Atlantic Exec Kevin Weaver Explains Why Movie Trailers Are the Best Marketing Bet for Artists
With awards season in full swing, the executive who was early on synchs looks at the visual-media road ahead.
Kevin Weaver has a first-class problem. The veteran film and TV music executive is competing against himself for a Grammy at the Feb. 12 ceremony, scoring nominations for best compilation soundtrack in the visual media category for his work as a producer on both Suicide Squad (Collector's Edition) and Vinyl: The Essentials Season 1.
Suicide Squad, which earned recognition in five Grammy categories and spawned such hits as Twenty One Pilots' "Heathens" and "Purple Lamborghini" by Skrillex and Rick Ross, is just the latest success for Weaver, who supervises the creation and placement of all Atlantic-affiliated music for film, TV and video games, and oversees all soundtrack projects for the label. He also operates a music publishing co-venture with Atlantic Records and Warner/Chappell Music.
The New York native moved to Los Angeles as a teenager to pursue acting (his father produced the soap opera The Bold & The Beautiful) and landed an internship at InterTalent (ICM later absorbed it), which led to a coordinator position at Atlantic in 1994. Weaver then became a West Coast A&R executive for Jason Flom's Lava Records when it was a joint venture with Atlantic.
Weaver began exploring the synch business in the mid-'90s, when labels mainly fulfilled incoming requests rather than soliciting business. He and Flom saw licensing as an untapped gold mine. "We came up with this idea that I would go out and meet with all the studio people and music supervisors I knew and see if any of them were looking for music for their projects," recalls Weaver. "I was one of the first people, if not the first, to push synchs [on the label] side." Once Atlantic asked him to serve in the same capacity, Weaver added the soundtracks for Furious 7 and The Fault in Our Stars to his résumé.
The 45-year-old married father of two young children who starts his day at 5 a.m. "sending emails from bed" also has helped develop the careers of Kid Rock, Ed Sheeran, Cee Lo Green, Flo Rida and Charlie XCX, among other artists on the Atlantic roster.
What was the first synch you got from soliciting business?
There was an Edwin McCain synch [for] "I'll Be." Then, I had [co-signed] Angela Via and I ended up getting her a main title in a big feature. You could get hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new act that the record wasn't even out on. So we realized we were on to something and I shifted my focus from A&R to this push synch business.
These days, there are instances when new acts practically give away songs for exposure. How do you compete?
The business has evolved so much. We're in artist development as much as we are a revenue source. It's tough because I have to manage the store [and] at the same time make sure that our artists aren't undervalued in the marketplace, baby acts and otherwise. If there's real marketing and promotion value in an opportunity, I'm the first one to be willing to do stuff for very low money, barter out exposure for fees, but it's case by case.
On the Billboard 200 dated Jan. 21, four of the top 10 albums came from films. Are we in a new golden age of soundtracks?
It feels like a resurgence, without question. The right music specifically created and tied to the right media really has value.
A good example is the soundtrack to Suicide Squad, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in August 2016 and included material written specifically for the movie. How did you curate that?
We had target lists of artists that we liked, but it wasn't until we got a handle on the music moments that we actively started targeting. We were showing scenes to people, starting to bring in artists and songwriters, and soliciting other places for the kind of vibe that we were looking for.
How did "Heathens" keep the momentum for Twenty One Pilots going?
"Ride" went No. 1 at Top 40 the same week that "Heathens" went No. 1 at alternative. In addition to getting all of the Twenty One Pilots fans as Suicide Squad consumers, we were able to attach the band to the Suicide Squad demographic, which is pretty massive. There was a great sharing of fan base and demographic there that really helped the band in a big way and Suicide Squad in a big way. It was mutually beneficial.
It has been said that some people involved with Furious 7 wanted a bigger name than Charlie Puth's on "See You Again." How close did you come to not having him perform on that track, even though he had co-written it?
Very close. We bent over backward to try to accommodate their ask to try other people in the song, and every time we did it, it didn't have the same emotional impact. Finally, we got to a place where we all realized the disservice we were going to do to that moment if we didn't stick with what we had.
Do you automatically look first at Atlantic's roster for projects?
I'm always looking first at Atlantic's roster, but I'm not beholden to Atlantic's roster. If you look at Suicide Squad's "Sucker For Pain," that came to me as an Imagine Dragons hook. Then [producer] Alex da Kid and I put a bunch of artists on it: Wiz and Ty, who are Atlantic artists, on it and Logic and Lil Wayne. More than half the artists on that are not Atlantic artists. That was just putting the best song together.
How hard is it to clear non-Atlantic artists for soundtracks?
It's always a challenge, but we all need each other, so we can play relatively nice in the sandbox together without throwing sand in each other's faces. That's what makes the business the most healthy at the end of the day.
Why do you think Vinyl didn't connect with viewers?
Apparently, it just didn't tell a story that worked. When you have Mick Jagger, Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese behind something, it's almost impossible to believe it didn't work, to be honest with you. But you roll with the punches.
Which would you prefer for a placement: a box-office blockbuster, a top-rated TV show or a No. 1 video game?
One that you didn't mention: network promos. Trailers or promos. From a marketing perspective, that's the biggest bang for your buck. To have it play over and over again, in multiple areas of media -- online, TV, theaters -- when we're out there working it at radio, is priceless. Fitz and The Tantrums is a good example, with "HandClap." I set them up to perform at the CW upfronts [in 2016], and the network then used "HandClap" for all the new-season-rollout spots. That song went on to be a big radio record for us and got other synch placements.
What is the most coveted TV show to get a placement on right now?
There isn't really one. If you're hip-hop, you want to be on Atlanta. If you're a catalog artist, you want Westworld to redo your song. If you're a new artist, you want to be in Quantico or Girls or Insecure. It's much more segmented than it previously had been. But that doesn't mean there won't be another show like Glee in the future.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jan. 28 issue of Billboard.