Robbie Morris is one of the few Indie Music First people. For more than a decade, the 34-year-old has worked for three of the largest, most successful indie music companies in the United States, if not the world. Moreover, he has done it in three completely different characters, each of which is not only new to him, but also absolutely new to the company. Maurice joined Domino Records’ American operation directly from NYU, as the first outside employee of his then-start-up music publishing arm. At Beggars Group’s Matador Records, he was the first A&R hire of the famous indie-rock imprint. And when, after a long stay there, Morris decided to do something different, he secretly joined the group as its inaugural creative director. If the idea of a creative director on a record label sounds fancy, okay … yes. There aren’t many. Still. That’s why we wanted to talk to Morris about what the role actually includes অন্যান্য among other 2020 and artist-related insights, he’s experienced to deliver.
Spotify for Artists: Can You Describe What You Do? And tell us how did you get there?
Robbie Morris: My title is the Creative Director of the Secretly Group, which includes the Dead Ocean, Jagguar and secretly the Canadian label.
I grew up in the Bay Area in Los Gatos, California, going to a show at a great all-ages venue called The Oathhouse. Bands of all shapes and sizes will play there – some big names like Hardcore Punk, Indie Band, Ted Leo and Rillo Kelly. I was going to a punk and hardcore show at home in San Francisco or Santa Cruz, and Gilman. I went to New York for the summer in high school and it blew my mind. I could see two or three bands that night – going ABC no Rio, Or Brownies – I realized I had to go to New York. So I applied to NYU, and jumped. I studied English, but I spent all my time on the radio station [WNYU]. I probably preferred to have the music director stuffed in the air, getting CDs from labels all over the world. The cherry-picked music that we were interested in and then put it on the radio was amazing. For this reason, I have created conversations with people in the music industry and learned how labels work. The advantage of being in New York is that lots of music pluggers or promotional companies will invite me to the show, where I’ve started to meet a lot more people and discover the scene – or a lot of scenes. When college was closing, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Someone suggested I do an internship, so I did it in Domino, and ended up working in the music publishing department there. (I was the first employee at their U.S. publishing company.) I even jumped into the job before technically graduating.
From there I got a call from Matt Harmon [President of] The beggar group, and he was, “This job is open here.” It was a college radio broadcast. I was like, “I don’t know if I want to be on the other side.” But in one interview, they mentioned that Matador had just signed on Fucked Up and Jay Retarded. I was like, “Oh my God it’s amazing.” If I could work with those bands I would go there. I’ve been radio for about a year; Then an A&R job was opened at Matador and I went for it. The next nine years I spent doing it. Matador is a really strong brand and a label with A&R senses, so the job was to help those guys find new things, but to work with the bands on the label, to help keep projects flowing, to create records, to work with art. And thinking about visual presentations, creative marketing and the like. What we didn’t actually have was who signed what, or a band of specific A&R guys. It was a team effort, so everyone had some ownership.
Since I was moving closer to the 10 year mark there, I decided I wanted to try something new. I’ve been able to enjoy what happens after a band signs up. I love discovering new music, but I find more joy in helping artists develop – creating records, finding their visual and creative voices, figuring out how to help them tell stories. With A&R, a lot of the work is selling itself, and what I’ve found most fruitful is spreading or expanding artists ’perspectives. This opportunity has been secretly opened in the group, a great label for my favorite classic records, and so I moved here and chose this role as a creative director.
Great. So, the million dollar question is: what does a creative director do on a record label? This is a title that is more familiar to people in the advertising industry than in the music industry.
This is an unusual title. From a traditional theological sense of the job, I manage and oversee the interior art department: two art directors and one designer at home. (And we’re hiring someone who can help us with more speed-based design projects.) I don’t have any design skills, but when doing A&R, I’ve always preferred to sit down with the industry manager, and work on ideas for it. . The album package is what an artist’s visual universe is all about. I also commission music videos for all your traditional theatrical visual things for labels and photos.
From there, my work shifted to creative marketing of things. I do events (when events were one thing). I do other content, so if a band wants to make a documentary, or create an interactive website, I work with outside developers to help create these cool projects. The other big parts are working with brands and third parties to help or collaborate on bigger ideas. We’ve done some great work with Spotify, WeTransfer, Amazon, Facebook. Basically, it’s taking the heart of the record, finding out the story behind it and using it as a way to present the project. Other exciting things start to happen when you show up and tell people about a record. It makes artists imagine what is possible.
