COVID-19 has made it very difficult for artists to generate income. The pandemic has slashed so many revenue streams, led by the loss of concerts and live events. However, there are still ways artists can make money and survive this pandemic. Enter: Elie Maroun, a “behind-the-scenes superstar” who helps connect artists with brand partners.
Elie Maroun’s mission is as follows: Artists have influence, brands want to influence and have money to spend. Let’s marry these two entities into an advantageous deal for both parties.
Put more simply, Elie Maroun helps artists get paid. Having assisted in brand partnerships for Kehlani, G-Eazy, DaBaby, and more, Maroun knows where the money is and how to help artists get their respective bags.
The New Jersey-born businessman is a crucial part of the music ecosystem. Elie Maroun was kind enough to explain his practices to me, dropping keys all artists should explore as budgets tighten, and the pandemic has no end in sight. If you’re an artist looking to make back some of the money you lost due to COVID-19, this is the piece for you.
Let’s talk about partnerships. For the uninitiated, what is a brand partnership, and how do they, and you, help artists?
It’s an important time to find a lane and take advantage of the new times. A brand partnership, in general, is usually a deal that’s beneficial for both sides and makes sense. In theory, it’s a company paying you to endorse their brand. But our industry’s gotten pretty savvy, and a lot of times, these partnerships are mutually beneficial.
I’ve positioned myself as one of the go-to guys on the branding side of the music business. Let me start from the beginning: I used to day-to-day manage [Diddy]. When I left, I started my own company, and I quickly found an amazing niche on two sides of the business. One, consulting these brands at a high level. And because I’m a manager, I know what it would take to get the deal done. I could speak the language on both sides.
A lot of these artists are breaking so quick! They’re going from their mom’s couch to an arena act in six to 10 months. These brands wanna work with these kids who just blew up because the consumers are paying attention to ‘em.
A lot of times, [the artists’] teams don’t have the bandwidth—they’re so focused on touring and merchandising—so a lot of money is lost. So, we represent artists as extensions of their management—Juice WRLD, DaBaby, G-Eazy—we handle the branding side of the business.
When you start seeing your favorite artist on a Doritos commercial or a billboard for Arizona Iced Tea, that elevates them and makes them larger-than-life, which in turn trickles down to… “He’s doing Doritos; he’s doing big things.”
Brand deals are crucial to elevating the artist and what they stand for and giving them a voice that they’re more than just somebody making music.
Can you walk me through one of your bigger partnerships, say the Kehlani x Fashion Nova partnership, and how that got executed?
Fashion Nova is a brand I consulted and retained for close to four years. They were one of the brands that understood leveraging artists’ reach and fanbase.
The Kehlani one was me selling them on Kehlani’s different elements. Let’s use a girl who’s on the come-up, stylish, fashionable, and relates to different people. My concept was, during her tour, she’d stop in 10 different cities and give out checks to local organizations that are helping the LGBTQ+ community. The posts were her handing these checks to the community, thanking Fashion Nova Cares, and also wearing Fashion Nova onstage to showcase that the clothes really fit a woman’s body. You wanna find an angle that’s beneficial to the artist and to the brand.
How big does an artist need to be before pursuing brand partnerships? Does it matter?
I don’t think you have to be Post Malone to sell yourself. Proving your worth to a brand is about the reach because that’s gonna determine how much you’re getting paid, but I tell young artists all the time: “Money’s out there. You gotta go grab it.” Brand deals aren’t reserved for DaBaby and Post. It’s about having a team around you that can sell.
It’s all about the delivery, how you position yourself. Fashion Nova [isn’t] Fashion Nova without Cardi B, and their original deal with Cardi B… She grew with the brand, and the brand grew with her. That was the example of the perfect marriage because as she grew, her price went up, and Fashion Nova’s price went up—their demand went up. This was when she was a reality star. The ones that win drive home certain messaging. Cardi B drove it home.
It’s important to be authentic. That’s what brands are chasing now.
How should an artist go about deciding what brands to work with?
Authenticity. When I sit down with an upcoming artist, the first thing I ask them is: “List your favorite brands in each category.” There’s categories: beverage, fashion, spirits, cannabis. You want the artist to be true to it, or the campaign to be relevant to what the artist is doing. It’s always about authenticity and relevance. That’s why it’s important to look ahead and not play catch-up.
What do most artists get wrong when it comes to exploring alternative revenue streams?
A lot of times, they’re chasing the bag. That’s something I try to explain to ‘em. I’d rather take a deal that makes less money but makes more sense for the longevity of the career. A lot of these young kids… You’ll see a rapper selling kitty litter! They don’t care! They’re getting paid. Not every dollar is good.
That’s really wise because not every dollar promises longevity.
How does [the dollar] benefit? Before you see how much you’re getting paid, you should see how much it’s benefiting the ultimate goal.
Right now, for an artist, it’s the scariest time. There’s so much noise, and it’s impossible to fight through the noise. Every Friday, a kid has thousands of new songs they can listen to! How do you fight through that? How do you make yourself last? As soon as somebody cooler or shinier comes around, you’re not there. So, aligning yourself with brands not only positions you as a business person, but it gives you more of a chance to elevate and stay relevant. Use the brands to help you.
What’s your best advice to artists looking to make money during the pandemic?
You gotta figure it out. You gotta have every conversation and educate yourself. Be a visionary, and don’t make your decisions based on the current landscape. Make your decisions on what you see the future holding.