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“How can I be building with my audience during a pandemic?”
“What’s the purpose of creating content?”
“Email or social media?”
Cristina Jerome is a professional music marketer and the founder of RnBae Collective, an R&B focused agency providing event production and brand partnerships. She founded RnBae as a platform to specifically highlight R&B – as its own thing separate from Hip-Hop – in hopes of shining a much-needed light on the extremely talented R&B singers and artists that may be getting overlooked. Through RnBae, Cristina has worked with countless artists and coordinated brand partnerships with brands including Atlantic Records, Red Bull, Vashtie, and more. Being at the forefront of the shifting landscape in the world of marketing within the music industry, Cristina and RnBae are a great resource for artists looking to navigate the brave new world we find ourselves in.
Cristina went to school for Communications, where she was able to try out TV, film, radio, music industry classes. Her dreams of being a newscaster were cut short after discovering that she and the teleprompter were not meant to be. After trying it all, she ended up at her college radio station – where she discovered that social media management was an actual position that you could get paid for and not just a pastime. She quickly found that she was really good at it and generating more engagement than ever before.
By running the station’s Twitter, Cristina juggled multiple hats and developed skills around marketing, strategy, customer service, etc. Which gave her a solid base to move from radio into marketing, digital, and events at a small agency – and eventually set out on her own to start RnBE, with a focus on brand partnerships. Always a fan of well-done partnerships, she found she had both an appreciation and a knack for finding synergies and aligning brand identities.
Cristina founded RnBae in 2016 after noticing that R&B as a whole wasn’t getting its proper recognition within music and Hip-Hop. Too often, R&B music is lumped in with Hip Hop, whether it’s on the charts or during award shows where you see “Best Hip Hop/R&B ______”, – where you might see Chief Keef right alongside John Legend. Another example, as of October 2020, “WAP” by Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion sits atop the Billboard HipHop/R&B Chart. Nothing wrong with that, WAP is a certified bop, but even the biggest #BardiGang members would admit that there maybe isn’t really anything in common between it and the genre we know as R&B.
And there doesn’t need to be! But to Cristina’s point, R&B is a rich genre (not to mention way older than Hip-Hop) and deserves to stand on its own. She was tired of seeing singers come and go “providing vocals” i.e. getting hired to do hooks on a Rap song with no credit.
Seeing as Hip-Hop and Rap already get plenty of love (being the biggest genre in the world and all), Cristina wanted to give her favorite genre of music and the artists within it the attention and recognition that they deserve. Moreover, she wanted to show that there was more to R&B than old school slow jams – Genuwine and Jodeci are great but there’s lots more to it!
Cristina and RnBae are on a mission to prove that R&B is not dead!
Through RnBae, Cristina has coordinated countless brand partnerships involving artists, festivals, clothing brands, liquor brands, and more. Outside of music, there are lots of ways that artists can leverage their brand/image/celebrity into alternate streams of income – whether that’s touring, merch, brand deals, in-person “experiences”, or countless other avenues. The real trick in Cristina’s line of work is creating partnerships that feel organic and authentic, rather than forced and over-commercialized. We’ve all seen brand deals and sponsorships that feel out of place – these tend to not only underperform in terms of business results but can leave the audience with a bad taste in their mouth of both parties.
As Cristina points out, the real task is “making things make sense… and cents.” i.e. Aligning brands in a mutually beneficial way…that makes money!
In other words, the first part is finding two brands A) with genuine synergy and overlapping target audiences and B) who have complementary needs. When done right, a brand deal does mean “selling out.” It means aligning. As in creating a win-win scenario. There are lots of brands out there that are dying to be connected with real talent and genuine creatives – and willing to shell out a few bucks to help you create an awesome art piece, or video series, or product, or any number of possibilities. What better way to connect with their audience?
