Zeena Koda has done just about everything in the music world. She toured and played in a band. She interned at a record label, working heavy metal albums. She was the host of a national TV pilot.
But she’s really found her creative home as Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Atlantic Records, in a role that has her “sculpting the communication vehicle” for some of the label’s biggest and most influential releases. Listen in as she takes you through each step of her music business path, as she explains the important mantra on her office whiteboard, and as she details working with artists like Bazzi and Rico Nasty.
This is the story of Zeena Koda.
Zeena Koda: And I think that a lot of people, no matter how artistic you can be, fail to realize that at the end of the day this is a business. A lot of people actually ask me, “Is this role creative? Even though we’re in a business?” And it is. It’s actually probably one of the most creative, because you’re really sculpting the communication vehicle for a lot of these releases.
Intro: Hello and welcome to Landed, the story of the music business, told by the people behind the scenes. On each episode, we’ll welcome in someone from the music industry. Discovering how they started out, how they got the skills to work with the biggest artists in the world, and what advice they have for up-and-comers. Each conversation will show how they’re navigating the ever-evolving landscape of music today.
On this episode, music producer and author Jesse Cannon will be speaking with yours truly, Zeena Koda, Senior Director of Digital Marketing for Atlantic Records.
Zeena Koda: Hi my name is Zeena Koda. Senior Director of Digital Marketing. I oversee all the urban digital marketing efforts for Atlantic Records, which is a lot of them.
Jesse Cannon: Yes. I think I’m just going to get this out of the way on the podcast. We are old, old, old friends who know each other. So, any of the laughing rapport is just because this is funny to do.
Zeena Koda: Yes, Jesse recorded one of my bands.
Jesse Cannon: That’s true. That’s true. And we have lots of mutual bestie friends. So what made you want to work in the music business?
Zeena Koda: I guess the realization that being in a band and touring in a band was a little bit more difficult financially, and emotionally, and physically, than I thought it initially was. I’ve always loved music and always been in love with making music, being involved with other musicians. Just really trying to figure out exactly where in the music industry I fit I guess was definitely a challenge, and my road to wherever I am today.
I love being in a band, love feeling the energy of live music, love working with artists who have amazing, ridiculous, beautiful ideas. And making them something more realistic. And steering people in the right way, because not everybody cares. And it’s really incredible to have an artistic view of exactly how I want to roll something out and strategically look at those things. And just being able to do that for a living when I initially started as an artist is something pretty incredible to me.
Jesse Cannon: That’s awesome. So tell me this long road that got you here today to Atlantic. Tell me about that.
Zeena Koda: Oh man. So it’s kind of ironic and interesting that I’m actually overseeing urban digital marketing, which literally at this point is marketing for the most part. As you already know, I came from like more of the rock and metal world. I was a musician then started working at indie labels, doing PR and marketing at the time. Found an opportunity to actually DJ on Sirius XM and…
Jesse Cannon: Talk about some of the…I know you have a really interesting past. Give us some details.
Zeena Koda: And it’s a long past. That’s why I don’t want to bore anybody with-
Jesse Cannon: No, no, no, no, no. They don’t know. We know.
Zeena Koda: I started making music when I was younger. When I was in college, I actually did study music therapy, which is a beautiful profession, but didn’t necessarily pan out to be my trajectory. So I decided to join a band, start making music for myself. Actually interned at a death metal label, which was where my first start in the business was. Earache Records. Shouts to Earache, Carcass, At The Gates. Actually have some At The Gates vinyl here.
Jesse Cannon: Yeah.
Zeena Koda: Next to my Nipsey Hussle and Erykah Badu vinyl here. And learned a lot there actually, because it was an environment where you could really get hands-on with a little bit of everything. And at the time, it was maintaining the website, writing news stories every day for the death metal bands, doing PR, working with major like media outlets at the time. When print actually was a big thing. Bringing guests up to Sirius XM, which actually helped parlay into my next job after that. And just kind of really work my ass off there. And then moved over to Roadrunner Records after a few months, which was a bigger record label (and funny enough now under the Atlantic umbrella). So it all comes full circle, 10 plus years later.
I spent a little time at Roadrunner, and what was interesting is that was a time when the music business actually crashed. And I was like, “Fuck.” I got laid off, along with many other people. Warner scooped up Roadrunner. And then I thought to myself, “Well, what the hell am I going to do in my life?” So for six months I interviewed for every job under the sun, and bartended, and worked in Newark, New Jersey.
Jesse Cannon: Yeah.
