With a roster of artist-influencers and strong corporate backing, the label’s new brand is poised to face formidable competition.
About two years ago, Ryan Ruden – father of two and head of tours and events at Columbia Records – realized: his young children, now aged 4 and 7, couldn’t read yet, but they made find out how to request their favorite music (including “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X) on voice activated devices like Amazon Alexa. Soon after, he met up with Sony’s global business development team and asked them to pull the numbers for the top voice activation requests.
The data strongly supported his intuition that children are increasingly using these devices – on Alexa, the Moana and Frozen soundtracks, and of course the force that is ‘Baby Shark’, helped make children’s music one of the most demanded genres – and gave him an idea: it could harness the power of these adept kids. Alexa to create a brand of music that both they and and their parents could come in. “When I was little you really used to listen to music in the car,” Ruden recalls. Now, “as the kids go from the car to the kitchen” – and get more tech savvy – “if I listen to a cover song and love it and my kids love it, that’s a victory “.
At the time, Ruden had recently expanded his role to include experiential marketing and senior vp business development, and he had started looking for investment opportunities for Columbia (and Sony in general) in children’s music, as well as in games / esports, social good and voice activation. By the end of 2018, he had introduced a new brand focused on kids, and in May 2019, Columbia Records officially launched Jam Jr.
A list of influencers
“I looked at the market and felt we could do better,” says Ruden. Jam Jr. currently consists of eight active artists aged 11-19, all of whom are social media influencers (with Instagram accounts mostly managed by their parents due to the 13+ age policy of the platform) signed with Columbia as exclusive recording artists. . His most recent, signed in early April, is Gavin Magnus, a 13-year-old with 1.3 million Instagram followers. There’s also Hayley LeBlanc (3.5 million Instagram followers), who previously had a contract with Disney’s Maker Studios; Gem Sisters, YouTubers, and Real-Life Sisters Giselle, Évangéline and Mercedes Lomelino; and Jessalyn Grace, who has her own collection in collaboration with girls’ fashion retailer Justice. The signed record covers – for now, mainly the 40 best hits – which are then released and marketed under the aegis of Jam Jr.
It’s not an entirely new concept: Kidz Bop, which is distributed by Concord, formed almost two decades ago and has released 40 compilations of little-known young singers recording stripped-down versions of massive pop hits, while that Musical.ly, acquired by Warner, also promoted artist-influencers before TikTok took control of the space. But Jam Jr. marks the first time a major record company has created their own brand of indoor children’s music, and Ruden sees three key factors that he hopes will set her apart: her artist-influencers, with their built-in followers and potential for peers. -marketing between peers; its access to top Columbia artists (who could promote Jam Jr. content and also benefit from the extensive promotion it offers them) and the Sony / ATV catalog; and the educational component published with each cover, in which a Jam Jr. artist explains everything from what a ukulele is (paired with an “Old Town Road” cover) to the origins of 1900s New Orleans to a backbeat (associated with a cover of Lennon “La Di Da” by Stella). Additionally, Sony owns 100% of the content in Jam Jr.
It is Sony Music Group’s global infrastructure and reach, however, that gives Jam Jr. its greatest competitive advantage in a rapidly growing market, especially at a time when, due to the coronavirus pandemic, kids are at home 24/7 crying out for entertainment. In the week ending March 19, children’s music was the only genre to experience an increase in overall consumption units from the previous week, according to Nielsen Music / MRC Data, and its streams increased by 6, 3% compared to the previous week. (This percentage was initially 9.8%, but on April 9, MRC Data / Nielsen Music revised the 2020 stream count retroactively due to a change in methodology). “Anytime an initiative can leverage the power of the wider Sony business, it increases the potential for success,” said Steve Russo, executive vice president / CFO of Columbia. “The extent to which we can gain a competitive advantage is important. As Ruden puts it, “It’s not just me and my two friends, just cold DM people on Instagram. “
So far, Ruden has secured backing from star Columbia actors like Lil Nas X and John Legend – both of whom have previously promoted Jam Jr. via video content – a sign, he says, that others on the list of the label will see the attraction of working with the brand. Sam Hurley of Jam Jr., a 16-year-old with flexible hair and 1 million Instagram followers, recently covered Harry Styles’ “Adore You”; around ball season, Jam Jr. will be launching a TikTok campaign to “make this track reappear and spark interest in Harry – that’s an added benefit to the whole ecosystem,” says Ruden.
