How Influencer Marketing Became the Modern Era Co-Sign

Musicians can‘t merely collide with content creators at random in the hopes that their respective audiences will respond.
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In today’s music climate, context is everything. Few variables determine whether consumers will deem a song or an artist worthy of their precious, and increasingly scant, time more than the context of their introduction. The right nudge, by the right person, on the right platform, can net an artist a fan for life. But mess up any part of this cocktail, and you could potentially miss an invaluable opportunity to convert a curious listener you'll never get back.

As hip-hop fans, we know this to be true because the “co-sign” has been a signature part of rap’s marketing playbook for decades now. Think back to Dr. Dre using his first solo single post-NWA, 1992’s “Deep Cover,” as an eye-catching opportunity to introduce the world to Snoop Dogg. Consider Lil Wayne’s decision to stamp his victory lap following the monumental success of the Carter III by featuring a then largely unknown Drake on his 2008 song, “Ransom.” Recall Drake paying it forward years later by linking to The Weeknd’s debut mixtape, House of Balloons, on his popular OVO blog.

In each of these instances, these young artists benefited immensely from figures with huge platforms wielding their influence to create a warm introduction to their adoring audiences. At their core, these co-signs were little more than early examples of influencer marketing campaigns. Snoop, Drake, and Abel still needed to capitalize on these endorsements by releasing quality output, and they wouldn’t have worked if they’d felt awkward or forced, but they provided a leg up regardless.

Fast forward to 2020, and interestingly, many of the same factors that determined whether a rap co-sign would be effective in this earlier era continue to be indicative of what constitutes a successful influencer marketing campaign today. The best organizers of such campaigns understand this point, and they work to reverse engineer music integration efforts around a defined set of criteria like authenticity, shared sensibilities, and longevity. They know today’s music fans are astute and that they can tell when a partnership between an artist and a digital ambassador is purely transactional.

Leading the charge on this front is Opposition, an agency that provides label, end-to-end distribution, and digital marketing services to help artists succeed while maintaining control of their musical and creative journeys. As experts in the influencer marketing space, Opposition has engineered some of the most creative, understated, and thoughtful partnerships between artists and online personalities in the digital landscape. They don’t just pair up musicians with influencers at random in the hopes of cross-pollinating their disparate fan bases; they pinpoint the types of ambassadors whose fans already turn to them for music recommendations and match them with artists who fit the profile organically to build meaningful relationships.

Take, for example, this collaboration Opposition put together to promote T-Pain’s catchy single “Getcha Roll On” from his 2019 album, 1Up. Because T-Pain is as charismatic a personality as he is a musician, Opposition decided to pair him with a partner of theirs, the popular YouTube personality CJ SO COOL, for an on-camera hangout—to expose T-Pain to an overlapping audience who would be receptive to his output, and allow them to see him in a new light. Key to making this work was Opposition’s long-standing relationship with both parties, which allowed them to determine, even before the pair had met, that they’d share an entertaining camaraderie.

Over the course of a 40-minute vlog, T-Pain and CJ play a lighthearted prank on CJ’s wife, test drive luxury cars, shoot hoops, and display easy chemistry that is most apparent when they’re jamming out to “Getcha Roll On,” a song CJ clearly loves. It’s a classic example of a mutually beneficial partnership, where CJ got to reward his audience by featuring an entertaining personality in his video, both parties came away with high-quality behind the scenes content to post on their social media, and the song’s seamless integration within the vlog yielded thousands of new listeners. All said and done, the campaign was so successful that this video was the number one traffic source to the song’s smartlink, generating over 43 percent of the total clicks it received.

Of course, not every artist has as large a following as T-Pain, and Opposition understands that the key to building a successful campaign is to design its particulars around each artist's unique characteristics. The goals of every campaign differ widely, as do the people featured within them. Still, all of them are united by Opposition’s instinct for facilitating partnerships with influencers that feel authentic to their audiences. To this end, one of the more subtle strategies they’ve devised to help emerging artists involves working with content creators to pick songs they love and then creating short accompanying animations to play during the intros and outros of their videos.

They did this earlier this year, when they partnered with Hoop and Life, a popular basketball-centric YouTube channel, to find a song to bookend the channel’s videos. Using data Hoop and Life had available about the channel’s audience, Opposition was able to approach Nelson Chan, the man behind the channel, with songs they knew would resonate, and they eventually narrowed their selections down to Boslen’s springy 2020 track, “LIGHTSPEED.”

Months down the line, the creator behind Hoop and Life is thrilled because the music and animation in his videos features incredible production value, Boslen is thrilled because his song gets the opportunity to speak for itself twice per video, and new fans, many of whom continue to flock to this song after the release of each new video, are thrilled because they’ve discovered a new song they love. It’s a rare win-win-win scenario.

Broadly speaking, making sure everyone wins in this fashion is one of Opposition’s main priorities with influencers. Often, this means keeping their finger on the pulse to monitor what’s bubbling across various platforms and then responding in real-time to the output audiences are engaging with. It helps that they have an innate sense of what works on platforms like TikTok, the types of content younger demographics respond to, and which diamonds in the rough might make for unlikely viral hits. Still, at the end of the day, only fans can determine what picks up organic traction.

A perfect case study to illustrate this is Number9ok’s recent viral hit, “Garage Room Freestyle.” Produced by TisaKorean—who’s inspired several viral dance challenges in the past—and featuring an infectious beat and lyrics tailor-made to dance to, the song’s “Reel It In” dance challenge, created by TikTok dancers @arri.arii, @bryansanon, and @neno.byrd, quickly picked up traction on the platform simply because fans loved it. No one paid gigantic TikTok stars like Charli D’amelio, Chase Hudson, and Noah Beck to hop on the trend. They did so because it looked fun.

Because Opposition keeps such a close eye on rising trends, they could spring into action immediately to help Number9ok capitalize on the song’s success. They worked with TikTok’s editorial team to nudge this trend along, reached out to the song’s original dance creators, and edited the song’s metadata from its original “Garage Room Freestyle” to “Garage Room Freestyle (Reel It In),” to allow users to easily search for the song on DSPs after finding it on TikTok. Since then, the song has inspired over 3.5 million TikTok videos, and within just ten days of being released on DSPs, it was picking up upwards of 30,000 daily streams.

Ultimately, it’s this ability to be responsive to the whims of the digital marketplace that separates Opposition from others operating in the music influencer marketing sphere. They have their finger on the pulse of the industry, so they’re able to steer clear from the sorts of canned music integrations that hurt engagement for everyone involved. Just as the Wu-Tang Clan members eventually learned that their co-signs couldn’t launch the careers of dozens of unremarkable affiliates, Opposition knows that they can’t just collide creators with musicians at random in the hopes that their respective audiences will respond. They’ve studied the mistakes made by those who issued co-signs in decades past, and they’ve ironed out all the kinks as they’ve shepherded this technique into the modern era.

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