Zeena Koda: And made music and thought, “Well maybe this is it, maybe this is not going to work out.” And then I chipped away and I just feel like everything in life comes at the right time. And sometimes you sit and you throw your hands down and you’re like, “It’s not going to be the right time, it’s not going to happen now.” And serendipitously, things kind of came up together at once. And I started working for Cornerstone, which is a creative agency arm of the FADER magazine. And got an opportunity to do digital PR at the time. Which literally is digital marketing at this point.
And started working there and doing a lot of freelance work. And trying to just really get in whatever interests I had. Interviewing bands on camera, doing freelance writing for them. Started to kind of branch out to other things. And at the same time, I started working at Sirius XM as a DJ on Liquid Metal, which is the metal station, and just started doing that every morning.
So literally I was working two full-time jobs for six years straight. So I would DJ in the morning for an hour, kind of do my takes in-between. Every day would go in for my 10 to six o’clock gig and get that done. Including doing freelance video hosting work. Because everybody thinks that you work a job and it’s just going to miraculously get you somewhere. But when you work in the music industry, you really have to understand that if you want to accelerate and go to the next level, you got to keep chipping away.
And I definitely wore myself out, but I also partied pretty hard. So that’s why I got along really well with the artists and the vans. Yeah and just did that pretty much straight for six years. And then after that was just at a different time in my life. This is a funny story that I guess could be inspirational to some people. My entire career was always working up to hosting my own series, or hosting something that would be produced for national television. And at the time — I think this was like 2011, 2012 — national television was starting to fall by the wayside, but it was still had some kind of presence. And Fuse was one of those channels where you could kind of do something music related. It was attainable to me as somebody who had been a media personality.
And then I went ahead filmed this pilot for Fuse after playing a show the night before. After just being exhausted. And I just hit ahead with it and thought, “I don’t really love reading somebody else’s material. I’m not an actress, I’m not a model.” I’m almost like a musician, turned commentator, turned comedian, almost, in a lot of different ways. So it was interesting. I realized I had this opportunity to film this national pilot and I did it. And then it just didn’t work out. And I realized, “I don’t really love particularly certain things about that.”
I then shifted and just wanted to do a lot of my own stuff, and really grow in digital marketing because it was becoming such a big, new thing that really seemed to span many different concentrations. Started working more in hip-hop in general and built a lot of great relationships. It was a natural transition for me being from New Jersey. Because I always grew up listening to hip-hop, always grew up listening to R&B. As a singer it was a very inspirational sonic output for me.
So yeah, just really focused on that and built some great relationships and then started working for Capital in LA after a little bit. Trying something completely new, spreading my wings. Worked for legendary brand Motown. Met Berry Gordy, sat in his house and explained Snapchat to him. That was interesting.
Jesse Cannon: Wow, that’s good.
Zeena Koda: He was very fascinated by the things you could do in Snapchat, but yeah, it just really started parlaying into that direction. And once I really got entrenched in the digital marketing world, the last three years have been incredible for it. It’s been a boom. Right? We went from building out big marketing plans through the companies, to like courting children and paying children to create content and disseminate content from their home, from their phones, anywhere in the world.
So great team here, and we work together basically to really just ideate different concepts for every artist’s release that we have. And until the videos, actual, physical releases, there are still some of them. And singles. And now I’m here, overseeing a wonderful, wonderful team of hip-hop loving kids.
Jesse Cannon: Love it. So tell me though a little bit more about some of the skills you were learning in those last few years. When you were talking about how you are getting to where you are today. What are the skills that make you qualified to do a job like what you do, and what you have to do to learn them?
Zeena Koda: Well, the moment that you walked into my office…
Jesse Cannon: There was a lot of words that would need to be beeped if this was a public television or radio.
Zeena Koda: I mean really, the one interesting thing is this is very political and it’s all business, right? And I think that a lot of people, no matter how artistic you can be, fail to realize that like at the end of the day this is a business. Whether you’re working in a record label directly entrenched in ideas of revenue, or you’re artistic and want to just continue being artsy but live on a budget. Right?
It really is interesting how much I’ve had to grow into like my business acumen over the last few years and understand P&L, budgets, stuff like that. Things that I would never have been interested in before. I think one of the biggest things in digital is understanding that digital is a three-pronged approach. You have the nerd shit as I call it. Analytics, making sure you’re spending your money properly, understanding where things are being disseminated. We have Russia to thank for this, but targeting with advertising, and Facebook targeting, and things that are very, very important. Audience listening, understanding what’s the vibe on the streets. The digital streets, they exist.
And also communication is a huge part of it, which is why digital PR became digital marketing. Because you’re communicating to specific accounts in a very strategic manner. And then the other part of that is the content. Because if the content is shit, it doesn’t matter. A lot of people actually ask me, is this role creative? Even though we’re in a business. And it is, it’s actually probably one of the most creative because you’re really sculpting the communication vehicle for a lot of these releases. And some people are very hands-on, but a lot of them aren’t.
