As chefs become the new rock stars thanks to the Food Network, “Master Chef,” “Top Chef” and the increasingly lucrative food-festival circuit, many artists have indulged their inner foodie -- be it Zac Brown Band’s “Eat and Greets” with fans on tour, rapper Action Bronson’s YouTube cooking show or even Trisha Yearwood’s TV series “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen.”
A fresh spin on the trend arrives Dec. 9 with the premiere of “Culinary Beats,” a new Web series produced by Columbia Records and Back Roads Entertainment, and sponsored by Citibank’s Thank You rewards program, through media agency MEC Entertainment. The show features acts like Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, the Fray, St. Lucia and Gavin DeGraw dining and swapping stories over food with chefs like Nick Anderer (Maialino restaurant), Joey Campanaro (Little Owl, “Iron Chef”), Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica) and Anita Lo (Rickshaw Dumpling Bar), among others, with each episode culminating in an intimate performance from the artist. An initial run of six episodes will be distributed through Yahoo, with two installments running each week through Dec. 21.
The six initial episodes will double as pilots for a broader push from Citi in 2014, as its Private Pass program will expand to include more hybrid lifestyle events across various combinations of music, sports, food and art. The Thank You program has a particular perk of doubling points on dining and entertainment purchases. “We wanted to showcase how the pairing of music and culinary experiences can be really special,” Citi senior VP of entertainment marketing Jennifer Breithaupt says, noting that future installments would include pop-up concerts at restaurants where card members have exclusive access. “You’ll see us next year, beginning in January, bringing more branded entertainment opportunities from live events to life through online channels.”
“Culinary Beats” is one of the first original properties to come out of Columbia’s Creative Agency, an in-house unit at the label dedicated to forging brand partnerships and intellectual property on behalf of Columbia artists. Another project, an animated series called “Mike Tyson Mysteries” featuring the voice of the heavyweight champion and musical guests, will debut in 2014 on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Columbia Creative Agency head Lee Stimmel says the agency’s IP development business is building pipelines to expose its artists, develop strategic relationships with distributors and sponsors, and create additional revenue from the long-term ownership of IP.
Four of the six artists featured in the episodes are Columbia acts (St. Lucia, DJ Cassidy, Passion Pit and MKTO), while the others are on Sony sister labels Epic (the Fray) and RCA (DeGraw). “The point of developing IP is having access to a platform you co-own uniquely, versus other places in the music space,” Stimmel says.
Other labels have been experimenting with original content in recent years, most notably Warner Music Group’s Warner Sound channel on YouTube, which has built original programming around acts like Cody Simpson and Classified, as well as a bizarre music talk show featuring character Gorburger. The channel has amassed more than 575,000 subscribers and 459 million views since debuting in April 2012. Vevo, a joint venture of Sony and Universal, has also been creating dozens of original series featuring artists, often with brand sponsorship to offset production costs.
Citi hopes to make “Culinary Beats” and its themes of dining and music an integrated part of its general-market advertising in 2014, which in recent months has already featured Alicia Keys in an on-camera appearance and the music of Katy Perry, in support of her 2014 Prismatic tour, as well as chefs like Giada De Laurentiis. “We want to make our dollars work as hard as they can for us and make sure we’re really consistent in our messaging,” Citi head of creative and media Elyssa Gray says. Citi’s Thank You program accounted for a healthy portion of the financial services company’s ad budget in the first three quarters of 2013, with $31.5 million in measured ad spending on TV and magazines, according to Kantar Media.