Live: In Conversation with Junior Foster Part III of III

Junior Foster

Head Of Global Artist Relations at Napster

Every month Byta’s founder, Marc Brown, sits down for an in-depth one-to-one Zoom conversation with someone who provides deep music industry insights and tips. 

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation is designed to deliver the knowledge to enable tomorrow’s artists and industry leaders to better manoeuvre their way through the music ecosystem. 

This episode’s guest was Junior Foster, the former Head Of Global Artist Relations at Deezer. He is now the Head Of Global Artist Relations at Napster. Junior works directly with artists, labels and managers to lead and organize artist marketing campaigns across all major and independent labels. What are the best practices when working with digital streaming platforms? How do artists and their teams incorporate streaming into a music marketing plan? What about playlists, how effective can they be? This conversation goes deep into the art and passion required to make it and make great music.

Make Streams Come True: Using Streaming Platforms to Your Advantage

Junior Foster brings with him over 20 years of experience in music and film. He held several positions at Sony Records, working on campaigns for a broad range of artists including Foo Fighters, Mark Ronson, Nas, Beyonce and Shakira to name a few. Junior also worked in the film industry for over six years with brands such as Paramount Pictures and Disney. During this time, he also started his own creative marketing agency and worked closely on the creation of creative album artwork such as Pete Tong’s ‘Classic House’ and Wilkinson’s ‘Hypnotic’.

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Junior Foster, took place on October 26th, 2021. Junior was the former Head Of Global Artist Relations at Deezer, since his conversation with Marc he now has the same title, but at Napster.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Part III of III

In part III (below), Marc asks Junior what newer artists should be thinking about doing when they want to work with Deezer? Junior explains that Deezer will know about you if you put in the work, play live, and develop a community. This last part of the interview gets into how to be organised: help others help you succeed.

It should be noted that Junior went over and above by being a part of this edition of #HowWeListen Live: In Conversation. He was speaking to Marc from the hospital where his son, Oscar, had just been born days earlier, mid-COVID crisis.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Marc Brown: I have a question from someone before we talk about newer artists.

How is Deezer working with the upcoming UK R&B scene? Do you do anything that may be specific to that scene in the UK? 

Junior Foster: Good question. I am a Brit who loves the UK R&B scene, but it remains a genre that, for some reason, is one of the most difficult to work in. It just is, specifically for the UK. As that UK audience evolved, they have always gone over to the US or anywhere else other than the UK to digest all of their R&B.

What we do, as a result, is we have many, many playlists, and what I love about R&B is that it essentially isn’t geo-targeted. I can put anyone next to Dwele. I like working with people like Jack James, or you’ve got people like Ray Black or Cleo Soul; loads of different people you can put next to the established US artists, and we feed those in. The R&B scene is something that I really want to see win because four or five years ago, it was difficult for a UK artist in the R&B scene to get any love. So we have R&B playlists for that. We push them together next to established artists so they get their shine right next to an established artist. I think that should answer your question! We put them all together and push them out. 

Marc: That’s a perfect segway into this idea of playlists. What is the most popular playlist on Deezer? I forgot to ask! Do you have one that blows all the others out of the water? 

Junior: I mean, Deezer is a French company, so by default so it would typically be our Fresh List in France which is like what you would call your top forty, the biggest bangers coming out at that time. 

Marc: So the biggest French bangers? (laughs)

Junior: I’m talking on a global level. There are a couple of playlists in Brazil that are, purely because of the way that people digest music in those regions, ridiculously huge. If you’re talking about numbers, those would be the biggest ones. If you’re talking about those playlists that get the “cut through”, you’ve got the pop hits of the moment. In the UK, we’ve got our Brand New UK which is where everyone goes for their new music on a Friday drop. 

It’s a question that you can’t quite answer because it depends on what part of the world you’re in. 

Marc: “Cut through” what is cut through? Is that something that starts to work or that really has an impact? 

Junior: Ya, it “cuts through” all the noise and just flies. 

Marc: Ok, this is super interesting! When I chat with artists, I hear them say, “I’ve just got to get on a playlist.” Something that came up ages ago was the “dry stream” idea. This relates to what I remember from being in radio. Everybody thought, “Oh well if I can just get on the playlist at a super popular radio station, everything else will happen right away.” As I know from doing that job:  there is no one thing. The worst thing you can do is get one piece of success without anything happening elsewhere. The idea of this “dry stream” comes from when you get the impact or cut through somewhere, but it’s not delivering anywhere else. 

Can you tell us a bit about what newer artists should be thinking about doing when they want to engage with Deezer? What’s the best strategy for a newer artist to be thinking when they want to move their profile forward everywhere and at DSPs? What would be the best first steps to take? 

