Jax Jones

A Snapchat artist lens for DJ Jax Jones.

Shane Norton

Deployed by Billie Eilish, The 1975 and 5 Seconds of Summer, custom-made Snapchat lenses -- effects that layer objects and accessories over photo and video posts -- have opened up a new front in music marketing. The wizard behind many of these lenses?  Los Angeles-based designer Michael Nicoll.

The Boston native started digital agency Blnk in late 2017 after seven years as ESPN’s lead designer, which is when he discovered his passion for integrating music with 3D elements. His work got the attention of 30 Seconds to Mars’ digital team, which reached out to collaborate soon before Blnk launched. Six months later, the band’s label, Interscope, tapped Nicoll to work with Snapchat on the platform’s first-ever artist lens, created through its new Lens Studio software. He has since designed over 30 artist-specific Snapchat lenses for labels including Interscope, Capitol, Atlantic, Republic, Polydor and Concord -- all of which contract him independently, with rates ranging from $1,000 to over $15,000, depending on the complexity of the project.

“The social space is so oversaturated, doing anything different and innovative puts [artists] at an advantage,” says Nancy Liu, digital marketing manager at Capitol Records, who has worked with Nicoll on lenses for Quavo, Takeoff and Offset of Migos and most recently Queen Naija. Quavo’s lens -- which brought to life the artwork for his 2018 solo album, Quavo Huncho, as an animation -- garnered 5.68 million views and nearly 200,000 shares alone, according to Nicoll. “People have written off Snapchat,” says Liu. “[We’re] trying to reeducate that Snapchat isn’t dead, and show why we should still be tapping into that market.”

Nicoll, who is currently balancing 10 different projects, works with artists’ teams to conceptualize a lens based on three things: the music video, the artist’s appearance/visual presence and his or her social media branding. The key? Generating an emotion, like he did for Eilish’s eerie “You Should See Me in a Crown,” which featured a tarantula crawling out of fans’ mouths as her song played. “My goal is to be the go-to company for [artist lenses],” says Nicoll. “We’re almost there.”

This article originally appeared in the June 29 issue of Billboard.

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