Interview: Def Jam Recordings Sr. VP of Marketing Chris Atlas Talks the Label’s Dominance

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Words by Priya Pansuria

With over fifteen years of marketing experience under his belt, Chris Atlas has time and time again proven that he knows what it takes to market and promote an album better than most. Atlas is currently the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Def Jam and the product manager for select artists such as Rick Ross, Big Boi, Kanye West’s Cruel Summer and Jeremih, amongst others.

Def Jam was recently placed at the number one spot on The Source’s Power 30 list this year. Atlas spoke to me about the consistent hard work that played a vital role to help make that possible, as well as how Def Jam effectively puts together marketing campaigns for its artists.

Def Jam made the number one spot on The Source’s power 30 list. What about Def Jam this past year do you think helped make that possible?

We had back to back number one albums. Between hits on Billboard Top 200 and R&B and Hip-Hop, Frank Ocean, Nas, 2 Chainz, Cruel Summer, we had a consistent string of number ones. We also exposed a lot of new talent on the roster that we’re excited about for the coming year.

We had the soundtrack for the summer with the consistency and variety of the records that came out.

As you mentioned, Def Jam has had several number one albums this year. What preparations went into getting ready for the release of those albums?

I think we were fortunate to have a series of great releases and artists primed in terms of starting the early set-up of their singles at the end of the previous year going into the beginning of this year.

A lot of the artists work hard themselves in terms of speaking to their fans, going on tour and creating virals. We were able to add to the artists’ visibility and support them. The summer lined up perfectly. We plotted and looked at how things were laying out. We saw [the summer] as a runway for “Let’s take over the summer.”

What are the challenges of having to juggle the release of more than one album?

The good thing about Def Jam is that we have a really strong team. We have a strong team of project managers as well as promotions’ support. So even though we may have had a summer where every two weeks we had a new release, the strong team we have can support that flow of releases.

Also with the diversity of the projects, we were able to give each [artist] their own shine. Frank Ocean is very different from Nas, Nas is very different from Rick Ross, and Rick Ross is very different from 2 Chainz. We market each of them differently. We don’t have a cookie-cutter formula. And fortunately, they all have great music. With great music we can create great campaigns and great strategies.

Cruel Summer recently dropped. How do you go about marketing that album with G.O.O.D. Music being a group of unique artists?

The beauty of Cruel Summer is that not only do you have an artist leading the way like Kanye who has such a strong brand himself, but the whole crew has strong brands and personalities. They all have a fan base of their own. You have all this new talent in the crew as well.

The mission statement and mantra from Kanye in terms of being the best and putting out the best music. And you have each of these different artists that lend their own creative devices to help make the best music.

We had conversations around the office where we compared it to The Avengers in terms of the release. Where in The Avengers each super hero had their own power so with Cruel Summer, each artist had something different that they brought to the table. It’s like the perfect blockbuster album.

So how does marketing for Cruel Summer as a group differentiate from marketing for those artists individually?

There’s different things that we do and there’s different ways to promote it in terms of advertising. It’s important to market where you target consumer is. You may hit more strip clubs than pop clubs for one artist or go more mainstream.

There’s still that underlining core consumer that loves them all. But for them individually, maybe college kids are into it or dirty south kids are into it. Each artist brings out the audience in which they appeal to. Sometimes the audience overlaps but you always start with a core group you are speaking too.

What are some upcoming albums from Def Jam that you’re working on right now?

Big Boi. We’re looking forward to Big Boi’s album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors which is coming out before the end of this year. Big Sean and Pusha T are working on their solo albums respectively that we’re excited for the new Ludacris project. He has a new single out with Kelly Rowland. They’re all putting out singles and setting up for releases for the upcoming year.

How is it working along side Barry Weiss and Joie?

It’s cool. They have a great sense of music and both have been in the industry for several years. They get what it takes to be competitive and aggressive. They’re both strong music men in their own right.

With the digital age on an onward rise, especially within music, how have you seen or helped marketing techniques change at Def Jam over the years to help with that?

We definitely support the digital revolution. I think digital marketing has allowed, not just us, but the industry in general a tremendous outlet to reaching consumers and allowing consumers to reach the artists. The realm of what you can do within the digital landscape is incredible. We support any new trends in the digital landscape because it continues to allow for new marketing ideas and new marketing ideation.

What, in your opinion, has proven to be the strongest technique to pushing an artists’s album?

It depends on the artist. I think a number of techniques work. For Hip-Hop artists it could be viral videos because it just gives a visual component to artists that fans can appreciate. The use Twitter and Instagram, it’s almost like having a conversation with an artist. It’s great that some artists are really aggressive with their social media and communicate with their fans directly. I think it’s valuable. The whole digital landscape and the interactivity that artists can have with their fans are groundbreaking.