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Mary Rahmani is the founder and CEO of Moon Projects, an innovative agency that is focused on short-form video content and helping artists, brands, and companies take that to the next level. In this episode, she talks about her three-pronged company and what she has learned from her time as a TikTok executive. She then discusses Moon Projects’ partnership with Republic Records and some of the trends she is seeing within the entertainment industry.
If you’re looking to be a part of the TikTok community and to learn more about leveraging short-form videos, this is the episode for you!
[02:10] An overview of Mary’s career and how she established Moon Projects
[06:05] Strategy is key to gaining virality and staying relevant on TikTok
[09:48] What emerging artists can learn from famous musicians who use TikTok like 24kGoldn, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and Lizzo
[13:57] How Mary chooses artists to work with and how A&R representatives should be dealing with artists
[21:22] About Republic Records and Mary’s perspective on work-life balance
[29:08] Music as a love language and TikTok as a platform
[33:32] On music-gaming collabs, the divergence of fame and talent, and video streaming
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Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. Today’s podcast is a good one. I was joined by Mary Rahmani, who is the founder and CEO of Moon Projects, which is an innovative agency that is focused on short-form video content and helping artists, brands, and companies take that to the next level.
And Mary’s perfect for this because she’s worked in music and entertainment for over 20 years and she was actually TikTok’s first music hire so so much of the initial impact and growth that TikTok had in the music industry, think about the campaigns they had done with Meg Thee Stallion or with 24kGoldn who was on the podcast earlier this year,
Mary was the center to a lot of that so we talked about so much of the strategies that went into that and what many artists and companies get wrong and right about creating engaging short-form content and what that looks like.
We also talked about what she’s building with Moon Projects. The company covers three areas: The first is a record label that was started as a joint venture with Republic Records, the second is a consulting firm that serves both brands and record labels, and the third is a brand agency where she’s able to take a lot of the insights that she has into action and help companies better engage with the talent that is on this platform.
It’s a really, really exciting conversation because it’s so timely with what’s happening right now in the music industry. TikTok has really become the music industry’s top of the funnel. This is where so many major record labels are finding the artists that they’re signing. And if that’s becoming the main source of deal flow, then you need to have partners that truly understand this space.
Here’s my conversation with Mary Rahmani.
Dan: All right, we got Mary Rahmani here who is the founder and CEO of Moon Projects. And, Mary, first off, congrats for launching Moon Projects. Welcome to the podcast.
Mary: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Dan: Yeah, definitely. It will be good to hear, for the folks that are less familiar, what Moon Projects is and what inspired you to start it? Because it feels like it’s such a timely type of company for everything that’s happening right now in music and entertainment.
Mary: Yeah, the timing is good, I’m not mad at that. That’s definitely accurate. You know, I’ve worked in music my entire career for a little over 20 years. I’m from LA and I’ve always worked in the music industry in different verticals, from working at record labels to management companies to managing artists myself, and I’ve learned different experiences and have added to my toolkit throughout the years and have been in the tech space for the past seven years and, of course, was at TikTok and I know that we’re gonna get into all that, but it was an incredible wild ride, and as I’m settling into my bones and into my career, my work, I just realized, I felt like I was hitting a lot of red tape and a lot of boundaries and walls with a lot of like organizations and startups and I was frustrated and I wanna do something on my own and have my own thing, and I think many people in the entertainment industry always go above and beyond, they’re always chatting with artists and peers, giving advice and networking and hanging out and I’m like, you know, “Why don’t I build a business out of this?” And so I decided to launch Moon Projects.
Moon is my son’s middle name so that’s where the inspiration of the name came from. But I’ve always been so close working with artists and music and so it really made sense to have something that was officialized where I could be a useful tool to hopefully my colleagues in the industry.
One part is a record label, which is so exciting. That was a dream come true for me. And I also do consulting for major companies or record labels or even creative agencies. I also do creative campaigns. When brands or labels want to run a campaign in a short-form platform, they’ll reach out to me and we’ll discuss different approaches.
Dan: That makes sense because I’m sure given your time at TikTok, you have so much domain expertise that is so relevant and I bet unique that a lot of people just don’t have. It actually reminds me of an essay that I’ve written at the beginning of this year, it’s about TikTok and how TikTok stars can do more in the industry, and I actually quoted a quote that you had in there —
Mary: Oh, gosh —
Dan: — and I remember one of the things I mentioned in there, I was like, I think the next step here is we need record labels and we need some type of focus on people that understand TikTok specifically, and then, a few months later, you launch Moon Projects that I’m like, “Oh, this is exactly what we’re talking about.”
Mary: That’s awesome. I mean, yeah, I mean, I was there, you know? And it’s in all the bios, I was the first hire for music in North America, but it was incredible. I was there very early, in fall of 2018 and no one I don’t think knew what it was going to become.
Of course, we had hoped that it would be but I don’t think we ever realized like how big it actually would get, but it was such an incredible learning process for me.
I felt like I knew my side of the industry. I knew artists, I knew music, I knew discovery, but there’s a lot of things I did not know about the tech space, about user growth, about product, about metadata, integration, and how they all go hand in hand, and it really was fantastic and then as I kinda built my lane and the company built their presence, a lot of these agencies and consultants like started popping up, like offering the best tips and guidance on how to go viral, how to become successful on TikTok, and a lot of us internally were like scratching our heads, like, “How do they know the secrets?” You know? They don’t, of course, and they still don’t. A lot of it is Googleable, a lot of it is like assumption.
