A conversation with Brian Popowitz of Black Box

Brian Popowitz has forged a long and focused digital marketing career at both indies (Drive Thru Records, Nettwerk) and majors (UMG, Warner). Now he’s taking all of his experience and leading marketing and business development at Black Box, a company that is reinventing artist development for the 21st century with a specialized suite of services for managers and independent labels. In this conversation, Brian shares his thoughts about digital marketing, the framework he uses to construct a strategy and how artists can take better control of their careers.


Can you tell us a bit about Black Box and how you approach digital for your clients?

Black Box is a music marketing company. And, as an approach, we’re a digital-first company, using the digital landscape as the starting point for all of our projects.

We believe that an investment in your digital footprint will act as an annuity, yielding perpetual dividends over time. And further, we believe digital and social is how artists are able to take ownership of their career, and gain both independence and business sustainability.

When we start with an artist, we architect the long-term plan. That blueprint is constructed with an identity, a brand, a vision, and a goal. At the center of the blueprint is the digital perspective; an approach to problem solving that looks at online mediums, user behavior, and data to support the solution. It’s the glue. It’s the medium by which we recognize the existence of the artists. It’s the gateway to connect, inspire, share, and ultimately monetize.

When you build a strategy for an artist, how do you define and set your goals? Is there a particular methodology you use?

Understanding your menu of KPIs (ed: Key Performance Indicator) is the first step. And, understanding the cause and effect of each KPI as it relates to your goals is the next step. Once you identify what it takes to meet your goals and set a benchmark to measure against, it’s the responsibility of the smart and creative marketing team to make it happen.

It can be hard, bespoke, and unpredictable. And sometimes it just doesn’t come together. But you’re best enabled to meet your goals with a clear understanding of your artist identity and the levers to pull to make it happen

Is there something missing from many digital strategies?

If you don’t know where to go, how are you going to get there? To me, that is what’s fundamentally missing. Knowing where you’re going informs your actions. This simple understanding is the difference between a great digital strategy and everything else.

We are so well informed by data. We have the ability to replace panoptic marketing with dynamic and personalized marketing. And there are a million things we could do. Knowing what to do and what not to do is what’s missing.

What are some best practices for an artist looking to craft a clear, focused strategy around their digital footprint?

Start at the beginning and address the fundamentals. Who are you as an artist? What does success look like? Where do you want to be in 6 months, 12 months, three years, 10 years? Answering these critical questions in a brutally honest fashion provides road map to inform everything you do. From there, identify phases in increments of months and address the plans for each phase. A phase can be built around a major moment like an album release or something as simple as an allocation of time to just grow your social audience. And through each phase, your plan should address how your web properties are used to achieve your goals. This includes the usage of photo, video, audio content, cross-marketing, contests, advertising, chats, and more are all used to achieve your goal.

Once a plan is actualized and benchmarks are set, the next step is to execute and evaluate. Not all plans work as designed. You have to gauge your actions and read the data constantly to learn what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

With all the discussions around how artists can monetize, how and when do you weave monetization into your plans?

The future of the music business is a 365 days a year, always-on business. And the future of the revenue streams that feed the music business are fragmented. Today there are pennies and nickels to collect at any stage of your business. And, as you grow, those pennies become dollars and those fragmented revenue streams grow in volume and add new opportunities to monetize. And through it all, we start to see a supplementary revenue stream in the new music economy.

The business of an artist is something to address, day one. The opportunity to monetize that business increases over time as an artist grows.

You’ve worked on a number of campaigns in your career? What’s been your most rewarding campaign and what made it so rewarding?

I’ve been very fortunate to work on a lot of great albums with great teams and great ideas. And those experiences have rewarded me and taught me in many different ways, all for which, I’m grateful. But it’s tomorrow’s reward that I want. In what can be a very jaded industry, I’m excited about what we can do. There’s an instant gratification you feel when your analytics go exponential or your unglamorous work finally pays off when an artist starts to break. But it’s the grind and the journey of each unique campaign where the reward can be found.

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