out and finally scanned for a true DIY feeling.

One of the main things Rodrigo’s team initially recognized was his relationship with other teenage girls. Fortunately, thanks to the singer’s extensive participation in the planning process surrounding the campaign, they were able to communicate not only his songs, but also music videos, social media posts, and events.

“He was the mastermind behind the final output,” said IGA’s Stubbs, senior director of digital marketing. “He personally approves of every aspect of the campaign. Everything was planned with the utmost precision and collaboration, but since Olivia’s ideas were so unique and authentic to him, I think the campaign is incredibly real and relevant.

That same philosophy went into Rodrigo’s social media engagement with his fans, including several Easter eggs. For example, Rodrigo gave an indication of the release date of his third single, “Good 4 U” in an Instagram photo that had the locker combination “5/14”. Stubbs believes that this kind of social media interaction was inseparable from Rodrigo’s growing fanbase, especially in the epidemic.

General Z is annoyed by advertising and marketing: they are looking for connections. There’s nothing better than being a music fan than feeling like you have a unique connection to your favorite artist, ”Stubbs said. “We have sent secret messages from Olivia and thought of ways to make all her fans feel that ordinary people can miss. The release date of ‘Good 4U’ is the most well-known example of the combination of ‘Talk’ earrings in the ‘Driver License’ video, the ‘Good 4U’ ice cream truck in the ‘Deja Vu’ video and the locker in Olivia’s Instagram photo, but there are many more. “

Rodrigo was able to communicate with his fans in real life, however, by leading his “Talk Prom” virtual concert on June 2nd. Although the show aired live, Rodrigo confirmed that a few of his big fans were able to take part in the celebration in small private, dressed as the Nines.

“Big moments like Olivia personally invite fans to Prom with their hand-made signs and flowers and in partnership with Sherry Hill to deliver their outfits, small details like strawberry flavored popcorn at the event – her ‘Deja Vu’s consent’ lyrics – it’s from the rest. Set apart, “said the Belgian.

For manager Smith, Rodrigo – who is his only client – “sets the bar very high with the music he composes,” and his team matched this power in his strategy.

“I’m very consistent with the team across the label and everything, [that] We don’t have to fill that bar – but we have to go beyond that, “Smith said.

But the most important thing for Smith is that Rodrigo surrounds those who actually take care of him as a person, as well as his songwriting and outlook – and he feels like they got it at Geffen and IGA.

“I am really proud of the team that we have built and the team that we have built. I think it’s really important who is around him and with whom he spends time in that professional environment, “Smith said. “We’re really lucky to be working with some incredible people, where we all care for each other on a human level.”

After all, in the age of social media – and so 24/7 access to artists – that’s the truth that sells.

“Olivia is a force,” one says. The rollout of ‘Talk’ went so fast and Olivia tackled every purpose, performance, promo event with a lot of purpose. He took the time to understand what was being asked of him and then creatively confirmed that it was understandable for his point of view. He thought he would mold everything he did so it was clear Olivia – and only Olivia – did just that. He has a long future ahead of him. ”

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