It’s really fun to watch content where users will talk about how to break the algorithm or how to go viral and how to make a trending sound, and some of it is accurate, some of it is not, of course, but I love to take my knowledge and what I’ve learned and share that I can share to others and take those meetings and help empower other people, but I don’t think there has been another employee from TikTok that started their own independent thing so I’m excited to be the first one and be a resource to hopefully many.
Dan: That’s exciting. And I hear you on the piece specifically about people that are launching their own how to do this, how to do that, and, like you mentioned, some of it probably applies, some of it doesn’t. I’m curious, what are some of those common things that you hear some of these outlets saying that you’re just like, “What are they talking about?”
Mary: What are they talking about? I mean, still people still pitch lip sync and dance. I’m like, “Are you serious?” You know? Like, yes, we see lots of dance in the app, of course, it’s fun, you know, it’s something very silly to do, it’s low lift, but if you — maybe they’re new adapters perhaps, but the app has evolved and grown so much from when the company had acquired Musical.ly where it was really predominantly a very young demo and pretty much all lip sync and fast motion and dance.
And the team, including myself, we worked so hard in diversifying the content and really being mindful of editorial temples and hashtags and creators and onboarding to making sure there’s something for everyone of all ages and all interests, and so when you have these agencies talking to big brands or big artists or big public figures and pitching a challenge or a contest or a lip sync or dance, it’s kind of cringey, you know? We’ve gone above that and beyond that.
But I think for some, it’s just a numbers game. There are so many users now that if you are semi-strategic, you can have a successful campaign in terms of numbers, but what does that actually really mean?
And so I have more thorough conversations on breaking that down and speaking with clients, like are you looking for virality for two weeks or do you wanna sustain your presence and be part of this community and ecosystem so as you continue to release products or songs, you always maintain that connection and it won’t be such a battle to get noticed in that scene.
Dan: I feel like that last piece is key because so much of what can happen on the platform can be so ephemeral, so quick, like you have that moment and then what happens after that? How do you maintain?
And I feel like that — because I think you’ve talked about this before, that’s probably a thing you probably have to repeat to the clients often because I think they want that big bang or that big splash moment and that’s not how it works.
Mary: No, I get asked consistently like, “How do we maintain the virality? How do we keep it going?” And it’s challenging because the ecosystem, to your point, it moves so quickly. It really is — like it mirrors and it parallels what happens in the real world outside of our phones, like in pop culture, so there is a big news story like right now, in my feed, at least, it’s all about Gabby or it was all about Britney Spears or the Met Gala Awards and that’s peppered in, of course, like with fun content and then food, beauty, fashion, dance, and other verticals as well, but it does shift and evolve pretty quickly and so if you are experiencing virality within these moments, you have a really short window.
So what are you supposed to do? Always lean into the community, repost content, share content on your outside socials, always tag the creators that are making content against your music or celebrating you, spread the love and be thankful, and just lean in in that short window but, hopefully, it will happen again because you are a part of that, which is why I sort of do preach maintain consistency so when you do experience a viral moment, you know exactly what to do to catapult upon it.
There are so many artists specifically actually who will have like a trending moment, maybe they’re not onboarded, they’ll wait like a month and post and they’ll wonder, “Why didn’t it go viral? Like why didn’t my song start trending again?” I’m like, “We have moved on,” you know? It moves so quick.
So just stay on there, stay engaged, and, hopefully, you’ll have another one down the line.
Dan: That makes sense, especially just given the way the platform is.
Mary: I think so but you’d be surprised.
Dan: It’s funny because I feel like TikTok had put out that report last year about the artists that were at the top and so many of them were hip hop artists specifically. I think Meg Thee Stallion was one of the top ones they had last year —
Mary: Oh, stop it —
Dan: — 24kGoldn, yup.
Mary: Yeah, 24—
Dan: What are some of the unique things that you think they were doing that made them stay there and have some consistent success?
Mary: I mean, that’s a great question. 24kGoldn, he was actually really leaned and engage like very early, you know? I think year one, he was leaned in. Lil Nas X was not, you know? There was an artist named LLusion who was.
Megan, we onboarded her I think South by Southwest of 2019. We went to Austin and she performed at FADER Fort. It was her, I remember BackPack kid, we onboarded him. He’s the one that does the floss dance. And she was like at that point where she was pivoting into something that was gonna be, of course, like a household name.
And then her song started trending, even Doja Cat, same situation. And the artists didn’t really come onboard until maybe a year later. Lil Nas X was the same. So was Lizzo. Many, many artists.
But I think users really resonated with their sound, with the beat and the lyrics, how it was just real and how they felt and they resonated with it and there really wasn’t anything quite like that as well so it was really celebrated.
There are definitely some artists that TikTok just loves, the community. Doja is definitely on that list. I think she’s had like seven or nine trending songs. It’s insane.
Drake, Kanye, Taylor, Billy, the classic tier ones, you know? Even Post, but they’re not like these massive upticks outside of Megan and Doja that kinda like sustain themselves and you’ll find like your artist once in a while that will sort of break and have their moments. They all get signed, they have, you know, they become successful and get a label deal and then like, what happens to them?
So I feel like a lot of emerging artists could actually learn from like the Megans and the Doja and making sure that they’re thinking outside of the platforms on how to really build a career for themselves.
Not sure if I answered your question. Sorry, I might have rambled.
