Authentic music marketing for brands with Geoff Cottrill
Behind every favorite artist, song, or lyric, is a story you've never heard. Music is highly personal, and our experiences with it shape our memories, thoughts, and desires. So much goes into every note and lyric behind the scenes, which is why we’re bringing you Voices Behind the Music to share untold music business tales. Our guests range from artists, producers, and managers to tech creators and more, each sharing their unique past experiences, current projects, and visions for the future. Voices Behind The Music is presented by Feed Media Group, the leading B2B music licensing platform.
Hosted by Jeff Yasuda, CEO, Feed Media Group.
Geoff is a talented marketer with a reputation in the industry for innovative thinking and creativity, and a passion for building diverse and talented teams. Prior to joining Topgolf, Geoff was head of marketing at Coca-Cola in North America. Geoff also served as the General Manager & Chief Marketing Officer for Converse, and has also held marketing leadership roles at Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and MullenLowe. Geoff currently sits on the Advisory Boards of several emerging music and technology companies.
Jeff: [00:00:00] Well, today I'm here with the one and only Geoff Cottrill, marketing wizard, music taste-maker, and most importantly, all around great guy. Geoff has held marketing executive roles, some of the best known brands in the world from Proctor and Gamble to Starbucks, to Coca-Cola for two stints of duty, to Converse, and now Top Golf.
Geoff was also the chairman of the Grammy Foundation for over a decade. Music and marketing have been an important strategic initiative for Geoff, having launched Converse's undiscovered artists program called Rubber Tracks and Starbucks music initiative Hear Music. Geoff has been active in the community, giving back via Giving Kitchen, Children's Cancer Association, Music Cares, and Boston Youth Symphony, among others.
Mr. Geoff Cottrill, thank you for joining us today. So let's kick it off. I'd love to hear for starters, tell me a little about Top [00:01:00] Golf and what you're doing there. This is a new gig for you?
Geoff: Yeah, I joined the team at Top Golf about, I'm in my eighth week. And I couldn't be any more excited about being here. The opportunity is tremendous, the people are incredible, the culture at the company has been just mind-blowingly good. Really surprising in a great way.
And I'm not a golfer.
Jeff: I was going to ask.
Geoff: Right. And the thing that's cool about Top Golf is like, you don't have to be a golfer to enjoy what we provide. You know, you can have fun with a golf club in your hand, you can have a beer and food, and it's just taking some of the pressure of the game itself out and allowing you to just have fun. Our goal is to bring more people into the game of golf through a fun and non-intimidating way. And I couldn't be any more excited to be here.
Jeff: That is awesome. That is awesome. We're going to have to hear stories about your golf handicap improving. Let's take a deeper dive in the topic around [00:02:00] music and marketing. I mean, you're one of the best in the business. Can you tell us your view of music as a marketing tool to engage audiences?
Is it effective? Has it been effective? What are your thoughts?
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, it can be extremely effective. I've seen it be effective at places and I've seen it be completely ineffective. I think most brands are doing it wrong if I'm honest. Most brands do things with music and musicians to borrow equity, right?
You're the cool kid with a cool band, you sing and dance in my commercial. People are going to think my brand is cool because you're cool. Right? And it's very transactional in nature like I need to borrow your equity to be in my commercial, or I need to sponsor your concert so I can give out free samples.
And it rings very hollow with consumers and rings as sort of untrue and inauthentic with me. I think if you're a brand in today's world and you want to participate in music, not use music. And you know, a lot of brands use the word use as in I'm [00:03:00] using you. And I know that my experience is artists hate to be used.
And they know when they're being used. But it's to show up at the meeting or at the party with the mindset to be open-minded enough to see where a relationship might take you. To see what an artist might want to do that they've not yet done. And how you, the brand, can be a patron or a contributor to culture, right?
The things that you do contribute to culture, make culture better, putting new art into the world. To me, that's a much more interesting place. It's much harder to do, but it's much more rewarding.
Jeff: Yeah. And that's kind of a good segue I think, if you're able to talk a little bit more about what you did with Rubber Tracks when you were at Converse. And as I recall us talking about this, this was an opportunity to find and work with undiscovered artists. Talk about authenticity, right. You're working with somebody who has known generally fairly early in their career, you know, [00:04:00] and working with them to kind of use the Converse platform.
