How Phonk, Vin Diesel & Against-the-Grain Thinking Kicked the ‘Fast X’ Soundtrack Into a Higher Gear
"The idea was really to give fans a menu of options to choose from," says APG senior vp of marketing and brands Corey Calder.
For die-hard fans, today is practically a holiday: the 10th installment of the Fast & the Furious franchise, Fast X, has finally arrived in theaters, accompanied by the 10th soundtrack, released by APG and Universal Studios and featuring songs by J Balvin, Jimin, NLE Choppa and plenty more. The soundtrack has gotten off to a solid start: The singles released over the past few months accumulated more than 85 million on-demand U.S. streams prior to release. They were preceded by the phonk music mixtape Drift Tape last December, which has picked up more than 400 million on-demand U.S. streams to date, according to Luminate.
That early success was part of the long-haul promotional plan cooked up by APG for the soundtrack, which has been in the works for more than half a year. The strategy involved branded Spotify playlists, in-person events, viral video trends and a teaser trailer for the song “Angel Pt. 1” by Jimin, Kodak Black, NLE Choppa, JVKE and Muni Long that was released to [digital service providers] to cross-promote both the track and the film, as well as a cameo by franchise icon Vin Diesel in the music video for Balvin’s “Toretto.” And the multilevel marketing campaign helps earn APG senior vp of marketing and brands Corey Calder the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Calder breaks down everything that went into the promotion and marketing of the soundtrack and how it tied into the anticipation for and lead-up to the film, as well as some of the additional work to come. “The idea was really to give fans a menu of options to choose from,” Calder tells Billboard. “I like doing things that go against the grain. Ruffle feathers if you will. As I planned around the official Fast X soundtrack, I took that same ideology of experimentation and ‘first to try it’ mentality and applied it to our soundtrack.”
This week, the Fast X soundtrack was released, which had already racked up more than 85 million U.S. on-demand streams before it even came out. How did you want to set this album up ahead of its release?
Our journey towards the launch of this soundtrack started six months ago with internal think tanks on how to aggregate fans of the franchise and what we wanted to ultimately achieve long-term. We had a goal of achieving 5 million-plus monthly listeners from scratch before the release of the soundtrack, so we had to get creative about how we were going to do that. Our plan was to release a mixtape and a series of singles prior to jog the algorithm, get fans excited and warm our partners up months in advance.
The smartest thing we did out the gate was to create the first official Fast & Furious branded profile on Spotify where we could house the project and super-serve our audience any new music we were releasing. Similar to how you would develop the profile of a brand-new artist, we spent time driving follower growth, awareness and listeners to the platform. Doing this strategically and intentionally really allowed me to build a launchpad for the soundtrack early on.
Months ago, you released the Drift Tape mixtape, which has racked up more than 400 million U.S. on-demand streams to date. What did you want to accomplish with that tape, and how did that inform how you set up the soundtrack itself?
I wanted to come out the gates swinging — who doesn’t? Launching our phonk Drift Tape was really an exercise in music marketing experimentation led by myself, our CEO Mike Caren, my head of digital strategy/marketing ops Jessica Kelm and our team. Phonk music is still an ever-evolving, newer sub-genre, but has quickly become the popular frontrunner of street racing car culture all over the world.
Considering the explosive popularity of the genre and the roots of the Fast Saga franchise, we felt we had a great opportunity to bridge the gap between our mixtape and soundtrack with something that felt sonically progressive, true to car enthusiasts and tied closely to the grassroots street racing culture of the film. I also wanted to help introduce the world to all the amazing phonk artists like Kordhell, MUPP, DVRST, Henson and others alongside our partners at Black17.
One of the breakout artists and records from that mixtape was TWISTED’s “Worth Nothing,” which was a huge contributor to our massive streaming numbers globally, all driven by short-form content and [user-generated content] via a series of global viral trends ([including the] “sigma male” trend). To add fuel to our fire, we prioritized releasing a series of strategic edits, remixes and “alternate versions” with clever nomenclature to drive consumption and galvanize our fanbase. We saw a really positive reaction from fans experiencing the different sped-up/slowed-down versions and remixer edits of all the songs that were reacting. The idea was really to give fans a menu of options to choose from. I like doing things that go against the grain. Ruffle feathers if you will. As I planned around the official Fast X soundtrack, I took that same ideology of experimentation and “first to try it” mentality and applied it to our soundtrack.