Dan: No, no, that was good. It might be good to talk about that emerging artist piece of it more because I think so much of the attention, people see what Meg or what Drake have done with their challenges, but with so many of the emerging artists, everyone is now hearing, “Okay, you have to be on TikTok, you have to have some type of presence there.”
And what are some of the things that you’ve seen those emerging artists do differently if — maybe it is to follow what they’ve seen the superstars do, but is there anything different you need to do if you are trying to just get your name out there?
Mary: Yeah, great question. Actually, I feel like with TikTok, especially in the first couple years, it was generally, in my opinion, onboarded or emerging artists, you know?
And I don’t know if that was, not to stereotype because of their age and perhaps they were younger artists and so social media is no big deal, they’re used to it, they grew up with it, and a lot of them naturally integrated, were leaning in, were using TikTok, were using Snap and Instagram just because they’re young and they use social media like a part of their lives.
With a more established tier one or tier two artist that perhaps had their heyday a decade ago, it was a lot more challenging in getting them to relax.
I can’t even tell you how many artists insisted on being in full glam to make a TikTok and I’m like, no, it’s the opposite, people wanna see you with no makeup and your hair of hot mess, you know, and all that. They want realness.
But it’s challenging to penetrate that narrative to an established artist when they’re so used to traditional promotion. But I think a lot of emerging artists leaned in once they saw what was happening with these emerging artists and how they’re becoming superstars and their songs and trends are being celebrated, they’re like, “Wait, we wanna be a part of this community too,” and so they all came in after. But the narrative in terms of like best practices is really the same, like being consistent, being yourself. When you have a trending song, share it, celebrate it, recreate the trend, and just connect.
I think Lizzo does an incredible job of this, like she does pepper in promotion here and there, like “Rumors” coming out recently, like she did a few videos about “Rumors”, but, really, the bulk of our content is not about her music or about using my sound, it’s about her just having fun and being silly and doing these food trends and dance trends and I absolutely love it.
Dan: Nice. Yeah, and I imagine that the emerging artists specifically are the ones that you’re working with the most closely or the ones that could be potentially signed to your record label. Is there an ideal profile or an ideal type of artists you’re looking at? Or what are some of the metrics and things you look for?
Mary: I honestly listen to my gut a lot and it could be my age, because I also grew up without using a lot of data. When I was working in these tech companies, including TikTok, a lot of my colleagues would say, “You’re very creative,” which meant like I did not look at data, you know?
Like I come from the music industry where we follow our instinct and we go by a vibe, but I swipe up, of course, and I’m not there anymore, so I actually don’t have access to data and I really do follow my instinct and I’m not personally looking for the artist that’s having this virality moment with a 15-second beat that they maybe sampled or remixed or mashed up, like I’m happy for them and good for you but what makes me stop when I’m scrolling is their voice stood out or the way that they rapped or their style or their confidence in their skin or the way that they play guitar or piano.
I’m looking for musicians and there are so many of them on these platforms. The problem — not the problem, I guess the issue could be for some for discovery is that they don’t have trending songs sometimes and so they’re not getting discovered, but I do think the industry is getting better and like digging deeper and deeper underground into the layers of TikTok and all these like alt-worlds and finding those artists and taking them up and, honestly, I really feel like everyone will have virality if they are consistent, like I’ve seen it time and time again.
I can’t tell you how many emerging artists I’ve reached out to and, in a month, three months, four months, they all have a trending sound and then it becomes a bit of a race to see, “Oh, who’s gonna sign them?”
I wish more artists would actually utilize these platforms to try to get seen, especially us like being in the pandemic, depending on the genre too, some artists don’t work for social media and you would only see them live, that’s how you get to know them if they were to go on tour and do traditional promo, and so like where are the bulk of those artists? Like what are they doing? And I would love to see them on this platform so we can empower them and discover them and elevate them, but they have to get active to do that.
Dan: I’m sure that’s refreshing for artists to hear, specifically about the fact that you are still relying a lot more on instinct, because I think right now, so many of them think about TikTok and the numbers and the analytics and they’re like, “Okay, I need to do something in order to make sure that I am getting seen on the algorithms, I’m getting seen on this,” because they assume that all the record labels are just looking through all of their data that’s just showing, “Okay, who are the people that are trending? What are the songs that are getting the most X, Y or Z hits?” So I think —
Mary: They are.
Dan: — artists are probably — I’m sure it’s a mix, right? It’s not solely, you know, independent of those things but, yeah.
Mary: No, definitely. I mean, yeah, and I have definitely reached out to artists because they have experienced some kind of moment, but I liked the sound, you know? Then I’m like, oh, I find out the song is like 10 years old and I get to know the artist, I’m like, “Do you have anything newer, you know, that I can listen to?” and they don’t but they still have labels that are interested in perhaps, you know, re-releasing that track because they can monetize from that.
And I understand that, that’s the business side of things, but does that work for the artist? Is that fair to them? Them to give up rights to the song that’s so old to have a label now take that check, for what? They didn’t do any of the work or promo and that kinda goes back to like one of your first questions, like how long do these trends really last?
And so if an artist is having a moment and now a deal is getting done, are they gonna have another moment at that point? And so what was the point of doing that record deal? Which is why I ask, like, “Well, do you have other tracks I could listen to?” because I’m thinking big picture and long term but not everyone is thinking that way.
So I do get a little bit — I kind of step back from those artists in those moments because I don’t think there’s anything long term there, unfortunately.
