This is a Q&A style interview series featuring the people behind the artists: the marketing heroes you don’t hear about that often.
They are the ones who help artists build a brand and a strong online presence. This time round we talked to Brian Popowitz from Black Box. Read all about their thoughts, their expertise and their vision for the future.
Can you tell us something about yourself and what it is that you do?
My name is Brian Popowitz and I’m the General Manager at Black Box. I’ve always wanted to work in the music industry. At a very young age, I said I wanted to be a music industry executive, without knowing what that really meant.
I couldn’t carry a note, so I never had a desire to be a traditional rockstar. But the idea of being behind the scenes and orchestrating the careers of artists was always attractive to me.
In high school, I was a DJ, which gave me a foundation in both entrepreneurship, as well as how music influences people, and a fascination with the relationship between music and people.
After high school, I went to the University of Maryland, where I created my own major, called ‘Music Industry and Society’. It gave me a good foundation in business, music history, and, in some ways, sociology.
One of my first entry points was with a record label called Drive-Thru records, which was a pop-punk label that had given fame to New Found Glory, the Starting Line, and the Movielife, amongst others.
I took on a volunteer role - with great seriousness - running a street team in the DC/Maryland area, and was offered by the owners of the company to do an internship in LA. This was my real foot in the door in the music industry.
I was trying to be the best intern possible, but I soon realized that the street team program wasn’t really well ran, so I asked the owner of the label and the general manager to let me run it.
They gave me a shot and, again, I took this new role with great seriousness. It was my first way of getting paid at working in the music industry, and I was still in college.
What was the actual internship, what was your actual role there called?
Digital Marketing. It was called New Media at the time - this was moving into the MySpace period. I assumed the role of street team director and built an army of over 50 representatives, across the globe, who I was coordinating, digitally, and who were working on a volunteer basis.
After that, I took the experience I built at Drive-Thru and brought it to Universal Music Group, where I was hired to work on the digital street teams of some of their artists.
After college, I decided to parlay all of this experience into a more formal digital marketing position at a company called Nettwerk Music Group, where I worked in a general digital marketing role, for four years, basically starting out as just a digital guy and running the digital department for the company.
Through that, I touched projects like Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Sarah McLachlan, and really built my understanding of the music business.
Eventually, I got into contact with Livia Tortella - the founder of Black Box - who brought me into Warner Bros., where I ran a digital team for another four years.
When Livia left the company to start Black Box in 2014, I followed her and her pursuit of artist development, because she had such a convincing idea of what the new music business looks like.
Which catches us up to today.
Can you tell us a bit about how it’s been going at Black Box since 2014?
It’s been amazing! Speaking candidly, this is new territory for all of us for several different reasons. For one, we’re an independent company.
I always worked for record labels that had a corporate structure, a defined intention, and a catalogue that keeps the lights on. Whereas Black Box is a marketing company, an outside hire.
Black Box, as a company, doesn’t really fit the conventional music business ecosystem, so it’s been a rollercoaster trying to figure out: who are we, how do we fit in today’s music business? How do we communicate our value proposition, why would they hire us, who’s going to be able to afford us, and how do we, as entrepreneurs in some sense, sustain our business as independent of being part of a major label?
These questions are important, because it’s our financial independence that allows us to remain true to the purity of our company mission.
We’re motivated by this idea that every artist has a story to tell, and we can build a team that provides both strategy and execution to help them tell that story, and if they tell it right, they can absolutely build an audience that will bring a career.
Could you give us a short summary of what your day looks like at Black Box?
I’d say my day is built maybe 50% around client communication. Clients hire us to provide a service for them, and our responsibility is to make sure we provide them with high level strategy, navigating them through the challenges of figuring things out. And that requires a lot of strategy and dialogue.
The other side of it is working with our team. I try to navigate and manage a team of project managers and digital marketers, providing support and direction where I can.
What’s going to be happening for you in 2019, anything special?
We’re now at a point of scale. We have this very core belief in the company that we want every senior level member of our team to be able to contribute meaningfully to projects, which comes with its limitations.
We’re trying to build a better agency every day, so that we can take on more clients. If we take on more clients we can build leverage, we can build a stronger team, and diversify into other things with our business.
And that’s important to our growth strategy and our sustainability as a company. We want a really healthy business!
Do you have any words of advice for people who are starting out in the artist development and digital marketing business?
There’s been a few things that have really helped and guided me, philosophically. First of all: time and relationships will reward you. Nurture the relationships that have paid off. I don’t do that by just being a networker. However I’m interfaced with other aspects of the music business, I try to leave a footprint, like “Brian did this to the project.” This has really rewarded me.
Also important is mentorship: I’ve been fortunate to have had senior mentors in my life that have put me on the accelerated path, with expectations higher than for colleagues, held me to it, but also invested in me. I’ve learned from people that have more experience than me, are smarter than me, and have done more than me.
The other thing I would say is work harder than everybody else. It’s a very competitive business!
Lastly, can you give us a nice fun fact about yourself?
A nice fun fact about myself... I’m 6’5”, and I spend a lot of time on the phone or on Skype, so people don’t have the context of how tall I am. Then when they meet me in person, they’re like... that guy’s a monster!
Thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to talk to us… Any last thoughts?
I appreciate you guys thinking of me and I’m glad to do this interview! With respect to I AM POP and Messenger marketing, I’m really attracted to the idea of building a really creative relationship with an audience.
Which brought me to you guys. At Black Box, we ask artists: what’s your story and how do you tell it? I think new technology and new means of using mediums like taking Facebook and an audience, and connecting them to each other, need to be evolved constantly.
There’s good synergy, philosophically, in what I AM POP does and how, at Black Box, we try to use various tools to achieve our goals. Definitely a reciprocal relationship!
Do you work in music marketing and are you interested in participating in our Behind the Artist series? Get in touch by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Or why don't you connect to I AM POP directly through Messenger at https://m.me/bypophq