Heads up to emerging artists: If you want to impress L.A. Reid, think about what your music might sound like on FM airwaves. "The deepest and most sincere feeling I get is when I meet an artist and they have that steel in their eyes and they have that fire and that passion and all they want is to be a star and to hear themselves on the radio," the Epic Records chairman and CEO said in a keynote speech before an Advertising Week panel on Monday, presented by New York Market Radio (NYMRAD.) "I also meet artists that tell me they don't want to be on the radio, and I think they're hiding something, like they ain't got it. I only like the artists that want to be on the radio."
One artist who wouldn't mind some airplay is Marcus Canty, who came in fourth place during the first season of Fox's "X Factor" last year and was quickly signed by Reid to Epic. The singer performed his new single "In & Out" on the Times Center stage following Reid's speech, and plugged his forthcoming debut EP, out Oct. 30.
Mark Shimmel, Epic Records' chief operating officer, said the label is prepping a major radio push for Canty, with the singer scheduled to hit about 40 markets around the country to record on-air promos, perform off-site club shows and appear at station meet-and-greets. "We're really being thorough. We have a wonderful new artists and we're not leaving any stone unturned in developing not only the record but the artist himself in conjunction with you guys," Shimmel told the radio programmer-heavy crowd. "What any content company aspires to is impact, and the best way to gather impact is simultaneous mass. And the only way to reach simultaneous mass is by getting something on the radio."
Steve Bartels, president/COO of Island Def Jam Records, envies the built-in awareness Canty has from appearing on the "X Factor" - something developing artists rarely have.
"We're at a moment in time where there are a lot of new artists and choices for radio, and when you're given that kind of platform you just gotta go - you gotta put the hammer down and believe in that audience anticipation across the country," Bartels said. "The more popular, cultural moments there are like Marcus coming off 'The X Factor,' the more that appeals to the advertisers buying back into radio. The EP signals to fans there's momentum coming and that's exactly the trajectory you want. We have a lot of artists that never get that momentum."
That momentum can also get artists on the radar of big brands like Pepsi, which has partnered with emerging acts like Outasight, Gloriana and "X Factor" winner Melanie Amaro for recent ad campaigns and events in addition to making Nicki Minaj the face of its first global ad campaign and celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Bad" album.
"There are definitely a lot of heated, passionate conversations about which direction the brand should go when it's about forming a relationship with an artist," said Bozoma Saint John, cultural branding marketer at Pepsi. "It's about the risk you're willing to take, right? Icons are great, and we want to make sure we're associated with them, but it's also about the pipelines - who's doing great things? Who's about to pop? It's not necessarily about the flavor of the day - an artist who is rooted in hip hop or rooted in alternative or EDM right now is an interesting opportunity for us."
Brand relationships go both ways for established artists like Rihanna, an exceptionally active artist who is readying her seventh album since 2005 this fall. "We're keeping brand conversations going all the time," Bartels aid. "We're not like a Procter & Gamble where we can say, 'We're doing this' 18 months out. We're constantly adjusting to find opportunities localized for U.S. only, or opportunities for a global campaign like we did with Nokia a few years ago."