Powered by Sony / ATV catalog
Jam Jr.’s access to SonyThe ATV editorial catalog could prove to be even more advantageous. “At least from an operational and efficiency standpoint, it streamlines the customs clearance process allowing certain compositions to be used in our cover versions,” says Russo. Sony / ATV has so far licensed a dozen songs to Jam Jr., from Beyoncé’s “Halo” to holiday classics “Silver Bells” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, both of which have been released. resumed last year. Jr. Christmas Jam album. Wende Crowley, senior vice president of creative marketing for film / television at Sony / ATV Music Publishing, sees Jam Jr. as “introducing a new generation of fans to great music” and hopes that in the future he will delve into the Motown catalog as well as country classics. (Sony / ATV owns the copyrights to Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and other legends of the genre.)
And while covers of the top 40 hits are “a great entry point,” says Ruden, artists have Jam Jr. songwriters. “If we start to create original music and [intellectual property] it’s ours, so he really becomes convincing on the business side, ”he says.
Right now, however, Ruden wants to see Jam Jr. succeed on YouTube with familiar successes, explaining that “A visual component is essential for learning and creating more engaging content, which in turn will lead to greater brand awareness. “ As of November 2018, Jam Jr.’s YouTube downloads – which include music videos, behind-the-scenes clips, and educational components, all endorsed by the Grammy Music Education Coalition and the National Association for Music Education – have collectively raised $ 15.1 million. of views. Recently, the cover of Harry Styles’ “Lights Up” by British artist Jam Jr. Sapphire became Vevo’s UK No.12 music video two weeks after its release, just behind Selena Gomez’s “Boyfriend”. went on to reach No.1 on the Vevo UK New Artist Music Video Chart). As Jam Jr. grows up, Ruden is keen to recruit more influencers outside of the United States, citing Japan and Germany in particular.
He also prioritizes touring – his expertise and, he expects, a big revenue driver for the brand. “It would be a really cool show to have kids singing pop songs, original songs and then learning music education: what is a chorus, a harmony, a chord? Ruden said. Jam Jr. intended to “shoot aggressively” this summer and winter – mostly 1000-seat venues and state fairs / festivals, where family entertainment thrives – but these are now on hiatus due to the coronavirus.
In his place, Ruden “accelerated our content strategy” and encouraged artists to think creatively. On April 4, Jam Jr. released a home music video for Magnus’ cover of Justin Bieber’s “Changes” (a Universal recording in which Sony / ATV owns a share) – which cost just $ 2,500. A week later, on April 11, Magnus released another home video for his cover of Post Malone’s “Circles” (also a Universal recording in which Sony / ATV owns a share). “It’s something very organic for these artists,” says Russo. “Making DIY visuals through Instagram and TikTok, not those elaborate, traditional video shoots from major labels.”
In a saturated space ruled by behemoths like Disney and Kidz Bop, even a new brand from a group of big labels faces challenges. Ruden admits that “there is basically a competitor in this space” (one he prefers not to name). But he’s confident that the vast network of support Jam Jr. has already built – from Sony Music Group, to partnerships with brands like Girl Scouts and Walmart, to an upcoming partnership with what he calls “the biggest tween brand next to Disney “- set it up for growing success. “Victory for me,” he said, “is if more brands come in.” This, says Russo, “will raise the awareness of [Jam Jr.] not only among young people, but among parents who spend money with these brands. It is an important element.
And as new opportunities arise, those benefits may well extend far beyond Jam Jr.’s own niche. “Our overall thesis is always artists first,” says Ruden – and it’s not. hard to see Jam Jr. become an artist development boot camp or some sort of incubator for Sony. “It’s a good feeding system,” he says. “There is a big gap between getting the social right and being signed in a major. But hopefully if we get some of that right, one of these artists we sign will break through. “