Songs for Screens: BYGMusic Connects Touring-Starved Indie Musicians With Brands Like Ford, Crocs and Macy’s

Like most emerging singer/songwriters this past year, Nashville singer/songwriter Julia Cole has cast a wide net to get her music heard until she can resume touring at scale.

So when she found herself in consideration for a music-themed campaign to promote the debut season of the CW’s “Walker,” in which the lead character seeks to avenge the death of his wife, she submitted her 2020 single “White Pearls.” Inspired by her mother and late grandmother, the song’s family-themed approach worked: not only was Cole hired to share custom social posts promoting the show with her 77,000 Instagram followers, she earned a sync fee for “White Pearls”’ use in the “Walker” campaign launch.

“It’s very nice to know as artists that we don’t solely have to depend upon tour support to keep our lights on at home yet,” Cole says. “People don’t think about all the expenses that go into mixing and mastering and distributing a song, so the fees that come through these campaigns can help with those costs and just keep the ship afloat.”

Cole is one of over 100 artists who’ve been paired with brands like Ford, Soundcore, Crocs, Macy’s, 20th Century Fox and others for influencer and music campaigns in the past two years via BYGMusic, a company founded in 2018 by Grammy-winning recording engineer Krish Sharma. To date, the company has paid out an estimated $1.5 million in revenue to independent artists from brand and sync fees that have helped underwrite their career endeavors.

“[It’s] made a huge difference for me,” says Alyssa Trahan, a singer and multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with BYG on campaigns for Lush, Acorns and other brands in the past year. “The opportunity came during the height of the pandemic when I was struggling to make ends meet after losing all of my live shows. It was a big reason I was able to finish my album and spend more time focusing on my music rather than trying to make money.”

Sharma founded the company based on the thesis that “labels are leaving the smaller artists behind a little bit,” says Brendan Shepherd, BYGMusic’s head of brand partnerships and business development, who joined the company after 18 years of senior roles at Viacom and MTV Networks. “Post-Napster, the business model is focused on the 1%, the ones that will drive the revenue. And as we looked around the marketplace at similar services, there was nothing for smaller, grassroots artists to help drive them and give them exposure to revenue. The average artist relies on three checks: the performance check, the royalty check and the brand check. We’re focused on getting artists connected with brand checks so they can keep making music.”

While BYGMusic will soon launch a platform for artists to onboard themselves and their music for more automated brand opportunities, to date its work with brands has come from direct outreach to artists who meet different criteria for campaigns based on everything from genre, location and follower count to age, gender and ethnicity — as recommended from tools like Tagger and Chartmetric. “When advertisers are looking to connect with a certain demographic and they think music will be the right invitation, they’ll ask us, who are the right artists for that?” Shepherd says.

In the case of Soundcore, a recently launched headphone brand from China’s Anker Innovations, working with artists from both the emerging and established ends of the music spectrum on initiatives like podcast interviews and live-streamed events was a strategic way to skirt the trappings of the traditional point-and-smile endorsement model. BYG tapped a diverse group of well-known stars like Ne-Yo, Colbie Caillat, Halestorm and DJ Mustard joined more emerging acts like John Paul White and The Infamous Stringdusters for a series of live-streamed events for different Soundcore product launches.

“We wanted global reach and didn’t want to get allotted into one genre, so we really liked the mix we were able to get for the budget we had from extremely recognizable artists like Ne-Yo to someone who represented their own unique genre,” says Lawrence Smyth, Soundcore’s head of brand partnerships and advocacy. “Just having a Grammy-winning engineer as a founder and then Grammy-winning artists giving feedback on our product helped us establish a genuine connection.”

So far, the approach appears to be working. As the average click-through rate for advertising on platforms like Google Search continues to decline to less than 2%, engagement for an average BYGMusic campaign is 18%, with some posts earning upwards of 40% rates in people commenting on, liking, sharing or saving the content. In the case of The CW’s “Walker” campaign that featured Cole and others, engagement from nearly 100 posts averaged 14%, which helped The CW deliver sturdy ratings for the series’ January premiere. “We do the homework to make sure it’s the right artist with the right creative,” Shepherd says. “It’s a sort of scientific, strategic approach to use big data to find artists with the right fanbases and set them up for success.”

For the artists, having brands like Ford co-sign them early on in their careers can make a measurable impact, too. “It’s impacted my socials, my messaging, my bank account, and key in elevating my artist visibility,” says Leyo, who performed a live-streamed concert at a Ford dealership in his hometown of Buena Park, California for the launch of the Ford Ranger Truck. “I’m a passionate Mexican-American singer from Orange County, hustling and working every day to break through all the noise of the industry…[So when] Ford Motor comes and says, ‘We get it! Let’s work with Leyo and give him a chance,’ it lends credibility to my artistry.”

Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.