What can you tell about that and how you preserved authenticity there?
Geoff: Sure. I mean, there was a huge group of people that worked on it, so I often get credited for it, but you know, there's a whole bunch of us that worked on it and it was really fun and it changed my life in the biggest possible way.
We realized early on at Converse that a lot of these young people that were in bands and musicians and struggling artists were already wearing our shoes.
And we were like, whoa, that's cool. The cool kids are already wearing our stuff. We don't actually have to lure them into wearing our stuff. What we should do is realize that we're on the feet of those people in the garage who have dreams and we're in the room. And when we realize we're in the room, we're like, holy smokes.
We're in the sacred ground. And when you're in that room, you can either be the punk little brother that speaks up and says too much and gets kicked out. Or you can be like, dude, this is super cool, I'm in the room like what can I do to contribute?
We met artists [00:05:00] all around the world. We actually started in China.
We met with two punk bands in Beijing and we asked them if we could do something to help them, what would that look like? And they told us they'd always wanted to play their music in another city. And we were like what are you talking about? Well, we've never played outside of Beijing. So we're like, that's interesting.
So we bought a bus, we put the two bands in a bus, we put cameras in, we shot a documentary film about two bands playing in six or seven cities around China and their story.
And the story was subtitled in English, but the story could have been in any country in the world. So we were like, wow, this is really cool. We did this thing. All we did was ask what we could do to help. So we came back to Brooklyn and you know, my experience at Starbucks was that a lot of baristas are in bands, and they have dreams to be more than a barista.
They're like, I'm a barista now, but like, man, I really love to be a musician. So we knew a lot of bartenders and baristas and there were a lot of people that were in bands that then when you ask them, Hey, [00:06:00] what could we do that? You know, they would say, well, I have no place to rehearse.
Or man, I would love to get signed, but like I need a demo. But I can't afford a demo until I get signed so like I'm a bartender. And so we were like, so you need a place to record and rehearse? And they're like, yeah. So, you know, when you think about other brands, like Nike who would sponsor a big youth soccer team to support young athletes. We looked at this as our young athletes.
These are up and coming musicians that needed help. So we ended up building three recording studios, but we built the first one in Brooklyn and we put Grammy winning engineers and producers in there and we opened it up and you could come in and record for free.
And you got to keep all your content. Cause we were like, we made sneakers, we weren't a record label. We didn't want to be a record label. And we would say there's only one rule and one promise. The one rule is don't come in and be mean to other people. Don't hate music cause like that's not cool.
And the one promise that will make you is [00:07:00] that we will not make you famous. And like, if you become famous, that's amazing. If you don't become famous, that's also amazing. This isn't about fame. This is about like, we're going to give you an opportunity to get into a super quiet room and say, what's in your heart or in your head and let it rip.
And you will always have this experience and we don't want anything from you.
Jeff: Yeah. And I love that, you know, we don't want anything from you because, to use one of your words, the music industry is very transactional, right? And I understand why. You invest, you take significant risks, you know, the labels and publishers take significant risk on a young talent.
Be it a writer, if it's a publisher, or a recording artist, if it's the label. And in exchange for taking that risk they demand, in most cases, ownership of the masters and I would say antiquated contract provision around reimbursement and covering of [00:08:00] expenses. And essentially the economics many have said are very much in favor of the rights holder, as opposed to the artists.
But you took a very different approach here essentially saying just record, we're giving you a space, take your tracks, and we just want to be part of your journey.
Geoff: Yeah. We just want to help you at this particular moment in time. It was funny cause when we first opened artists would always ask me like, oh, what's the catch? And I'd be like, there's no catch. Nah, dude there's a catch, what's the catch? Like what is it? And then I would say the catch is that there's no catch.
I'm gonna try my best to give you an incredible experience that you're never going to forget. And my hope is that someday when you're walking down the street, someone asks you how it was, you're going to say one of two things. They're going to say it was horrible, or it was great.
Both of those are on me. So I'm going to try to make it great so that if someone asks you and by the way, you don't have to, you could be like, yeah, look what I did with Converse. They were super cool. They did this. And for me that was like contributing to culture and [00:09:00] not getting in its way, but just continuing to contribute.
