W Hotels Music Director Paul Blair (aka DJ White Shadow) Talks New Billboard Partnership & More

Paul Blair
Courtesy of W Hotels Worldwide

Paul Blair

Chicago-based producer Paul Blair, who is professionally known as DJ White Shadow, is perhaps best known for collaborating with Lady Gaga on her last two albums, Born This Way and Artpop. Last year, he was tapped as the North American music director for W Hotels Worldwide, where he oversees the musical branding for 26 luxury hotels across the country.

As previously announced, Billboard and W have partnered to create Next Up, a new emerging artist series that will feature intimate concerts at four of the the hotel brand’s key properties in the United States. Billboard recently caught up with Blair to discuss details about the Billboard partnership, how he seeks out new talent and more.

How did your relationship with W Hotels begin?
I always stay at the W and I knew some people who worked there. They were doing this thing called DJ Lab, where they spotted undiscovered DJ/producer talent. As part of that, they enlisted a couple of established DJ/producers who were put in charge of mentoring these young DJ/producers. We went to Thailand for a week to work on new music. I met the president of the company and all the key players, and got a chance to figure out what they were doing. They were so cool and into what it meant to have music be a part of the brand. It was refreshing and awesome. We stayed close through communication and one day they called and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the position of music director for North America. It was a no-brainer.

Explain what you do in your role as North American music director for W Hotels.
Music is such an important thing for the W. It’s so integral to their planning and how they’re positioning themselves in the marketplace. I speak with everyone on a weekly basis, if not more, and we’re always trying to come up with new ways to make music be part of the forefront of the hotel’s branding. They’ve had a pretty long run at trying to identify new talent and having them play in the different venues in various cities.

You’ve probably stayed in hundreds of different hotels around the world. What makes the W different from a musical standpoint?
Everybody I’ve met from the W all love music. There’s nobody who says, “We can’t do something because this, this and this.” Everybody is so crazy behind the idea of being a disrupter. That’s why the brand has flourished over the years and so many copycat brands have come out after. So when they asked me to do this I was super stoked, because I knew I’d be able to try some new stuff and be innovative and weird. We’re not slapping up the W on the side of somebody’s bus and saying, “Thanks, here’s 50 grand.” It’s very integrally woven to make sure people are having a good relationship that lasts a really long time.

Can you give an example of how you’ve incorporated music into the branding of the W?
Last year, I picked out this kid Jon Bellion, who’s a pretty prolific writer. He wrote “The Monster” for Eminem and Rihanna, “Trumpets” for Jason Derulo and a couple other songs. He’s signed to Capitol and starting his solo career, so he’s going on his first tour. We partnered with him to support his tour and create unique experiences for the guests while he was on tour. On most tours, especially for a young artist, you’re cruising around in a rented 13-passenger van and at any given time, five people are sick and five people are hung over. We wanted to be able to create a cool environment for him to be able to go out and be comfortable on the road for his first tour. So we got a bus and he stayed at all the Ws. We weren’t exactly sure how it was going to work, because it was the first time we’d ever tried anything like that, but it was a super awesome success. They had a great time and they love the brand. We got to do some cool things, like him giving wake-up calls for the guests, he played in one of the living rooms and a lot of guests got tickets to see the show.

What commitment does the W have to discovering new musical talent?
In my brain, I think we’re really committed to finding out what’s new and what the next thing is. I’m not going to put a festival trap band into the W, but it doesn’t exclude me bringing in something that’s maybe more established that fits sonically with the brand’s image. We like to shake things up at the W. It’s more fun when you’re disruptive than it is to follow trends. I like the idea of being able to present something that’s new and for somebody to say, “Holy shit, I just saw these guys play in the W and now they’re … opening up for Justin Bieber.”

What are your thoughts on the new partnership between Billboard and W Hotels to create a new concert and content series in the U.S.?
We’re always trying to think of things that make sense. You’re brand X and you pay X amount of dollars to put your name on a stage or your logo on a step and repeat. I guess that does something, but it’s not what we’re trying to do. I want to figure out a way we can impact music, take it as far as we possibly can and partner up with the right people -- and make sure it’s genuine, heartfelt and long-term.

Why do you feel it made sense to partner with Billboard on this program?
Billboard is a trusted music source. I’ve gotten the magazine since high school. With the level of commitment Billboard has in the music business, this partnership made a lot of sense the first time we talked about it. Billboard has resources that the W doesn’t have and the W has resources that Billboard doesn’t have. It’s a way to combine and curate a beautiful, long lasting music impact.

Aside from your role at the W, you’re an active music producer and perform live. How does that give you an edge when bringing new musical ideas to the W?
I’m in L.A. pretty much every week writing and doing other things. I run across nice people who are talented. I’m always trying to find stuff and what’s going to happen next and I’m weirdly obsessed with digging stuff up. Mostly I find stuff through doing that or interacting with people in L.A. Every day, all I do is worry about music. So when that’s your thing, you come across a bunch of new stuff.

Do you ever go to some of your high-profile artist friends and ask them to participate in anything related to the W?
The quick answer is no, we haven’t discussed any of that yet. I don’t think we will. It’s not out of the picture, but I don’t think that’s what the focus is at this juncture. The exciting part about the W, and what makes me excited, is what’s around the corner. What can we do that’s crazy, bright colored and beautiful? I’m a weirdo like that too, so when you find a bunch of people who are that strongly committed to being weirdos in a corporate environment that run such a lovely business, it’s really fun to be included on that.

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