NASHVILLE, Tennessee – One of the things that has most surprised me as an entertainment journalist is how many people it takes for a song or singer to become notable.
Besides the artist and the songwriter (who may or may not be the same person) there are backup bands, producers, and music engineers. To make sure the song gets proper copyrighting and credit, there are publishers. For anyone to even know the song/artist exists, there are PR agents, marketing, and promotions. And let’s not forget accountants who make sure money earned goes to the correct places. If one is lucky enough, they may sign to a label that will take over some of these duties but if you aren’t making money for that label, your contract will soon end.
However, since the early 2000s, there is another caveat that must be acknowledged: social media. Social media is vital to an artist’s existence and success and even more so if one is independent.
Cassie Petrey and Jade Driver are co-founders and co-CEOs of the leading social media and artist management firm, Crowd Surf.
They are the company behind some of the most iconic artists’ social media marketing including Backstreet Boys, Camila Cabello, Eric Church, Jimmie Allen, Guns ‘N Roses, Duran Duran, Pink, Ed Sheeran, Matthew J. West, and influencers: Loren Gray, Catie Turner, Trevi Moran and many more.
Petrey was 17 years old when she was a college rep for Warner Music Group Nashville overseeing social networking campaigns for label stars including Faith Hill and Blake Shelton in the mid-2000s. She was among the first in the music industry to recognize the vast marketing potential of nascent social platforms like Myspace and Facebook, and today her company Crowd Surf is top in the industry with a large presence in Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York.
Petrey met Driver when they were both attending MTSU in 2004-2007. After working together in college, they founded Crowd Surf in 2007 at a time when record labels and fans were just starting to pay attention to how one’s prominence on social media directly impacted their career.
Myspace was the first platform where one’s popularity really became a thing to be reckoned with.
Driver explains, “We were college kids using Myspace. We knew better than any record industry executive because we were using “this new technology” daily. It was an easy thing to move into on the marketing side.”
A young Petrey asked, “Why aren’t some of these major artists on Myspace?”
In 2006, it was Myspace, then it was YouTube and shortly thereafter, Facebook and Twitter were launched, quickly becoming game changers in the world of digital media.
Now most artists have reps to guide them through media marshlands, but back then it wasn’t like that. Petrey did a lot of “cold calling” trying to get help for artists’ Twitter and Facebook pages. Back then, Facebook didn’t have separates “pages” for artists or companies. Petrey and Driver were on the cutting edge as celebrities would quickly reach their 2000 – 5000 maximum “friend” count and they had to figure out what to do until Facebook caught up.
They were there in the beginning and were figuring out things way ahead of the record labels and artists.
Driver stated, “We’ve been established for a while. We had some luck in the beginning where opportunity meets ambition. We put our heads down and did what we thought should be done and got some major clients early on.”
First, they were with Warner, then Capital Nashville with Keith Urban, Lady A, Darius Rucker, and most of their roster.
“Nobody really knew what they were doing with digital, but it was natural to us because had used it recreationally and knew it well and morphed it into a marketing tool,” Driver expounded.
Because they were among the first to jump on the digital social media bandwagon, they didn’t have to market themselves because there weren’t many people who could do what they were doing.
The pair have incredible work ethics and have proved themselves by working hard and getting the job done.
After a year or so they got their first intern and it grew to 4, 8, and 16. Now there are 50 employees at Crowd Surf. And while social media is the norm for most people, established labels and artists don’t often have the time or personnel to meet their own needs and/or their clients. Using an experienced company like Crowd Surf is just good business sense in the burgeoning music industry.
And while most artists are somewhat involved in their own social media, it is something that is often not possible for one person to handle. It’s more than Facebook and Instagram. It’s everything digital, from streaming and DSPs to press and websites and beyond.
“It does take an army of people to manage the entire digital platforms that are out there,” Driver emphasized.
Most recently, TikTok has emerged as the leading go-to digital platform for rising entertainers. Several of the artists I have featured were discovered on TikTok and actually got record label deals because of their viral videos.
Crowd Surf understands TikTok and how its complex algorithms work. And while they can’t predict who will go viral next, they help artists and labels navigate the murky waters and find the best way to market themselves.
They understand that there are influencers for every topic imaginable. The way most people are now reached is by digital platforms. There are hundreds more marketing options besides radio, television, or print ads.
Petrey said, “Most artists are involved in their branding and social media. Where we come in is helping organize all the different platforms that they must attend to, making it easier on them and more cohesive. We keep them updated on all these things that are constantly changing because every week we get updates on new tools they’ve rolled out or changes they made. Our main agenda is to make it more manageable and less stressful for artists. Our job is evolving but that is a big part of what we are doing now.”
Crowd Surf’s founders Cassie Petrey and Jade Driver have been named to power lists in Variety, Billboard, and Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” feature. Petrey and Driver have spoken at SXSW, New Music Seminar, and other conferences, including the recent inaugural Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi featuring global thought leaders.
Their services include Website Development and Maintenance, Social Media Content and Management, E-mail List Creation and Strategy, Technology Partnerships, Digital Creative, Direction and Services, Influencer Relations, Digital PR, and whatever new digital platforms that are sure to arise.
You can follow Crowd Surf on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linked In.
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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blog, Instagram, and Twitter.