We recorded with over 3000 artists all over the world. And we promised as a team, we would never talk about who recorded there. So we didn't take credit for anyone's success. We just didn't. And some of the biggest bands that are around now, you know, a handful of them came through Rubber Tracks.
Jeff: Really? Can you say, or you can't say?
Geoff: Absolutely not.
No. Cause we made a promise that it was never going to be about that. So it's never going to be about that. It was always just about what we tried to do differently with the brand in the space of music.
Jeff: Obviously there was positive brand affinity though associated with this, essentially community building exercise. And I think fundamentally from the perspective of the labels and rights holders, you know, in some cases the contracts can be onerous, [00:10:00] there's two sides to every story. And this was probably just such a beautiful juxtaposition as opposed to what they normally say, which is probably why they were always like, what's the catch, there's gotta be a catch.
What am I losing? Where, you know, do I need a lawyer to review this?
Geoff: No, exactly. There was already a label system in place. And if we took 5% of the record that you recorded at our studio, and then you were playing in Brooklyn and an ANR person saw you, and is like, oh my God, I love this artist.
And the artists said, oh my God. Well, like my first record, 5% of it goes to XYZ brand.
Geoff: The label is like, that doesn't work . So what we would have done inadvertently was record labeled artists inadvertently, and we didn't want anything to do with owning music.
Like that just wasn't what it was about. And we learned so much and like I said, it changed my life. It changed my life. The people that I met, the new friends that I made, the things that I saw and heard like completely changed my life. Changed the [00:11:00] way I think professionally as a marketer, but like as a person, as a human, it had a great impact.
Jeff: That's awesome. Now, Starbucks, you mentioned Starbucks entertainment around Hear Music. Can you talk a little bit about what you did there with music?
Geoff: So when I was a kid, my dream was a super weird dream and you're going to think it's weird. But like when I was 13 years old, I used to sell Cokes at the Tampa Stadium, so I could go see rock concerts. It was like the only way my parents would let me go to a concert. So I got to see Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and like Yes, and Jethro Tall.
And it was amazing.
Jeff: The greats.
Geoff: Yeah. And I used to think when I was a kid, like someday, I want to run a record label. Like super weird, right? Cause like I never occurred to me to play guitar, join a band, or sing. That never even occurred to me. I always thought, man, that's a super interesting, like that's super interesting business.
So Starbucks had been in music for quite a while. They had purchased Hear Music, which was run by a guy named Don McKinnon who's like one of the greatest humans alive. Started record stores. If you think [00:12:00] about the record store experience, the sampling, the listening stations.
They pioneered a lot of really interesting things and they were kind of like a Starbucks of music at the time. And Howard Schultz bought the company. Hear Music was making compilations. They were doing all kinds of stuff. And then I had an opportunity to join the team. So, you know, I don't take credit for any of this stuff that was done.
I was on a team that helped grow that to a nice business. We pivoted from making compilations and then carrying mainline titles to signing artists. We signed a record deal with James Taylor. We did a record deal with Paul McCartney. We co-produced records and then we sold them in the marketplace. Our records sold at Target and Walmart and other places.
Jeff: Under the Hear Music, that was a label?
Geoff: Yeah, it was a label. So it was a lot of fun and to be in the context of a coffee company that was built around experience and the music being such an incredibly important part of the [00:13:00] experience, was an opportunity to participate in that and help grow that was a thrill. We interacted with Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks quite a bit.
And I learned more or as much from him as I've learned from anybody in my life. It was super fun. Super fun.
Jeff: I remember, I mean, I bought a bunch of those compilations, right. The thesis, I thought, was brilliant, right? I mean, Starbucks had so much traffic every day, essentially, it's a giant kiosk where people can show up and it's sort of a last minute impulse purchase. I mean, that's why I bought all these compilations, but it worked.
Geoff: Exactly. We made compilations that were seasonal or thematic. Our sales weren't being charted or being tracked, but like our Christmas compilation CD was top five records of the year. Any given year, like we sold loads and loads and loads of them. And then we knew we had something when one day we were at the office and someone on the team's like, you know, Stone Gosser from Pearl Jam's coming in, wanted to meet with us.
[00:14:00] And when I was like, well, weird. And he comes in and sits in our conference room and he's like, we just finished our record. And like, I came to ask you if you guys would carry it, we're all like what? Like what are you talking about? Of course we'll carry it. But it was like, what is happening?