Junior: If you are a new artist, I feel that you need to not only think about streaming platforms and DSPs, but you need to be, now that the world is re-opening, you need to be out there playing live. If you can, you need to be growing your social following, and your fanbase. You have to do that because before you get to us, you need to be your best you. You need to understand your stuff, you need to know what your fans like, and you need to be building that fanbase because when you come to us, in the same way you would’ve gone to radio, we will be asking you, “Ya, ok we like this music but what else is going on?” Then we need to have those conversations. 

I will look at your social numbers, and I will look and see what you’ve been up to. Why wouldn’t I? We can do that now that we’re in the digital world. I can take a deep dive and pretty much research anyone on this screen and see what they’re up to.

As an artist, you can’t just focus on streaming because your career will not have any longevity. You need to be trying to get playlisted on radio and get rotation on radio. You need to be playing live. Try to get bookings as a support act and building and working your craft.

When you come to us, and I ask, “What’s going on?” Then you can show me you’ve gone out there and you’re putting in work, and then I can hear it in your music because your music is honest. You understand yourself. You understand what your music means to people. Everyone’s different, but you need to have a connection with your fanbase. That is the emotional part I talked about. All DSPs need to see that. 

There are times when you just know this artist is coming along, and they’ve got a track, and they’ve never gone out to play even one gig, but this track is brilliant, and you go with it. But that doesn’t just happen every day. As an artist or as a manager of an artist that is new, put in the work.

You have to put in the work across all mediums. Talk to everybody. Don’t just talk to one DSP; talk to everyone. Spread the word, and get your music heard. Play as much as you can because it will all build into you having a career and getting followers for your art, which is what you want.

Everyone wants to get paid, and I appreciate that, but you want to get paid and be seen as an artist that is making great music with a connection to their fanbase. That is the key. You want to be leaving great bodies of work for people to listen to. 

Marc: A note I made when we spoke last week was that the first step is to grow your art. And the second step is to grow you. That as an artist need to know what you want to do. If I’m an artist and I have a track that you like, but I can’t articulate what my plan is, then how can you know what I want to do? 

Junior: 100%. 

Marc: Super interesting. I have a question: what if you don’t have the social numbers, but you’re still working on the ground with live gigs? Would that be considered more important than socials? I’m assuming you don’t have a hierarchy, do you?

Junior: No, definitely not! And what I’ll say to that is if your social numbers aren’t great, which is fine, but you’re out there playing, we will know that! We will see that, and we will go and have a look and see what’s going on. I want people to understand that just because you say it’s so, that does not mean I won’t go and have a look, that our team isn’t going to go and have a look, investigate. That’s what we’re here to do. We want to make sure that what you’re telling us is right and true. 

If you’re doing a lot in the live scene, nine times out of ten, I’ll know someone from the scene you’re in, and I’ll have a conversation. 

Marc: You’ve got eyeballs everywhere! 

Junior: I will say this, it’s not only about socials. No, it’s not at all. Socials is the last thing I will look at if I’m being brutally honest. I want to know what you’ve been doing out live, what your music sounds like, and if you perform well. If you don’t play live, it doesn’t matter because, again, it’s the digital world, so you don’t have to be in the present. You can be faceless to a certain degree. I just want to know if I can work with you. 

When I have conversations, nobody has to be confident. It’s not about being the most confident artist in the world. I’ve met many artists, from established to mid-level to starting out, who have no confidence in front of people. When they start they turn into a different person. I’m alright with that because I’ve spent my life around this, so I can pick out the bits I need from a conversation even if somebody isn’t overly saying something.

But, we want to have those conversations, you know? We want to see things. We might want to come to a gig. You’ll see me there because I’m pretty big, I’ve always got a cap on, you’ll always see me at the back of the room just taking it in. We’ll come down and see artists performing now that the world is opening up again, and that could be all we need, just to see you live. That could be the tipping point. 

But I will repeat this; it’s not all about playlisting. Your music still ends up on Deezer whether you’re in a playlist or not. You should still be uploading onto all the DSPs whether you’re on our playlist or not. At the end of the day, the fanbase you’re growing will go and find your music and want to playlist it, and they will go and stream it. You need to remember that. 

Every artist that releases anything on Deezer has an artist page. 

Put in the work. Make sure your artist page looks correct. Press shot, bio, and gig list, and use Deezer as your ticket. Imagine me as nobody, I’m just a person who has Deezer on his phone, and I look through, and I see you, Marc, on there. I check you out and see a nice press shot, location, and gig list. I like your music, so I decide to go and buy tickets. Job done. That has nothing to do with a playlist. That’s about managing your profile on Deezer. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

You have to put the work in because, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you need to present yourself in the best possible light to consumers that are perusing because they are always perusing. I can start off at ABBA and then end up in Metallica. My point is, on that journey, I could find your artist page, so you need to do that. 