A Spotify example is a good one. This was for the last record of the forest ivory, which was said I, I.. A big part of it was the fact that the community around the band has grown, and it doesn’t just include people who play. [the instruments], But their visual collaborators, dancers, travel parties – they are all part of the Forest Ivory community. We’ve presented it as a story and Spotify is back with this great web Visa Ledger. This website calculates how many people are listening to the record at any given moment. It shows the shape of their eyes and is transferred using an ASCII text generator and changes as more people join. It uses the platform and at the same time tells the story of the record.
Recently, we did this great interactive thing with Microsoft and Moza Sumni. It was supposed to be an experimental event but obviously, the epidemic happened, so we turned into a piece of content using this hardware device called The Kinect, a camera that tracks motion. Moses took it and worked with a visual collaborator he worked with a bunch and made this really incredible session video.
Tell me how the epidemic has changed the way you and your artists work together?
Working on a record label, I think we are a bit more fortunate than our friends and our artist partners in the live sector. People are buying records, recording streaming and getting more involved with music than ever before. I think what’s happening is that artists have a little more time now, because they’re not on the road, so a lot of creativity is happening. Artists are turning records too fast – or we’ve changed some deadlines to get things out faster.
At first, we were just looking for ways to spread the record in an epidemic. Many artists were turning on their phones, and playing live concerts on Instagram. But as time went on, we took stock of things and the bar was really high. I remember, when Phoebe Bridger’s sentence came out in June, he went live, I think, Pitchfork; He was ringing on his phone, and I remember he was looking at me and saying, “I’ve never done this before.” His recent performances for Flash Forward and Deep Night TV were incredible, their quality was insane. He’s just one Performance for Seth Meyers, Which was recorded at a haunted theater in LA. Or we’ve been shooting four shows with Angel Olsen and Kevin Morby each professional film crew. It’s really high quality five hours, great live performance footage that exists now, which is amazing.
Staying at home is also interesting. You had to go to Seattle to play at KEXP, or to DC to play at NPR’s small desk. Now, artists can create with their friends or their visual collaborators and do amazing work. Moses only performed for AfroPunk, and the performance was stupid. I think we’ve rarely seen, if any, art paralysis or slowing down artists at the moment. We all had to become problem solvers and it really encouraged some creative things.
What is the other side of what is happening in 2020? How have your artists been able to meet the demands of social justice for label equipment and the main cake of the year?
What happened in May and June changed everything. We were sitting there saying, “How do we keep some of these records in the world?” The release date of Phoebe’s record was Juntinth. It had to come out, it was locked. [But] How are we going to promote an indie rock record that day? Phoebe had a great idea: let’s get it out a day in advance and use it as an opportunity to excite fans, but also for fans to go and see some important information. You know how when you see all the links of an artist nowadays, you get a Linkfire button, and it lets you choose whether to buy the record from a store, or if you want to listen to it in a DSP? We created one of them, but instead, all the buttons were different links to different charity organizations or awareness groups, highly thoughtful about justice using the artist platform. Each of our artists has worked to spread awareness and advocacy. Many of them, if not all, have taken advantage, be it election-related or Black Lives Matter. It has been quite inspiring.
When you first meet an artist you’re going to work with, what are you looking for? What is the difference between an artist that you know Gate will work well with that would be a little harder to collaborate with?
All I am looking for is imagination. Many artists – especially those who secretly sign labels – do not have the resources to start creating art or visuals. Having an idea – if it’s not a concrete idea, it’s really important to be able to talk about just who you are, and how you want to express yourself.
There are many resources now. Social media is huge, and something to watch. It certainly helps artists see ways to express themselves on this platform, where they are free. You can be funny, you can be politically engaged, you can be who you are. This is a great starting point. Then, what happens when you have some assets? When does your team work on your music? These are opportunities to bring that imagination to life.
We focus on helping artists clarify what their story is and what their perspective is. On the visual side of things, we really start before the records end. We encourage bands to create mood boards. These could be record sleeves, they could be music videos, they could be short for photoshoots. Some artists came up to us and said, “Hey, I want my record sleeve to look like this reference or something like that.” Others don’t have that vocabulary, but if you have that mood board, put that idea on paper – or Dropbox, or Pinterest or whatever – it’s a great place to start.
Maybe another feature I’m looking for is ambition. Creative ambition to maximize your voice, maximize your expression – the ambition to think big about a record key, or a music video, or a stage show. Or a live stream.
I think there’s another thing that’s especially important during an epidemic – it’s great to be productive. Before that, [the labels] Conventional marketing meant thinking about campaigns, timelines, and how things were rolled out. Nowadays, it’s okay to do a lot of things, especially with your hands tied behind your back. If you can, go out and play shows, stuff, live stream, do sessions, create art. I think giving fans more access … that’s important.
– Piotr Orlov