So we knew we had, I mean, you know, as the CD business was dying and digital was growing, we had the last consumer that was buying CD's.
It was super fun. When we launched the Paul McCartney record, we took over the music for 24 hours in every Starbucks store in the world. And we just played the Paul McCartney record.
And we couldn't get it officially graded by Guinness, but I was like Guinness Book World Records, the largest listening party in history.
And Paul McCartney loved the fact that we like did that. And it was super fun. Super fun.
Jeff: I love it. And did you have a chance to meet Paul McCartney?
Geoff: I did. When we did the record, his manager basically told us like you're going to have to figure out how to market this. [00:15:00] Paul's not going to do a bunch of stuff for this record for you guys. So we were sitting around and thinking about what we could do.
We came up with the idea. We're like, I bet Paul's never played in a record store before. Because like he went from kind of, you know, to like boom, he's a Beetle. So we proposed that we do a show at Amoeba on Sunset in LA. And we did a private show at Amoeba with his whole band, there were hundred people.
And we were literally standing in the racks, the vinyl racks, like we're separating the rows. So he did that for us. And then when I met him after the show, his lawyer Lee Eastman said, Paul this is Geoff. He's like, oh, nice to meet you. And he's like, no, this is global listening party Geoff, and so Paul gave me like this gigantic hug. There was this moment where one of my friends was there and he turned around and he saw me, he saw Paul McCartney hugging me, but he could only see my face.
And I was like, oh my gosh! [00:16:00] So it was crazy. And then we were backstage with them and one of the women that was on our team was pregnant and he was asking her and she said, I'm having a girl. And what are you going to name it? I don't know. And then he says well, I'm kind of fond of the name Beatrice.
And Beatrice was his daughter who at the time was like five. And I said like, oh my God, she's like, gotta be like in first grade or kindergarten, like, how is she? He goes, hang on. And he runs in the back and grabs a sport coat. And inside the sports coat is a stack of Polaroid pictures of his daughter.
He's telling me this is her in her school uniform, this is her in her Paul Frank pajamas. And he's handing me photographs one at a time. And I'm standing there looking at a Beatles baby pictures. The craziest thing that's ever happened in my life, still to this day I'm like I can't believe this happened.
Jeff: That is crazy.
Geoff: I've been so lucky and fortunate and I'm so grateful for all the amazing [00:17:00] artists that I've been able to meet in my life. They've made me a better person. They made me a better citizen of the world. And I'm so grateful for all those experiences.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, that's probably a good segue into your Grammy Foundation work. So you were there as chairman for over a decade?
Geoff: I was there on the board for a decade. I served as the secretary, then the vice chair, and then the last several years I was the chair. And the mission was to raise money for music education and music preservation. People who have certain forms of music that are dying and the music's not carrying on.
So we did a lot of video preservation work and we raised a lot of money for music and school. So I wasn't a voting member of the Academy. Had nothing really to do with the Grammy awards or the show itself. It was more the philanthropic arm. They have Music Cares and they have the Grammy Foundation. Music Cares is dedicated to helping artists in need. The Foundation is dedicated to music, education, and preservation. So I worked on [00:18:00] that side.
Jeff: Well, and let me ask you this, because you have a very impressive long list of examples of how you give back to the community. I mentioned Giving Kitchen, Children's Cancer Association, and the list goes on. How do you make time? You're a family guy, you're a C-level executive at large companies over time. How do you make time to do all this work, giving back to the community?
Geoff: Well, I mean, I do the best I can. I've been very fortunate that I've enjoyed a lot of good things in life and that I've worked very hard for it, but there comes a time when you think less about yourself and what you're doing, and more about how you can make an impact in the community that you live in or the culture that you're part of.
So I try to do my best. Giving Kitchen is the newest one that I've joined. It's helping food service workers in times of need. It's an Atlanta based organization that's just [00:19:00] recently moved into Tennessee, but in the next five years, you know, the plan is to be a national organization. Raising money to help food service workers in need.
A lot of food service workers don't have health insurance and when they're in times of need, this is a fund and an organization that can tap in and help. If you think about what we've been through for the last year and a half, almost two years with COVID, how many restaurants closed? You know, there are a lot of former restaurant workers that are in need.