Dan: That makes sense. And I imagine too that with some of these artists, I’m curious, what is it like about those rights conversations? Because there’s plenty of artists that still wanna get signed, but I imagine, on the flipside, there’s probably artists that you may see that would be perfect and you feel like you could help them level up, but they might be like, “Okay, well, I have X number of followers, I have this, I have that. I don’t wanna give up anything. Let me continue doing what I’m doing.” How have those conversations been?
Mary: I get it. I think like artists should take their time. It’s like dating, you need to get to know your A&R person, all the A&Rs that are reaching out to you, it’s like, “Oh, I’m being courted,” and it’s probably an incredible feeling, especially for an artist, and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, like this is what I’ve been wanting, getting the attention of these major and like really cool indie labels,” but get to know them and don’t be afraid to ask questions, you know?
“How do you envision my album or how do you envision the plan of my releases? And for the next six months or for next year, how do you plan developing me? Do you have any other artists signed that are similar? And if so, like how would we compete with each other when opportunities come in?”
I think sometimes artists get a little bit nervous and anxious to ask those questions because they feel like maybe it would turn off the other person or they may get turned, you know, not want to now do the deal, but if they like you, they wanna work with you, they’re happy to go above and beyond.
I know I’ve done it and many others have done it as well, to kind of try to close the deal. But you’re happy to support them and hope that they make the right decision and I’m always trying to like stay in touch, I’d be like, “How are you doing?” and give good guidance and advice and, you know, “Do you have good management? Do you have a good attorney?”
Making sure they have a good community that can really help them and protect them. Sometimes, though, the opposite happens, where there’s so much potential with an emerging artist and you know that actually them signing with a label could actually help them take them to the level that they need to be at because they’ll have those resources but perhaps they do have bad management that’s telling them to try a different route or go their own way, which isn’t a bad thing but you have to consider your options as well and see like what’s gonna actually help you in your moment because you have to kind of strike while the iron is hot too. Otherwise, the industry will move on. There are plenty of other artists they could look at.
Dan: Definitely. Yeah, I think that’s the nuance of it that does get missing, like these decisions are always a trade-off, one way or another, but they’re also quite timely too and there’s just so much information out there that can reinforce whatever feeling you have and there’s so many people out there too.
So, I imagine that that’s plenty of opportunity and good opportunity as well to reinforce things but, yeah, there’s just so much of it out there too.
Mary: So much, yeah. It’s too much. And I constantly wonder, like which artists are going to sustain from social media into the real world now with like the world slowly opening back up and I think a lot of us are feeling nervous about it, like I don’t know about you but I still — I’m waiting to be told, like, “Oh, we’re shut down again,” you know? But a lot of festivals started again this summer and as we saw, like it was big names and big names from even a few years ago and not, you know, even current artists, but what about all these new artists that we’ve been listening to and have been disrupting these platforms? There weren’t that many that were integrated into traditional music opportunities and so artists have to remember that it’s incredible that you’ve had virality and notoriety on these platforms and you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers or views, but how do you then integrate that outside of these platforms and sustain a business out of it so you can go on the road, you can sell music and merch and have an audience there? Don’t just think only about short form either.
Dan: Right, and with your label, specifically, Moon Projects also has a partnership with Republic Records. It’ll be good to hear —
Mary: Yeah, it’s a JV.
Dan: Yeah, how did that start and how has that partnership been going?
Mary: It’s going really great. Monte and Avery Lippmann, who own Republic, have been fantastic, and Wendy Goldstein, she’s the president, like she is a boss, she’s amazing, and she’s a problem mentor and she did the Ariana record and The Weeknd and she signed The Roots many years ago, like she’s an incredible woman in the industry.
They’ve been so supportive and so creative. They understand that I wanna develop artists that I am fond of left of center and sort of diamonds in the rough and that I wanna be able to be selective on who I bring into the organization, and I think they respect that, they’re really open to it, and they also know that I’m looking at social media as part of my decision making and who I do bring into the repertoire with Moon and with Republic because it is a joint venture, it’s 50-50.
It’s not that I want someone that is an influencer or posts five times a day, but I wanna make sure that I’m working with an artist that understands the power of platforms and being present on socials because it is really one of the strongest ways of promotion.
But, you know, Republic is a pop powerhouse. They’re a machine. Of course, they’re part of Universal. I’ve worked with Universal a few times in my career and I love the organization and everyone from Lucian to people that helped me with A&R admin, like they’ve all been really fantastic. It’s been really great. So, yeah, I’m excited.
Dan: Yeah, and I imagine that working with them too, it also just helps from, as you mentioned, they are a pop powerhouse so anyone that’s signing to you not only do they know they have your expertise but they also have the confidence that, okay, yeah, if this thing blows up, we’re with the same place that has Ariana, The Weeknd, Drake, Taylor, etc.
Mary: 100 percent and I’ve learned in my meetings, because I’ve had meetings with artists, with, you know, Monte and Avery and Wendy and I’m even learning about some of the legacy acts that they represent and some of their workings too and so an artist or their team are asking questions, it’s knowledgeable for me as well to what they’re gonna say, and I didn’t know that they were with Taylor from album one or with Abel since album one. They really did develop those artists. So, they are looking for a long-term success and, of course, they have like Noah Kahan and Conan Gray and they signed Claire Rosinkranz, they signed Sarah Cothran from TikTok and they recognize really good music and opportunities but I think there are some labels that have signed anything that’s moved, there are some labels that have been a lot more selective, but Republic, in my opinion, has done a really great job. But, yes, it makes me very happy knowing that the same people will be helping me with marketing and PR and digital and so forth.