How did you approach putting together the marketing for this project, given it’s the 10th installment of such a beloved franchise?
Because this is the 10th installment, my approach was really centered around trying things that hadn’t really been done before to promote a Fast & Furious project. A lot of times soundtracks can be secondary or afterthoughts to a film release, as opposed to them being a tool to enhance and reinforce the story long after a moviegoer leaves the theater. Putting together the marketing for this project was a game of firsts sprinkled with trial and error with my team. I also wanted to be sure that the marketing for this felt more collaborative than it ever had between artists on the soundtrack and cast from the film.
Creatively, I also wanted to do the franchise justice by storytelling in a unique way. My video commissioner Enzo Borrelli and I traveled all over the States to make that happen. Whether that was having easter eggs of Vin’s character Dominic Toretto’s infamous cross chain in the video for “Won’t Back Down” or his classic Dodge Charger from the film featured with NLE Choppa in “Angel Pt. 1,” to working closely with Nikki Walsh and Rachel Levy from the Universal Pictures film music team on Vin Diesel’s first-ever cameo in a Fast & Furious music video for J Balvin’s “Toretto,” which was a huge win.
As the release got closer, how did you leverage the interest in the movie to help cross-promote the music?
Not going to lie, Vin has actually been an incredible and instrumental part in getting people excited early about this soundtrack in addition to the movie. We sent him a link to it a few weeks back and he’s been really leaned in ever since. He’s been promoting it on his socials, posting clips and shouting it out which created a lot of initial interest and buzz. He took a speaker to the red carpet at the global premiere in Rome to play a sneak peek of “Angel Pt. 1” while he did his interviews. There couldn’t be a better ambassador for the soundtrack and movie than him.
We have also been doing a lot of things digitally and on the ground to tie the two together. My team — Jessica Kelm, Alexis Warner, Sam Moreland, Jordan Garrett, Kylie Mohrmann, Jesse Wylde, Izzy Elefant and Nicki Miller — have been spending the last few weeks prioritizing short-form content creation on socials from our video shoots and premieres to making really cool edits and various versions of trailers to connect the dots for fans. We also had artists featured on the soundtrack across the globe present at different events and [had them] host their own personal screenings of the film in their respective hometowns.
What is the story surrounding the idea and execution of the “Angel Pt. 1” teaser?
The story of “Angel Pt. 1 (Trailer Version)” really started back in February with a conversation between myself, our president Brian Nolan and CEO Mike Caren about how we could begin to tease “Angel Pt. 1” out to fans to get them familiar with the melody before the song was released. We wanted to try to execute something we hadn’t really seen done before, which was releasing a snippet of a song commercially across DSPs to be playlisted, alongside a movie-styled music video trailer housed on NLE Choppa’s YouTube channel. The idea was to tease fans in a major way, but also create replay value and urgency on a clip we knew highly engaged fans like that of the BTS ARMY would consume at a rapid pace until the full version was released. The trailer on Choppa’s YouTube reached 1 million organic views in less than a week and our original 62-second snippet is currently at 8.2 million streams on Spotify and 42,000 creates on TikTok in the last nine days alone.
What else is in the works to promote this project?
Alexis Warner on my team had the great idea to partner with Twitch streamer Kai Cenat for our tracklist reveal about a week ago, which went amazingly well online, and now he will also be doing a livestream with NLE Choppa from Atlanta today (May 19) to play the entire soundtrack and talk about the film, which will be a real treat for fans. We’ve also got some really awesome collaborations with Mel’s [Drive-In] on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to host a Fast & Furious “Drive Through L.A. and Car Meet Up” at their location on Sunset — where fans can come hear the soundtrack, get custom Fast and Mel’s-branded merch and experience the “FAST X Burger” for the first time ever — as well as a really cool gaming influencer event with GameOver this weekend. We’re beyond excited and looking forward to making this the most successful Fast & Furious soundtrack yet.