So it's even more urgent that we get busy and, you know, the people that work on the foundation are really nice people. I like to do things with nice people.
Jeff: No, that makes a ton of sense. I guess in closing, you know, just kind of going back to the first question about music marketing, what advice would you give a marketer who's thinking about using music? What are things to think about? What would you tell them to do for starters?
Geoff: Yeah. Well, let me tell you a quick story and then this might illustrate it. So let's say we're on a brand team and [00:20:00] we're sitting in the conference room and we're talking about our brand and we're romanticizing how amazing our brand is. Oh my gosh, this brand means such and such. Like we tend to do as marketers.
We pontificate about how important we are to the world. And then we say, oh gosh, if there's an artist that is a manifestation of our brand, who would that be? And then you're like, oh, it's this artist. And you're like, oh yes, that artist represents our brand incredibly well.
And then you're like, I wonder if they would work with us. And then, you know, a guy like me, used to lead entertainment marketing companies calls up the manager or the agent and says Hey, listen, you know, we think your artist is the epitome of our brand and there's a meeting of the minds. Would you want to work with us?
And they're like, yeah. Sounds good. Yeah. We'd love to do that. Sure. Sounds great. So then we all run back to the conference room. Oh my gosh. The artist that represents our brand, that literally is the living manifestation of our brand, is interested. Okay, what do we do? And then we go to the whiteboard and we start listing, oh, we need, let's see, we're [00:21:00] going to need a couple social media posts.
We're going to need her to show up at our party. She's going to have to stand in front of the step and repeat. She's going to need to do VIP autographs. She's gonna need to be in the commercial and we're going to need her music. And like, we get a list of stuff that we want them to do. And then we show up at the first meeting and we're like, listen, we're so excited to work with you.
You're a living breathing manifestation of our brand. Here, do this. Do these things.
We don't actually sit down with the artist and say, we think you're an amazing artist, our brand has values that match up with yours. Like, what do you want to do? You're the artist. Help us think about how we can work with you to create something that you want to do, that you're into, that we can support and we could potentially use commercially. But like, it's not about like, I need 14 tweets and two Instagram live posts.
So the thing is like, when you talk about how that artist [00:22:00] fits with your brand, stop there for a minute and don't develop the list of the things you need and the things you want them to do, because then it becomes very transactional. So when you think about working with an artist, the key is to think about them as an artist and let them be an artist. Let them do the things that you love about them. Don't tell them what you need from them and give them a list of demands and a checklist. Respect their art. Ask them what they think. What do you want to do?
You do that and amazing things can happen. And you find yourself contributing, like doing things commercially, but also contributing something that didn't exist before. Like, no one's going to remember your commercial. I don't care who's in it. I don't care what music you have. They're not gonna remember it, but they'll remember that you did something interesting with an incredible artist that has something to say.
Jeff: Where the artist is being authentic.
Geoff: [00:23:00] Exactly 100%.
Jeff: So let's wrap it up here with a couple of quick rapid fire questions. For starters, what was the first album you bought?
Geoff: I think the first album I bought was probably Tom Petty's first record. I grew up in Tampa. He was from Gainesville, like, I love me some Florida. He's from Florida. He was a hero to me when I was a kid.
Jeff: Oh, I love it. I love it. Favorite concert that you attended?
Geoff: Favorite concert that I attended was Live Aid in London.
Oh, I went to school in Europe for a year, a semester or whatever. And it was the day before I flew back home from my semester, I had like $20 left in my pocket and we scalped tickets and got into Live Aid. And we're way, way, way in the back, way up high. But like, we were there.
Jeff: Wow. Awesome. Do you still wear band merch? And if so, what band?
Geoff: Yes. I think I have a couple of Rolling Stone shirts. I think I have an old Pink Floyd [00:24:00] shirt and I actually have an old Jethro Tall t-shirt from July, 1976 at a show that I sold Cokes and framed in my basement. I found it years later at a vintage shop and was like, oh my God, I was at this show.
So yeah, so I have that framed on the wall.
Jeff: I love it. I love it. Well, Geoff, thanks so much for joining us. As always, it was a pleasure to chat with you and hope to have you back on the show again.
Geoff: Count Anytime. I appreciate you having me. I'm grateful for stuff like this. I don't take this kind of stuff for granted, so the thanks should be coming to you guys. Thank you.
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