And I’ve worked with them outside of my JV, at TikTok and other companies, and they’ve all been really fantastic so I’m excited.
Dan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well, it’s good. I mean, I feel like the label has the partnerships, you have all the right elements, and I’m curious, I mean, I feel like between this and you still have, you know, a full-time job as well, how do you balance it all in terms of, you know, everything for Moon Projects?
Mary: It’s hard. I have coffee, lots of coffee. I got asked this question, a similar question yesterday in an amazing panel that I did for women in music, it was so fun, and I have been in the industry for a long time and I’ve always felt and I’ve always been drawn to music.
I started off as an intern when I was in college and I worked as a barista and I finally got like an entry-level job at a record label, it pays nothing, you know? You don’t get paid well for a long, long time in this industry, and I was taking care of myself and so I’ve always had two or three jobs while I’ve had a full-time job and while I was going out to shows and helping artists and so I think I’m used to juggling chaos and crazy hours but definitely TikTok exhausted me. That was really, really intense.
You know, it was a little bit challenging working for an international company and kind of being available all day and all night and having that boom and so after, I was like, “Okay, I need to slow it down and relax,” and I do have a family and so, you know, that work-life balance is so important, especially too if you’re creative, like you need some time to turn off, but I’m making some moves so, hopefully, very, very soon, Moon is gonna be 100 percent full time and I am having conversations with larger companies and platforms but I’m trying to pivot those into, “I appreciate you wanting me to come on board full time and help you but perhaps I can come on board as a consultant,” because I really do believe in like what I’ve built and I’m creating and I sort of like where I’m at right now, where I get to pick and choose who I say yes to and I get to decide the pace of my growth and not let outside pressures make me feel like I have to work 24/7 or say yes to every client, like I get to decide what’s best for me and my company so that’s been really fun.
Dan: I could definitely relate to that piece and I’m sure it’s also reassuring too when it’s like, okay, the people want you to come on full time or they want you to do this type of project, it’s like, okay, that means that there’s clearly enough here to have the momentum to keep doing it, so that’s good. That’s good to hear.
Mary: Yeah, I always like to put on my green apron and be like, “What can I get you today? Would you like an iced latte?” There’s no shame in that. I did it for years, you know? But like definitely imposter syndrome is still very much in my head.
And it’s good. It’s good to be humble because this industry is definitely not stable and anything can happen like that platform shut down, record labels close, they drop artists, you know, things happen in life and that’s sort of what got me to go into tech. I wanted to empower myself outside of the record label system.
I was doing it for about like 17 years at that point and felt like I hit all that I could know but I didn’t know anything about really internet culture or like DSPs or platforms and so I dove in for like six, seven years and learned about that world. But, yeah, it’s a crazy industry.
Dan: Yeah. The other thing too that’s always stuck out to me about this industry is you having Moon Projects, as you said right now, soon it will become full time, but the concept of people having things that they’re doing either on the side or in addition to their full-time job, much more common in music than these other industries I’ve seen, whether it’s people managing artists on the side or they still have this thing that they have doing. There’s this hustle mentality.
And even in like let’s say tech or something, like the concept of side hustles or people having started this on the side, a lot of that’s there but it isn’t to the same prevalence or frequency that I think I see it happening in music.
Mary: That’s so true. That’s a really great call-out. I wonder why that is? I don’t know if a part of it is the low salaries that people are making in the music industry so they need to have other means of income coming in, but I think also like people have a passion for what they’re doing and they wanna make it and you can’t get mad at that, like that’s incredible, but just do it the right way and give good advice, you know? So you’re not leading people to fire but, yeah, you’re absolutely right, that is really interesting.
And in tech, it’s not so much, to your point, like as I’ve been having conversations, even after TikTok, I was hit up by a few people and even while I was there, especially during the political craziness, every time annoying Trump would open his mouth about TikTok, my phone would ring, like, “Do you have a job? Like we got you,” you know? I’m like, “I’m good, I’m still here,” but a lot of tech companies don’t like carve-outs. They don’t like you having a side hustle, having your own business. They want you to only focus on their organization.
Of course, that makes sense, I get that, but I was like, you know, I wanna do what I wanna do and I have a lot of passions and interests and I don’t wanna be boxed in within an organization and so that’s where also the company came from too.
Dan: That makes sense. Yeah, I think it’s two things. One, the low salary, unfortunately, could be part of it, just given the way things are in this industry. But music is also ahead of the curve in so many things, whether it’s technology or streaming or adjustments in how people are compensated and new business models.
I think what happens here you see end up happening years down the road, whether it’s in tech or film or TV and other things so I do think music often ends up being ahead of the curve in some things too, so I think that might have something to do with it.
Mary: Yeah, absolutely. Music is fantastic. It’s our love language, you know? And we all connect through music and the world would be so much gray if we didn’t have songs to help us feel how we feel.
But, you know, when I was working for various startups, after I left Capitol, a lot of — I would ask a lot of like the founders and executives, like, “Why did you choose to do a startup in music?” and they would always say it’s the number one avenue for growth and for interest with investors, but a lot of investors felt like music was also a cancer, for lack of a better word, because it is quite a risk and a gamble, you don’t know what’s gonna stick and we’ve seen that with artists, right?
Sometimes they release incredible records but it’s just not what’s happening in the ecosystem so it doesn’t resonate. So it is a bit of a gamble as well but, yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna go anywhere. What are your favorite platforms? I would love to talk to you about that too, Dan.
