Business

How We Work Now: Warner Music Artist Services’ VP/Head of Global Retail & Licensing Alix Kram

Alix Kram
Courtesy Photo

Alix Kram

In a series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.

This installment is with Alix Kram, Warner Music Artist Services' vp/head of global retail & licensing.

Alix Kram: I just had my first child. I went on maternity leave in January, a few weeks before my due date. I gave birth in early February and a few weeks later we were on lockdown. It was not at all what I expected in terms of what I envisioned for my maternity leave, you know, but we’re all maintaining.

Before I left on leave, I was doing everything I could to wrap up all my projects, and I think I had a 10-page "While I’m Out" document for my team, in case anything came up. And some colleagues who are moms and have been through it already kept telling me, "You know, nothing changes in three to four months, don’t w

orry about it, everything you’re doing now is going to be exactly the same!" And that, in some ways, couldn’t be further from the truth. [Laughs]

I live in Hell’s Kitchen [in Manhattan], so I’m actually within walking distance of our office. So I envisioned during my leave that my team would come by for lunch sometimes, and we were all excited to do that. Instead, it became that while I was out I would do social check-ins with them, mostly because I was concerned for their wellbeing. In the beginning for everyone it was really concerning. So I got tidbits here and there, because I think for everyone work was kind of a welcome distraction; it certainly was for me, even though I was on leave. So I kept my finger on the pulse of things so that when I came back there wasn’t anything that was too crazy, except for trying to adjust to what was now a fully-remote world.

Luckily, I’ve traveled so much throughout my career that I was kind of used to working from home, but adding a baby into the mix was a totally different curveball. Fortunately for me, I kind of kidnapped my mother right before lockdown and said, "Please come stay with us." [Laughs] So she’s been here since and has been helping us, which has been tremendous, because it allows me to have time to really focus on work throughout the day. The upside, of course, being that I get to play with the baby between meetings and see her smile and grow, which has been nice.

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I think we all feel a little bit tied to our computer screens. But the music industry as a whole is so relationship-based, so trying to pivot that into a virtual world has its upsides and downsides. The upside is I’m seeing people on Zoom and Teams and Video that I would have otherwise just made a quick call to, so you’re kind of breaking that barrier and seeing people in their natural habitats and you sort of create a more personal relationship with them. There’s a lot more effort to create time away from work, or create social interactions, with both clients, brands and partners as well as our team, so I think there’s a more concerted effort there. But other than that, I think communication is more on the side of over-communication than it ever has been before, just because there’s so many different ways you can reach someone. So it hasn’t skipped a beat in that sense.

We released a Grateful Dead/Nike SB collaboration, which had been in the works for some time and was a project I was really involved in and passionate about. I was really excited because I was going to be coming back right when we were going to be planning a pretty major live activation to launch the shoe, which obviously then changed to become more virtual. So that has impacted some of the deals that we do in terms of the marketing aspects of these relationships. When you can’t do a pop-up shop, when you can’t do a meet-and-greet, how do you create value in the digital space? It’s all about the storytelling. We’ve created more of a focus on that aspect, so that in everything we do people understand what brought it together and why it’s important.

Weirdly, things haven’t slowed down at all. There are two parts to my role: one is heading up global retail, which is taking an artist’s merchandise and putting it into stores. Stores have obviously been shuttered for quite some time in most parts of the world, so a lot of those retailers have pivoted online and ramped up and are really eager now that they’re starting to slowly reopen and have their e-com strategies in place to make up for the lost time. So we’ve been really busy on that side. And then on the other side, of brand collaborations and licensing, I think because a lot of artists are not on the road anymore and are at home, there has been a lot more attention brought to these opportunities, whereas before they may have been an afterthought. Now, I think they’re understanding the value of what these relationships can bring from all sides. And because of that, the licensing side has been on fire -- which is fantastic, but I wish there were three of me.

We had some things that were in the works that shifted. For example, we have a mobile game with Wiz Khalifa called Wiz Khalifa’s Weed Farm, which has been a massive success for us, and every year on 4/20 -- which is the day we released it, for obvious reasons -- we celebrate an anniversary for the game by throwing some sort of special tournament or giveaway. And for this year, we pivoted and created a special in-game tournament with Feeding America so that all the gameplay went donation-wise there, and we were able to donate 100,000 meals. All Time Low, for example, always wanted to do a wine, and we did a wine with them last fall that went so well that we launched a Rose called Summer Daze Rose, and they started doing virtual happy hours with the wine on a regular basis and got their fans engaged. Stuff like that has really drummed up excitement for other artists to start participating in projects.

I think on one hand, when everything kind of opens back up again, people are going to be eager to have that in-person interaction. But I think in the long-run people are going to realize that you don’t always need to travel to get something done. That you can sometimes have a more personal conversation through video chat than you could in a busy bar or trying to grab 10 minutes of someone’s time during a trade show or an event. So that will stick around, the value that brings. That’ll probably be the biggest thing that will linger.

The biggest thing while I was on maternity leave was just commending everyone that worked through this time in any role. Because this is an unprecedented event for our generation and in our lifetime, and there’s a lot of emotional duress that comes along with it. So the fact that business has been able to survive and be strong across the board is pretty commendable. Especially working moms! It’s so hard, but it’s also an upside -- I definitely wouldn’t have been able to spend so much time with her had we had to go back to the office. That’s one thing that I hope sticks around, that flexibility and being able to work around people’s lives.

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