During a normal year, the United Talent Agency team is busy helping clients like Chance the Rapper, Bad Bunny and Machine Gun Kelly release new music and go on tour to promote their work.
Of course, 2020 didn’t look like it – but the United Talent Agency team, consisting of all women and led by Alisann Blood and Toni Wallace, concluded around 300 deals for around 275 customers last year, thinking outside the box and working with them their A-listeners together to embrace all virtual things. The result is an eight-digit music business for the agency and completely new ways in which talented musicians can work with brands in the fashion sector.
Since the pandemic began, deals have included Princess Nokia’s partnership with NYX Cosmetics, where she developed bespoke lip kits; Chance on the rapper’s Bitmoji fashion collection with Ralph Lauren (certainly the first of its kind for the American brand); Doing business between Lauryn Hill and Louis Vuitton, Arlo Parks and Gucci, and AJ Tracey with Versace; Bebe Rexha’s brand ambassador at Puma and Deichmann; YG’s K-Swiss sneaker launch deal and finally Bad Bunny’s Adidas Originals collaboration.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, when it all started, everyone was in a moment when people were off the road, they were sitting at home. If you think back, we didn’t even know what it really was. But it was fun because it actually gave us the opportunity to get really creative with our customers, ”says Blood. “On the music side, the artists are usually out and about most of the year. Suddenly everyone is now sitting in one place in their homes and it became a really fun test of what [were] some of the different things we could do in digital space while people were literally sitting on their couches. “
So much was uncertain at the start of COVID-19 that brands didn’t even have a grasp of how to budget partnerships, and it was unclear how long such pandemic-restricted agreements would last.
“That’s how you started seeing some of the early deals that had really artists talking to fans in their living rooms,” explains Blood. “We partnered with Pitbull and Bose very early on, where he talked about music and how sound influenced his experience. They were very early on about the pandemic, and then as time went by and we got used to the pandemic and it became clear that this was actually going to take longer than people thought, brands and artists felt themselves with this new normal more comfortable. Things started to move and there were a lot of creative iterations and deals that we made. “
Chance the Rapper is one of their most successful examples. At the start of the pandemic, UTA orchestrated deals for him with General Mills and Verizon that were virtual partnerships, and after seeing these paying off, they earned him a partnership with Ralph Lauren where he was part of theirs first Bitmoji fashion made a livestream did collection.
“Opportunity is someone who has done a really incredible job, working in an interesting way in the brand space, and specifically using live streaming as a solid way to do it,” says Blood. “[Ralph Lauren] came about mainly because Chance is a brand fan and has been wearing their products from the start. “
“When we’re through the pandemic, what I’m most excited about is that brands are finally starting to invest in artist-owned and operated content,” said Wallace. “We talked about this for a long time as an industry, but the pandemic has accelerated the process. Artists and their creative teams have always produced some of the best, most innovative content in the world. They set trends and culture not only in music, but also in visual media. During the pandemic, many brands started hiring the artist and their teams to create content while we were at home. We have done this with Post Malone, Bad Bunny, Chance the Rapper, and many others. This not only creates more authentic content and experiences for the fans, but also creates a more seamless partnership between the brands and the artists with great value creation efficiency for all parties. “
Even if things open up again and recover, the UTA team sees digital deals as a future.
“I think even if we go back to an environment where live music is returning to what it is now and brands start having real experiences, there will always be a digital element in these partnerships,” says Blood. “I think especially now with the rise of TikTok over the past 18 months, you will continue to see digital elements in every campaign that takes place. A good example of this is a campaign we just did for Bebe Rexha to be the face of Adore Me. She is the face of the celebrity and they have never used a celebrity in their campaigns before. Many digital elements play a role in this campaign in particular. She is constantly on her TikTok and Instagram and does parts of this campaign. Often times, there are personal appearances that come into play [deals]; with Bebe, she had a partnership with Puma and Deichmann in Europe, events that she would normally have attended in person, and we had to do them virtually. She makes virtual appearances with Adore Me. I don’t really think that will change. You will see a mixture. “
“Working with Alisann and her team was a pleasure: They understand me both as an individual and as an artist,” says Rexha in an email. “With their guidance and expertise, I’ve been fortunate to work with brands that resonate with my fans and also align with my values.”
Just as Rexha became the first prominent face of a brand, many companies in the fashion and beauty sector have changed the way they work with talent over the past year – and demand continues to rise.
“Fashion and music have always been properly coordinated with one another; so many of the artists we work with when we sit down with talent and really roadmap the opportunities and things they want to focus on, fashion is usually what i would say in the top three, sometimes one or two . ”Blood says. “I wouldn’t say that fashion partnerships were necessarily different during the pandemic, but everyone just tried to think a little bit more outside the box and think creatively.”