Dan: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, TikTok is one of the things that I have not spent nearly as much time on —
Dan: I’ll do it more so as a casual person like scrolling through and that is the one thing that I think TikTok did well more than any of the other platforms, you don’t have to think about the engagement, you can just scroll through and see things that are naturally going to attract you so I do like that a lot.
I’d say on the flipside, though, so much of what I end up doing, at least for growing Trapital and doing so much of what I’ve done, has been on some of the more stable and longer platforms that have been here, whether it’s Twitter or LinkedIn.
I feel like from a B2B perspective, it’s been pretty good to be able to like reach those and that has helped, you know, establish a voice and spread awareness for anything, whether it’s a newsletter or a podcast, like those have been good, but I think even for me as well, as these platforms become more mature, that’s gonna be the next move, right? What does it look like there and then, more broadly, what does it look like with Web 3.0 and some of these tokens and NFTs and things like that.
I think so much of that is nascent but it’s — we’re still scratching the surface, for sure.
Mary: Yeah, for sure. I mean, Dogecoin, I mean, I was guilty, I definitely went on Robinhood and bought Blackberry and AMC just because I liked the trend, I’m like, “Okay, it’s $100, it’s fine,” you know?
Dan: Did you make money?
Mary: I think I make money sometimes and then sometimes I’ll check it and it’s like hardly anything there and then like after a few days, it goes up, but not a lot, not enough to like catch on or do anything but I kinda like view it as like just like play stuff, you know? Like it’s a game essentially.
But, yeah, no, there are so many platforms and this is like a frustration too. I mean, how do you advocate for being consistent on social media when there’s constantly new platforms popping up and how do you say, “Well, this is the one that’s most valuable that will get you the most reach,” you know?
There are so many artists and music that has come up from TikTok but it’s subsided a little bit the past like few months and this past year. I asked even a friend there if they felt the same and they did, and then I was like, “Why do you think that is?” and when I was there, there are like cycles, natural cycles that happen this time of the year, holidays are approaching, like the ecosystem does like kind of shift naturally, but I think also congestion, there’s just so many people on there now and so like, to your point, a lot of these emerging artists that were popping up in their first year and a half, we’re not hearing those stories more. Perhaps they’re getting suppressed with cooking content or fashion content.
So I think artists need to make sure that they’re hitting other platforms as well always in parallel with whatever is the hot new place to be.
Dan: Yeah, definitely. It’s like this balance because there is so much power and value in having one platform that you’re solely focused on, right? Like even someone like NBA YoungBoy, what he’s able to do on YouTube and how that’s helped him out has been so impressive, but you still need to have your feed and all these others to make sure you’re not missing on a wave because you never know what could happen. It’s almost like this 80-20 split, like if 80 percent of your time is on one, can you split the other 20 percent between the other however many there are?
Dan: Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s challenging, you know? But I think if you’re a public figure, if you’re a creator, if you’re an artist, you just have to view it as part of your day, you know, and capture content and have a calendar and just slice up things that will work for TikTok or work for Instagram, work for Snap and for YouTube, and, to your point, like don’t abandon the other platforms, you know? Because they’re all competing with each other and they’re all definitely competing with TikTok and so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next year if someone else is gonna come out on top or not.
Dan: Definitely. What are your thoughts on gaming collabs? Because I feel like that’s a whole ’nother space that we’ve just been starting to break open.
Mary: I know. Roblox, right? Like my son, he’s seven, he’s obsessed with Roblox, and they’ve done some few shows. They did a show with Twenty One Pilots, they had a show with Lil Nas X and Ava Max and my son, I think, has good taste in music. I mean, he’s still young, but like I think it was maybe a month ago, he’s like, “Mom, is it okay if I play Fortnite because Ariana Grande is gonna be on there?” and I’m like, “What?” I was shocked, you know? And I’m like, “Do you even know who she is?” and he didn’t but that’s really good marketing, right? My little — my child is telling me that Ariana Grande and Fortnite and I feel like it’s definitely now and it’s definitely tomorrow, you know? I mean, gaming has always been huge. And gaming and music has always been together. I mean, Rock Band was massive, how many years ago was that?
And even like Grand Theft Auto, with the racing, they would incorporate so many great like hip hop and rap songs and rock songs like in their videos and games and it’s sort of like subsided and now you have like AR/VR, and the metaverses and everything, but I think artists should lean in, whether it’s using Discord or going live on Twitch more. Lean in into these platforms that maybe have their niches in gaming because they also want to diversify and try out different verticals as well so they’re gonna reach out to the ones that are using it the most to try new things with. So it is super interesting. How do you feel about it?
Dan: Yeah, I think that gaming is almost similar to music. It’s one of these places that is ahead of the curve as well and I think so many things in gaming are now becoming more commonplace in this broader creator economy, whether it’s tipping or live streams, like, “Watch me do this,” or having these personal sessions.
I think Twitch did this really well and all these people with these eSports gaming leagues have been doing this and I think we’re starting to see more artists tap into that.
So, I think it’s gonna be cool to see who else can continue to make moves there. I mean, I think folks like Lil Yachty have been pretty big there —
Mary: He’s so funny.
Dan: — and doing his thing, yeah.
Mary: Yeah. He’s great on TikTok too. He’s a great personality. I remember one time we called him for a meeting and he was late because he was sleeping, it was awesome, and he took the call from his bed.