The second part is leveraging that brand alignment to ultimately generate revenue and create value for both sides. Lots of times, this will come in the form of covering expenses for an idea that the artist wants to execute. Say an artist has an idea for an art installation. Someone like Cristina may go out and search for brands that would be interested in covering the expenses, in return for some kind of recognition. Ideally, a brand partner can be integrated beyond simple sponsorship and can be incorporated in some kind of creative, meaningful way that brings additional value to the final product.
With a company like Red Bull, brand partnerships and sponsorships are a big part of their identity. Knowing this, Cristina set out to partner with Red Bull to create a series called “The Basics”. A video series laying out the foundational knowledge artists need to get started with getting booked for shows, getting on the radio, securing press, etc.
Like we mentioned above, the sign of a good brand partnership is one that goes beyond a simple financial transaction, where the two sides are combining resources and supporting one another to create intangible value that wasn’t there before. With Cristina’s project with Red Bull, not only did they pay for the production of the series, they were totally involved the whole way, providing creative support and really proving that they were invested in the process.
All that said, not all brand partnerships work out so harmoniously. Be careful and protect your brand above all else!
Marketing During Quarantine
In the first few months of the pandemic, RnBae took a step back from their regular programming to feel out the new landscape. They kept creating content and focused mainly on highlighting new artists and industry news. Now, as things have developed and the new remote/digital landscape seems to be here to stay – for the near-term at least – they are building out new digital platforms to showcase artists in lieu of live events.
They started with a digital festival with a roster of really cool R&B artists – that was actually picked up by a bigger network to do a larger performance series every month. Which will also make it possible to bring different artists to the table and execute bigger ideas. Additionally, Cristina is working on a series called Behind the Bae – a video-interview series to have longer conversations with R&B artists to do a deep dive into their creative process.
Email Marketing vs Social Media
Cristina is a big fan of email marketing. But she wasn’t always.
Like many of you reading, there was a point where Cristina thought email was wack. It’s old and boring and who reads their email anyway? Over time, however, just like we talked about with Jocelyn last week, Cristina came to learn the value of a strong email list paired with a strong newsletter blast.
Email is different because your list is full of people who actually gave you their email address – which means that (at least at some point) they were interested enough in what you have to say to give you direct contact. It creates a more personal connection with the reader, more so than a social media post or paid ad.
Unlike social media where you can never be sure what % of your followers are seeing your content. On IG, your post might only get in front of 5-10% of your followers – let alone actual engagement. Email hits everybody. Every time. With email newsletters often seeing open rates in the 20%, 30%, 40%+ range.
What’s more, you have full control over your email and email list. You don’t own Instagram or Twitter or Youtube, but no one can take your email list away!
Different than “playlisting”, Cristina is a big believer in artists and brands creating and publishing their own playlists of artists they like. This isn’t to boost streaming numbers or reach a new audience per se, but rather to add to your story and give some context for your personality or your company’s brand. It can be as simple as creating a Spotify playlist of your favorite artists and throwing the link in your bio.
Artists and brands can use this as an opportunity to show off their taste – maybe showing fans a different side of them that they wouldn’t normally see. Show off your creative influences. Show off what you’re listening to now. Maybe you’re a contemporary R&B singer, but you’re also really into old school jazz. Or you’re a hardcore rapper that just can’t get enough of Adele. Or perhaps you’re a brand like RnBae, and you can use your playlist as an opportunity to showcase your excellent taste in R&B music – or make your case for why 00’s R&B > 90’s. (Cristina said it, not us!)
- R&B is not dead! Let’s get that straight.
- Brand partnerships are about brand alignment! Make it make sense… and cents!
- When putting together a partnership, find creative ways to work together outside of a simple financial transaction. Money is cool… but find meaning!
- Email is not wack. People are giving you a direct line to their inbox because they want to hear what you have to say. Take it seriously!
- Show off your personality and give your audience some context by publicizing your own personal playlist. Whether you’re an artist or a brand, a playlist is a great way to show off your taste, your alternate interests, which helps build a deeper connection with your followers!