Rae Sremmurd, Pia Mia, Børns & Gavin James Featured in Second American Express UNSTAGED: AIR Program

American Express
Courtesy Photo

American Express is continuing its mission of shining a light on rising musical talent.

The financial-services company announced Monday (Aug. 17) the second cycle of its successful American Express UNSTAGED: Artists in Residence (AIR) program. The 2015 cycle features hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd, singer/actress Pia Mia, singer-songwriter Gavin James and pop singer Børns.

Launched in 2014 with Australian pop singer Betty Who, poetic singer-songwriter Mary Lambert and British pop-rock quartet Rixton, Amex’s AIR program aims to boost awareness of emerging acts through a series of compelling live performances online interviews that tell story of each artist’s journey to fame and the inspiration behind their music.

The AIR program also includes a concert for Amex card holders and an educational “summit day” where participating artists get best practices tips from digital titans like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, as well as one-on-one sessions with top music executives, producers, songwriters, music video directors, fashion stylists and others.

“We launched last year with an amazing set of artists and we were so happy with the relationships we established and the success they continue to have in their journey,” Walter Frye, VP of entertainment marketing and sponsorships at American Express, tells Billboard. “We’re excited to launch our second cycle with a really well-rounded group of artists that are diverse in genre.”

Relocating from New York to Los Angeles this year, the AIR program’s second cycle will include a concert at L.A.’s El Rey Theater on Thursday, Aug. 20. The event, which is exclusively for Amex card holders, will feature 30-minute sets by all four Amex AIR artists.

Beginning Aug. 20, interviews with 2015 AIR acts will be available for viewing at Fans can help unlock unique opportunities for the artists -- like a one-day takeover of Vevo’s Instagram page -- by mentioning their name with #AmexAIR on Twitter and Facebook. “It’s really compelling content that we think will connect with fans and help introduce [AIR artists] to new fans as well,” AmEx’s Frye says of the custom videos.

In a first for the AIR program, AmEx has developed an American Express UNSTAGED app (available for iOS and Android) where users can discover additional digital content and learn more about the campaign. The app will also track how close the artists are to unlocking each special opportunity. Additionally, Amex has forged a relationship with Pandora, whereby each participating AIR act will create a customized playlist that will be promoted by the streaming service, according to Frye.

Fans who aren’t able to attend the upcoming Los Angeles concert will be able to watch select footage from the show beginning Aug. 24 at, the UNSTAGED app, Vevo and on Amex NOW, the company’s 24-hour video network.

This year’s summit day will take place at an undisclosed L.A. location prior to the El Rey concert on Aug. 20. AIR artists who attend the event will sit down with companies like YouTube, Pandora, Instagram and Twitter to learn about how to better engage fans on social media. Also on hand to provide insight and career guidance will be Interscope Geffen A&M vice chairman Steve Berman, producer and songwriter Emile Haynie, video director Diane Martel, stylist Brandy St. John and music marketing guru Kelly Covell.

Frye says that 2015's group of AIR artists saw a career boost as a result of participation in the campaign.

“After last year’s cycle we worked with Mary Lambert and integrated her into our Small Business Saturday campaign. She did a great performance in New York for a shop small initiative, which was a great way to extend the relationship,” he says. “And we invited Betty Who to perform at the Billboard Women in Music luncheon, which was a tremendous opportunity for her.”

American Express is no stranger to music initiatives. The company has worked with such superstars as Pharrell Williams, Kenny Chesney and Kings of Leon. Frye says the AIR program is an extension of the company’s Unstaged live streaming concert series, which launched in 2010 and has featured once-in-a-lifetime performances by Coldplay and Usher, among others.

“The Unstaged artists already have a huge legion of fans and people who already know their stories,” Frye says, noting that Unstaged will continue in 2015. “So with AIR, we saw the opportunity to tell the journey of each artist and the inspiration behind their music.”

American Express plans to continue the AIR program in the future. “We’re excited to see what we learn from cycle two,” Frye says. “We always want to evolve and find ways to make the program bigger, better and stronger for the artist.”