My colleague was like, “Look, we’re talking to Lil Yachty while he’s in bed.” I’m like, “At least you’re talking to him,” like he’s taking it serious. Yeah, but, you know, some artists are like, “Well, I’m not a gamer, like isn’t Twitch only about gaming?”
It’s like, yeah, sure, we could assume that but — so you don’t wanna be in front of a new audience that like may also like music even though they like to game and like they can get to know you?
There’s no negative, in my opinion. I think it’s about like just coming up with that schedule and giving love and going live on different platforms consistently and then seeing like what sticks and then you can focus a bit more on that one over some time.
The gaming is not going anywhere. They have a lot of budget so I think artists need to get on board, yeah.
Dan: Oh, yeah. Yeah, the budgets are high, the monetization opportunities are high. And, yeah, I know that people may look at, okay, the Travis Scott or the Ariana Grande experience and be like, okay, those are the superstars, but there’s so many other ways to get involved and so many other things to do that are not even at that top tier.
Mary: 100 percent. I think like this is where artists should get creative, you know? Like Animal Crossing, it was so big, right? During the pandemic, and it’s like why couldn’t an artist maybe make a song for a part in Animal Crossing and then use a green screen effect and just do something fun that way and I think — I always try to give that advice to artists. It’s like, with the Met Gala, there is a really great group called [inaudible], they have incredible harmonies with their voices and I’m like, “Why don’t you sing like reactions to people’s outfit choices and things like that?” And you just have to use your tool and have fun with it in these platforms, not take it too seriously, because I don’t really feel like people are going to most of these social media platforms to discover music. They’re just going to be entertained. They’re going to listen to music still on Spotify and Apple and Tidal and so forth.
Dan: Right. And that’s a good point too because I think that that’s something people miss. They always think they need something that’s music related but, no, this is a personality driven thing. This is one thing that I think that Saweetie does well.
She’s still releasing music but she has all of her ways to interact, whether it’s the McDonald’s thing or I think she’s doing some Netflix related thing too.
Mary: I had it. It was good.
Dan: Oh, you did?
Mary: Yeah, of course, I like McDonald’s. I’m not a snob, yeah. Their French fries are the best. Come for me, tell me that you don’t like their French fries —
Dan: True, true, their French fries are amazing.
Mary: And their breakfast.
No, I know. She had a really big blowup. That’s fantastic to see her have — or have a meal on McDonald’s and there — she has a trend right now, I don’t know if you’ve seen it on TikTok, where it’s like sort of this avatar of her like from a performance and she’s like, “Come on, let’s go,” and people are just using that audio to make content creation. It’s great. But, yeah, it is personality driven, absolutely.
Dan: That’s great. That’s great. One of the questions I do have for you about TikTok specifically, because it’s something that I’ve heard people say, they feel like in this era with social media and how people can essentially generate and figure out how to work the system, some people do feel like fame and talent specifically are kind of diverging in a way that they were synonymous before social media blew up and maybe it’s a stretch to say that they were synonymous, but it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot because I do think that, okay, they’re picturing this world where people could do all the right tools and things to generate awareness or get a buzz without actually having talent versus the people that are working and doing their thing but aren’t as in invested in all of the tactics or the things they need to do.
They might be these diamonds in the rough, but it’s something that I’m not quite sure about. I mean, I still think that the fame does hit the people that do have the talent. But what’s your take on that and what you’ve seen in the — especially in the past few years?
Mary: Yeah, I mean, I always say like I help these creators specifically or saving their money. Did you see any of the content of like when TikTok almost got shut down and how they were taking these creators like Charli and Dixie and Noah and having them work like at McDonald’s and stuff?
Dan: I remember that.
Mary: It was so funny. But I think we all have that sentiment, right? It’s like, what are you going to do if this shuts down? So is there substance there? And I think these platforms have catapulted people to maybe where they envisioned and hoped to be in like 10 or even 5 years, but maybe they’re not ready, you know?
Addison was supposed to perform at iHeartRadio and I thought it was incredible that she pulled out and just said, “Honestly, I’m not ready to perform.” I don’t know if it was her first like live performance but I respected that so much, because even working in the music industry, we have signed so many artists and they’ve never played before, performed before, and we’re always very nervous about it. So to have someone have their festival be a first one.
I hope there’s substance. We’ll see like in 10 years as some of these creators will be on these like VH1 reality shows, like I wish everyone well and the best but you have to think about how to constantly evolve your brand too. So now you’ve gotten millions upon millions of people’s attention, how are you going to sustain that? How are you gonna have retention, you know?
And don’t be afraid to say yes to opportunities because who knows how long it’s going to be, but if you really do wanna do something bigger and greater outside of like just making content, go for it and do it and don’t get stuck in like, “Oh, no, I’m not so viral or so social media famous,” like it’s okay, like you had your moment and now you’re working on these opportunities. It’s okay to be hidden sometimes too and be behind the scenes as well.
Dan: That’s a good point that you mentioned, specifically about Addison Rae, because I think that — I actually didn’t know that she had pulled out of the festival so that’s good to know and, I mean, I think as well, like, at some point, the market will respond.
I know that she had the Netflix movie, He’s All That, and that was a big deal, but I think it’s one of these things where people are gonna respond one way or another based on how they feel about it.
And I’m sure that she has a career in front of her definitely, regardless of how she goes, but, yeah —
Mary: There’s always gonna be those diamonds that stand out, right? Because they just relate. I mean, I’ve seen interviews with her and with Charli and Dixie, people ask, “Why do you think you’re so famous?” Like, “Why do you think you have this many followers?” And they go, “We don’t know,” you know?