Marc: I’ve got a couple of other things I wanted to talk about, but first, I wanted to ask about this idea. So when we think about traditional radio, maybe certain songs are popular because a lot of people like them, but maybe it is because they sound good at one in the afternoon. One of the great things about streaming is the idea that there are a lot of different communities and that a lot more things can be popular now. This is just my perception of things, and I wanted to get your opinion. A lot of people can find their own community musically. If I’m in Sweden, I can listen to stuff from the UK. You mention that many of your team are into really diverse and different niches. So I wanted to understand two things: 

A, what do you think of that, and 

B, Do you have any advice for people who think they make music that’s not considered mainstream? 

Junior: Keep making that music is what I’d say first and foremost. From my inception, I come from a non-mainstream background, Jungle and Drum & Bass. We were seen in London as the outlaws that weren’t allowed in… we had to run squat raves and all sorts of things. What I learned was about a community, which is what you touched on. Keep making your music because, on Deezer, there is a playlist for everything. We cover every variation you can think of because we have different people in different pockets. Even if there isn’t a playlist you might end up on, you’re still creating your community. You’re part of a community whether you want to be or not. You are creating a community, and you are part of a community. 

If you start making music that isn’t true to you, this is what I’m talking about when I say be honest. Trying to make mainstream music, but it isn’t you; it won’t sound right. At the end of the day, it will come across as a bit fake. What we’re getting now, maybe because of lockdown and people really being stuck at home, everyone is much more sensitive to everything that is going on. Everyone is being really honest about making music that means something to them.

Keep making your music and being honest because honest music is the stuff that’s cutting through. People will understand an honest artist. They will say to themselves, “That artist there is talking directly to me. I understand what she’s saying!” Or, “That non-binary artist, they are talking to me, and they understand what I’m going through in my little village.” Community is coming up everywhere, and everyone is supporting everybody. We need to stick to that ethos. 

This is what I talk about when I talk about an artist and their art. You’ve got to protect that. You’ve got to make music that’s right for you because somebody somewhere is in that community with you. Keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t feel that you need to go and make something just because you think you’ll get more “cut through” by making a wonderful pop track that has harps at the start and… I don’t know why I picked harps. 

Just make music that’s true to you! 

Marc: I wanted to end it there, but I want to ask this one question about timelines. This is another thing I think most newer artists get wrong. Can we talk about when you like to get things or when the right type of timeline is for what you do? 

Junior: Early. 

Marc: Early? How early? 

Junior: I can’t stand somebody talking to me about a release they’ve got on a Friday, and they’re talking to me on a Wednesday or Tuesday. You’re not giving yourself the best opportunity. You as an artist or label, are not giving yourself the best opportunity. Suppose you give me two weeks. Two weeks out is a minimum. I understand things can happen. Try not to be in that situation. Try to knock things out. Lead time is key! 

Marc: So, how much lead time? Minimum two weeks, but if you’re a newer artist, it must be longer? 

Junior: Ya! If you’re a newer artist, we have a conversation. I’ve had conversations with people two months ahead of a release. There have been times when we’ve gotten close to the release, and I completely forgot I had spoken to them. They’ll hit me up and go, “Oh, we spoke,” and I’ll go, “Yes we did, we’re good. You sent me your links, and everyone is aware of it.” This email that you’re sending me now is a nudge so I can remind the editors that the release we spoke about three months ago is happening in two weeks. 

Marc: The art of the nudge! It’s very important. 

Junior: Bottomline. That’s what the team does. People will contact me, and I’ll direct them to one of my team. You should speak to this person. They’ll send you everything you need to know about getting your music up, how to pitch, and how to pitch correctly to Deezer because we have different forms. There are many different ways you can get onto Deezer without even having to speak to somebody. The polite nudge always works. You’ve just got to remember that on any given day, my inbox is constantly getting hit by another six or seven hundred releases. 

Marc: Someone could be having a baby, so you never know what’s going on! 

Junior: Exactly. We also have Deezer for Curators, which is essentially how you can manage your artist profiles or label profiles. If you’re a manager, you can put your details in and the information for the artists you manage. If you’re an independent label, you can also put it in. Then you can start controlling your narrative and getting your music up there. From that point, then we have the conversations down the line about 

A, if you can get playlisted, and B, Whether your artist is the right one for one of my campaigns that I’m putting together locally or globally. 

And that’s that. 

Marc: Well, look, I want to thank you a lot, that was a super fun chat, and you are super committed, showing up two days after having your baby. Thanks for everything, I love your perspective on how art is the most important thing, and I think that gets lost in the shuffle. 

Junior: Always. 

Marc: It’s an excellent perspective, and I’ve learnt tons! Thanks very much, and we’ll speak to you soon! 

Junior: Thanks, be well! 

Miss part I? Read here.