The Melvins' custom-created Scion. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
Scion claims to have supported over 2,000 creators in the music, film, fashion and art communities, with roughly 10,000 events in 500 cities.
"Here's what I love most," declared an energetic Jack Hollis to a roomful of dinner guests. "We are tied up with zero major labels, major artists, major corporations [or] mainstream players. We have tied in all of it 100% to those who do art, who are creative, for the love that they have for their art. That's what Scion is about."
That was the message delivered by Scion's vice president during his opening remarks on Thursday night. Hollis was onstage speaking to a group of indie industry and business world VIPs invited to celebrate the company's near-decade long participation in music and the arts, which has included a variety of projects with cred bands across a broad spectrum from death metal to backpack hip-hop. Culver City's sleek and sophisticated Bookbindery was the place where Scion employees, Beyond Marketing Group staffers, club promoters, label flacks, managers and artists sipped cocktails and took in on-site installations, including modified cars, paintings, a 3D presentation and show flyer artwork. Dinner was served while Hollis, Prince Paul, Sage Vaughn and other speakers talked about the company's patronage.
Jeri Yoshizu, who almost singlehandedly created the carmaker's social media strategy, called the event "the dim sum party I've wanted to throw for about ten years."
Producer Prince Paul in front of his display. (Photo: Colin Young-Wolff)
Through their Scion A/V brand and the Orange County-based Beyond Marketing Group, the Toyota-owned automobile franchise has sponsored tours, funded music videos, released EPs and organized festivals for anyone from dubstep godfather 12th Planet (who was onsite) to doom pioneers St. Vitus. The commonality between Moodymann and The Melvins seems to be artistic merit, not commercial potential, in what some construe as a counterintuitive strategy for a corporate sponsor. The attendees on-hand represented this diversity, from Metal Blade Records vice president Mike Faley to manager and promoter Alexis Rivera of Echo Park Records.
"Why would Scion do something like this? We do it because of you, for the community of people who are creative," Hollis told the crowd. "What's important to know is that Scion is going to continue to be this way. Some question why we do it. We do it because it's right. And because we love you."
Metal Blade Records vice president Mike Faley (left) poses with Chuck Andrews of Good Fight Entertainment. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
The executive and Stanford University grad made his way to each table in the room to deliver a personal thank you, stressing the importance of community building and participation and encouraging everyone to introduce themselves to each other. "The word authenticity is thrown around. Everybody thinks they are authentic. But in my mind, authenticity comes from a person's heart. Are they doing it from their heart? Are they doing it without regard to notoriety?" Hollis told Billboard.biz.
"I like the idea of helping an artist go from one level to the next. You become better as you help others get better," he explained. "My goal is that Scion will be here at the beginning of someone's career giving them the next step on their own passion trail. If we do that, the authenticity of being there just for them -- not for Scion, not for the selling of a car or a car brand, but to really benefit people. Then the idea of a community starts to grow because people start to equate passion, enjoyment of life and loving what you do with Scion because we love what we are doing everyday with our cars. Hopefully it becomes a relationship about having passion."
Artist Sage Vaughn is interviewed on stage. (Photo: Colin Young-Wolff)
"A lot of companies will pay Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or other huge stars to do something," pointed out Brent Ray, PR and social media manager for Beyond, who works closely with Scion on their lifestyle programs. "Scion started at the underground, finding these artists, supporting their music and helping them advance their careers. That's the strategy."
Yoshizu, Scion's sales promotions manager and lifestyle go-to person, said the event was intended solely to launch for the Scion IQ, but evolved into a "living collage. The more I started working on it, the more I realized what a massive body of artwork we have -- the flyers, the CD covers. A lot of brands are doing lifestyle [stuff], with these big bangin' parties. I didn't want to do that. I think this is a more sophisticated way of showing our dedication to the arts, not just exploiting artists to launch something. For Scion, the lifestyle initiatives have never been about launching a car here and there. It's a continuous participation in the community. You'll see [the Scion] logo [on things] but all the artwork fits each community. It's always been a requirement to let the community absorb Scion, not the other way around."
Scion's "art gallery" (Photo: Colin Young-Wolff)
"We've always kept the product and lifestyle stuff separate. We don't try to sell cars at music events," Ray said. "But because the Scion IQ is this innovative concept, there are some opportunities to combine the product with the lifestyle aspect. This event is part of a series we'll be taking around the country to showcase the lifestyle content and at the same time tie it back to the IQ. The focus for tonight is on what Scion has been doing culturally, but also to showcase the new car."
12th Planet manager Danny Johnson said Scion's funding support was crucial to the start of many of his endeavors. "It comes down to authenticity. What happens culturally happens on its own, organically. For a company like Scion to reach the people at the core of these cultural movements, they have to enable us to do what we want to do. By nature we're rebellious, so when corporations come in and say, 'Here's some money and here's what we want you to do,' we're like, 'screw you!' But a company like Scion creates situations that allow people to be creative. There are no restrictions, no red tape. It's enabling."
Danny Johnson, who manages 12th Planet, hangs out at the event. (Photo: Colin Young-Wolff)
Rivera, whose clients include electronic duo Glass Candy, house producer Todd Edwards and Chromatics, agreed the creative freedom allowed by Scion is their strong suit. "We've gone on tour with Scion, done events during Coachella weekend, put out records and they let the artists do whatever they want to do in a creative way," he said. "Most corporations say no to any creative idea right away and it stops progress. For creative people, you need to just let them do whatever they want. Scion says, 'You pick the artists, you create the flyer, you do everything that you know because you're the experts and we'll help you achieve.' As a manager, it means everything. My artists are the creative ones, I'm not. When you see the artists they work with, I mean, they gave The Melvins Scions to drive in! I love that."
Scion's support of indie music isn't tied to any tangible return on investment. There are no solid indicators that all of their financial and creative support, which has included label showcases for bedroom brands like avante-garde metal label Profound Lore Records, has resulted in more car sales.
As Yoshizu has told Billboard.biz in the past and maintained on Thursday, focusing on "ROI" is missing the point entirely.
"Agencies around the world are hoping to find that magical equation. How do you expect a person to go from an impression to buying a car, or a pair of shoes? It's not a science," she said. "This has been about doing the best, most positive, authentic thing we can do. Because at the end of the day, somebody will be happy about that. Nobody is going to buy our cars because we booked their favorite band. But if we are doing things consistently, eventually, someone will say, 'I'll consider Scion because at least they are supporting my community' or 'at least they are supporting something I'm into.' It takes a very long time for anybody between the age of 18 and 36 to make that connection. It's being positive, being in the right place, having a bit of luck and making sure our brand does the right thing."
Scion vice president Jack Hollis addresses the assembled at the celebration. (Photo: Colin Young-Wolff)
Hollis concurred. "Not once have I had a conversation that talks about art, music, film or fashion where the discussion was about a 'return on investment' or profit," he insisted. "The profit model isn't discussed because there isn't one. The profit is in smiles. The profit is in relationships. You can't put a dollar to it. I know a lot of people question it. But all I can tell you is we started eight years ago, we're here today, and our plan is to continue that into perpetuity."