Brand Strategy

Major companies are investing in roles exclusively focused on music

Headspace and Orangetheory recently brought on celebs as chief music officers, which could signal a broader trend.
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· 5 min read

There’s a new CMO in town—the chief music officer.

In 2020, Headspace appointed John Legend as chief music officer, while Orangetheory named Steve Aoki to the role in March.

Of course, celebrities have been joining the C-suite in…unconventional roles for years. But as brands across industries pay increasing attention to audio channels and even their own sonic identities, more companies could start investing in music internally—all the way up to the C-level.

“There is no doubt that this is going to continue to gain traction,” Joe Belliotti, CEO of creative music agency MassiveMusic North America, told Marketing Brew. “No one doubts the importance of music to consumers. No one doubts the importance of sound and the value of sound to build brand equity.”

Who wants to be a CMO?

Orangetheory and Headspace both turned to celebrities to serve as their chief music officers. Musicians like Legend and DJs like Aoki, as well as A&R professionals, are in fact “well positioned to be successful CMOs,” said Garrett Crosby, a sonic branding expert and owner of We Time Audio House.

“For companies like Orangetheory and Headspace, it makes a lot of sense that they went with a high-profile DJ and a songwriter, respectively,” Crosby said. “Here, it’s more about reaffirming each company’s culture and curating music for endurance or mindfulness,” he explained, as opposed to dealing with something like music-licensing rights.

As a DJ, Aoki pays attention to aspects of music like beats per minute, which also ties into heart rate during a workout class, Orangetheory senior director of global marketing Tammie DeGrasse-Cabrera explained. Additionally, Orangetheory bet Aoki’s celebrity status would help drive signups, she said.

Aoki has curated the setlist for four “All Out with Aoki” classes so far. Orangetheory plans to release a series of 10 workouts DJed by Aoki.

He’s also responsible for other tasks, including creating a custom track for an upcoming ad campaign and helping establish a “music advisory board” that will assist Orangetheory coaches with their own playlist curation.

DeGrasse-Cabrera said he and his team communicate with Orangetheory about these projects a few times a week. “It’s not just like, ‘Insert celebrity here,’” she said. “He and his team are very invested, as are we, in our brand and our fitness team.”

The trailblazers

A few types of companies in particular could be best suited to usher in the era of the chief music officer, predicted Lauren McGuire, president at sonic branding agency Made Music Studio.

The first already has the ball rolling: companies that are “music dependent,” McGuire said, like health and fitness brands. Retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch and restaurants like Starbucks also fit that bill, according to McGuire, given the prevalence of music in their retail locations.

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In fact, both already have employees curating music. Abercrombie, which has a significant presence on TikTok, confirmed that it has a “music coordinator” who deals with tasks like licensing as part of its A/V team. Starbucks said it has two employees with music-industry backgrounds curating playlists for its US stores, which the company started doing nearly 30 years ago.

Another type of brand that McGuire said could benefit from a chief music officer is the one that has “worked very hard to forge their brand with deep cultural ties to music,” like PepsiCo and Apple.

PepsiCo actually has its own internal music agency called Shakermaker that’s staffed with five employees, according to Adam Harter, the company’s SVP of marketing for sports, media, and entertainment. The team is led by Emma Quigley, PepsiCo’s first head of music, who joined in 2014.

“It gave us one voice to the industry. It gave us one line of sight to the economics across the industry,” Harter told us. “It gave us one consultant and one point of view on best practices and the way we should be leveraging music across all of our brands.”

The Shakermaker team advises the company’s various brands on all things music, from song licensing to artist partnerships, which PepsiCo has deeply invested in. For instance, late last year, the company announced a new annual program called the Pepsi Music Lab “to remove music industry barriers and create opportunities for artists and also shine a spotlight on the next generation of hip hop superstars,” Harter explained.

“We hope, long-term, that artists see us as co-marketing partners,” he said. “We have to make deposits in this bank; we have to make sure that we’re making contributions that build trust.”

Room to grow

Steve Goldberg, VP of cultural strategy at consultancy sparks & honey, said he’s noticed brand executives thinking more about how to incorporate sound into their business strategies since the start of the pandemic.

“That, certainly from an executive standpoint, made people sit up and go, ‘Okay, how are those people listening? How can we reach them and what are they getting out of these audio experiences?’” Goldberg said.

Brands are and should be asking themselves those questions, he said.

Even for brands that aren’t centered around music-based experiences or elements, it makes sense to consider investing more heavily in sound internally, said MassiveMusic’s Belliotti.

“Not enough brands have internal music capabilities at the strategic level,” Belliotti told us. “They have huge departments for sports marketing, but barely any have music. They have design sitting at the strategic level of organizations. Why not music and sound?”

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