“We don’t know why it was us versus all the others,” and perhaps it was something as simple as just their vibe and their energy resonated with people, and then they get haters for that? It’s like, there’s something for everyone and maybe they’re not for you but they’re for a lot of people.
But, yeah, you know, Addison, that movie got mixed reviews, I’ll say, to be nice. I watched some of it and I couldn’t really finish watching the rest. But they then offered her a deal. They offered her a movie deal after that, you know?
And so I think for Netflix, it was a really smart decision. They’re not thinking — yeah, they got really great ratings and maybe they’re not so worried about the critical aspects of it but they’re happy with the numbers and they’re like, “It’s working so let’s do more with her.”
Dan: Right, and that’s the thing at the end of the day, right? It’s the numbers. I mean, I think there’s so many Netflix shows that so many of us have been like, “Oh, how could they cancel that?” But that when you think about it, yes, you understand why, like they already had the viewers there and if Addison is gonna be a trending number one because people wanna see her, regardless of how good or bad they hear the movie is, they’re gonna watch it.
Mary: Exactly. Can’t get mad at it, you know? It is what it is, essentially, so, yeah. But, you know, it raises a good question. Not everyone is meant to be a star so just because my video went viral doesn’t mean that now I’m a celebrity or should be a celebrity, and so I think when brands and the industry, record industry needs to do their due diligence, and I’m sure that they are, like, okay, do they have their head screwed on straight? Like is there actual talent here beyond what we witnessed on a video? So, yeah, it’s important to do your homework too.
Dan: Definitely, definitely. So, I know we’re getting to the tail end but now that we’re talking a little bit about video and just Netflix and that type of area of media. It’ll be interesting to hear if Moon Projects has any future thoughts about what that could look like?
Because I think, similarly, if you are signing artists and let’s say it is someone like an Addison or whoever, there are gonna be potentials for, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon or some of these other video streaming folks that are gonna be calling, they’d be like, “Hey, how can we collab on this?”
Mary: Yeah. I mean, I’m happy to talk to them. And, you know, I’ve had chats with some big platforms. I love partnering artists or merging our tier one with different brands. So, like you mentioned NFTs, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, like I understand it a little bit on paper, just the very, very high level, but I can’t explain it to you so much, but I’m happy to put a high profile manager in touch with a new NFT company to see if there’s a collaboration in place. I’m happy to chat with a beauty company and I do this currently and they’re looking for a song to use when they wanna do campaign in Instagram or in TikTok and I have access to so many incredible emerging artists and then those artists could also be in their content creation, they can get a nice paycheck out of it.
So, I definitely love doing essentially artist partnerships or brand partnerships and that was part of my role at some companies too, because you can’t just think one way, you know? And I think record labels, of course, have done this from having their 360 deals and being involved in releasing documentaries and merch and unique collabs.
You have to figure out how to monetize in different verticals because it’s not all about streaming sales, especially when touring stopped last year, which I think why we saw a lot of like really incredible artist brand endorsement deals, like with Saweetie and Travis Scott with McDonald’s too, J Balvin.
I don’t know if those artists would have done it maybe if the pandemic wasn’t around. Perhaps, perhaps for a different paycheck too. So, I think a lot of artists release albums only to tour and so when touring was gone, they’re like, “What do we do? How do we make money?” But, yeah, it’s an interesting space.
I do think a lot of the platforms will maybe evolve into more of a shopping experience with a more integrated, nothing new, of course, like selling merch, but sort of this like QVC for Gen Z vibe.
I’ve been reading articles how, in Asia, a lot of, you know, everyday people are using their social media platforms this way, just like kind of selling their clothes from their home in real time and so I could see more of that happening here at home.
Dan: Yeah, I think so, especially just with TikTok and how things are integrated. I know that Instagram has been trying to get all over this. Yeah —
Mary: Oh, yeah, they’re really gonna double down on shopping, yeah.
Dan: Yeah, the modern day QVC, for sure.
Mary: I know, modern day QVC. I’m not mad at it. I’m interested to see how it will happen. I know. It’s like, sometimes I want us to get out of technology, out of our phones, but I think this is just the climate that we’re in right now so we have to embrace it and choose how to utilize it that best fits us.
Dan: Yeah, definitely. And, I mean, given what you’re doing, you’re in a good position to be able to keep doing that and making that a reality.
Mary: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m always kind of pleasantly surprised how there’s still a lot of education that needs to be had about these platforms, especially with legacy brands.
I don’t know if a lot of them just hire agencies and hope that they’re helping them with their social strategy and like what their presence should look and feel like, but I get these questions a lot.
Like, “I’m a brand, what should my content look like in my account?” you know? “And how do I maintain consistency and how do I have presence?” So, I don’t know how long that narrative will be important to them but I’m happy to be that person now and do the most, yeah.
Dan: Yeah, and I’m sure they’ll keep calling. I mean, the need for this — the need for these insights will not be going away anytime soon.
Mary: Thanks, Dan, I appreciate that. Thank you.
Dan: Mary, thanks again for coming on. This was a pleasure.
Mary: Oh, my pleasure. I had so much fun. Thank you so much for having me. You’re fantastic. Thank you for being such an advocate for what we all do. I appreciate it.
Dan: Yeah, definitely. No, thank you. Thank you. This was great.
Mary: Yeah, it was good chatting with you.