Hot Seat: Jamie Farkas – VICE Music, General Manager
Wanna build an empire from the ground up? VICE did just that, using as its foundation a cutting-edge magazine and a record label. Today, VICE is a vertically-integrated multi-media lifestyle brand, with affiliates in more than 30 markets. Its assets stretch across an international network of digital channels, a TV and feature film production studio, a book-publishing division and, of course, a monthly magazine and record label. In 2013, VICE launched a news-magazine series on HBO called VICE, which grabbed an Emmy nomination and is commissioned for a second season, set for 2014.
Music is still core to the VICE business. Much of that has to do with the work of Jamie Farkas.
Farkas has shaped the group’s music division since she joined VICE in 2003. She was there at the launch of VICE Records with the release of British rapper The Streets’ debut album, “Original Pirate Material.” Since then, Farkas and Vice Music have worked with more than 50 artists from Justice, to Action Bronson, Snoop Lion, Black Lips, The Raveonettes, OFF!, and Death From Above 1979. All told, the label boasts more than 7 million album sales worldwide.
Farkas’ music responsibilities run deep. Through the label, she’s involved with music supervision across all VICE properties and projects, corporate consultations, sponsorship and endorsement procurement, artist relations, and talent bookings. And she works closely with Vice’s Noisey to curate the channel’s YouTube content and festival partnerships. In 2011, Vice Music signed a multi-year global partnership with Warner Bros. Records, encompassing distribution, marketing, touring support and other components.
NYC-based Farkas is coming to Australia to speak at mid-November’s Face The Music conference, where she’ll deliver a keynote on the steps to becoming a global artist. FTM is on during Melbourne Music Week, which runs Nov. 15-24.
VICE has built an impressive brand, with arms around the globe. What’s behind its growth?
Since I joined VICE a little more than a decade ago, I’ve watched it become a truly global media brand. When I started it was just a magazine and the record label. Then we launched our online TV network which grew into Vice.com — the hub for the content. And now there are six difference verticals coming out of that, including Noisey, and we’re about to launch food, news and sport. And within that, we’ve become very good at making content to populate all the spots that we have. Content is king. And sometimes that content is music, which is my world. The entire company is in an amazing position. We’re growing exponentially, in terms of the platform and its international reach. We’ve been able to take the model which we’ve found to work online and take them to other platforms. We’re looking at more TV fields on a global level and figuring out how to take those things we mastered online into other spaces. In terms of music, I’ve grown the label and I’ve taken it from being siloed within the company and putting it into a bigger music department. We have a special advantage over our competitors and indie labels in our space—even the majors — because we have the leverage of the entire brand behind us. It’s incredibly unique and valuable and it makes every artist who comes into the family have immediate access to all the fans of this brand. And there’s quite a few.
Are there plans to expand the business further?
There are plans. I’m not sure you ever reach a point where you say, “we’ve done all the growing we’re going to do.” We have offices in 34 countries around the world. A lot of our activities first launched in U.S., then verticals launched internationally.
VICE has a strong connection with hip hop, though the label is much broader with its A&R strategy.
We’ve just announced signing of Deniro Farrar, so we do have a foot in that water. But we’ve never been a genre-specific label. That speaks to the brand being incredibly diverse overall. Everyone we sign is an extension of the brand, and we can utilize all the platforms we have to plug our artists. They’re got to be comfortable being seen that way. We’ve always had a good mix of artists. At an ethos level, we want to work with bands interested in building careers and interested in us being a part of that for the long haul. We’ve never been a label that acts only in terms of album cycles. Artists are creating all the time. Sometimes its not just music-related, but all those things tell a part of their story. We’re here to help tell that story and help grow their audience. Outside of that, we’ve always treated artists that we sign as an extension to the family. Obviously first and foremost it’s a business, but we want to sign people who we also want to sit down and have dinner with. And that dinner doesn’t have to be solely a business conversation.
You’re coming to Australia. We’ve had a few artists from this side of the world kick goals in U.S. in recent years. What are the perceptions right now on music in this part of the world?
With someone like Lorde or Tame Impala, there’s been these big freakout stories. That’s incredibly exciting. But maybe they’re few and far between. Every year or two there’s been one or two big standout artists from Australia or New Zealand who make an impact on the American market. But people are maybe not as in-tune to what else is going on down there. The “smaller” artists, the Dick Divers and Beaches of the world, don’t have a lot of visibility.
Which brings me to your keynote. You’ll talk on making those steps to being an international artist.
Without giving too much away, there is a barrier that maybe doesn’t have to be there. There’ an element of physical and geographical distance. Australia, Japan and New Zealand they are really far away. But the reality is, the way people learn about music and consume it right now is so different that it doesn’t matter sometimes if you’re on Mars. The ability for people to hear about you and listen to you is easy. Access is easy. No one should feel that far away. There’s also the issue of being familiar with how marketing works in other territories. It’s very hard to understand how to develop things in a place you don’t live, and you don’t necessarily have resources. And that is something that scares people. The further away you are from something geographically, the more difficult it is to grasp how things work in other places. At least mentally. There’s some stuff to break down there. It doesn’t need to be as hard as it feels.
Going back to hip hop, I’ve just interviewed the New Zealander David Dallas, whose album just dropped in the U.S. The likes of 360 and Bliss N Eso have had a crack at the U.S. Is America ready for a hip hopper with an accent from Down Under?
Sure. Anything is realistic. The reality is, if you’re talented, that’s what matters first and foremost. It’s a matter of harnessing that talent and figuring out how to expose that to people. It’s also about how you gain awareness and exposure and what your strategy is. There’s also the notion that some things are so region-specific, it couldn’t make sense in another country outside a small pocket of people who like it or seek it out. Hip hop isn’t one of those things.
Face the Music will be held November 15-16 at the Melbourne Art Centre.