There’s a lot of times where the ideas that we craft actually make the cut. So it’s definitely cool to see that going. So it’s really communication. Having a good eye, having a good feel of what’s good and what’s not really. And knowing too, the technical skills of what can be cut the way that it’s cut. There’s a lot of just various points there that makes sense for a depth of knowledge of what you need to know in order to do this right. And honestly, relationships. Relationships are everything.
Jesse Cannon: Nice. So, I know you’ve seen the meme: what my parents think I do, what my partner thinks I do, what my friends think I do, what I actually do. Run through that for me.
Zeena Koda: That’s a really good one. I think that my mom doesn’t really care what I do. She was very, very heightened to it when I was doing more like video stuff and doing radio stuff. Because she has a past doing some of the stuff, and my mom worked at the United Nations. So she has no grasp of how the music industry works. But I’m sure that my mom definitely thinks that I’m just meeting with celebrities BS-ing all day, having a grand old time.
My boyfriend’s very aware what I do, because I come home and lay it out to him every day. But you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to bring him to a few different things and it’s cool. It’s actually cute, let’s just say, to see it through his eyes, and see him as being somebody involved in production and politics. It’s just beautiful to him still, you know? Whereas it’s still working to me.
I think that people think that this life is very glamorous in some ways. And yeah, it is for sure. There’s moments where I’m like, “What the hell? Who am I? What is going on?” But those moments are very few and far between. Let’s put it that way. Because the reality of it is to grind. And the reality of it is like, I could be on vacation in the middle of Oregon in a beautiful dress, and I have to stop and I have to upload a track. And I have to have my computer with me, and I have to have certain things that are attached to me. Because digital is everywhere at any time.
Very unique to digital is our workflow. We have to be ready for what could come at any moment. And I think that we’re kind of like the unsung heroes of a lot of different projects, because it wouldn’t appear in the world without us. It’s not so glamorous, but it’s also cool to be wanted and necessary.
Jesse Cannon: Gotcha. Let’s get into the “what you actually do.”
Zeena Koda: This is a “no flow” job for sure. I could have a day where I’m at the desk from nine to seven, chipping away at various things that I need to set up and get done. I could have three days where I’m on a plane doing something completely different. Or I could be on a shoot with an artist. Or I could be working with an editor to chop up different content. I could be sitting with an artist for three hours trying to brainstorm different concepts with them. We could be in business meetings with Bleacher Report or Genius. Or bringing artists to various different partners.
I think that there’s really no flow to what we do, because there are so many things required in order to make things come to life. So, there’s a production element, which we definitely need to be a part of. And ideation, that part of it. There’s also, in terms of leading a team and getting everything together, really sitting and strategizing with them outside of this office. Going to events with them, grabbing drinks, going to shows. Making sure that I understand who they are on a human level, because everybody brings a different amazing element and depth of connection to our team.
I don’t watch sports religiously, but a lot of the guys on my team do. And I really lean on them to be like, “Yo, what’s hot here?” What can we do with this artist that makes sense. When does the season start? Because I have no freaking clue. Those things are really important, because at the end of the day we’re offering various things that the other wouldn’t. I can’t say there’s like a typical day, but every day is definitely different, which I do love about it. And every day is very packed with doing a variety of things. And making marketing plans and sculpting out communications between various partners.
Because the biggest thing with this job is communication. You need to make sure everybody knows what’s happening. Because with digital, we are creating the links for people to disseminate. So, everybody has to be in the loop and really just working hand-in-hand with the product managers to make sure all those things happen.
Jesse Cannon: Love that. So how about what’s the biggest misconception about this job?
Zeena Koda: That we’re sitting around with celebrities, probably, every day just sitting at the pool, shooting up the gym. Again, I think the biggest misconception is not actually a misconception, but just like reminding myself that it is still business. And as artistic and weird and funny as it can be sometimes, and really interesting, there are also times where it’s like, it comes down to the dollar. And it comes down to is it streaming. And there are difficult decisions that need to be made based off of budgetary constraints.
It is still a business. For some people that’s a hard pill to swallow. I feel as you get older, either way, you realize that nothing in life can just be free-flowing. Right? You need to have some kind of constraints no matter what it is. I think it’s a beneficial thing. But it’s not all sex and glamor, really. It’s a lot of hard work. A lot of failure. And a few amazing successes.
Jesse Cannon: So, I think what speaks to that, as I’m looking around your office. And there’s a quote that says, “Lack of prep on your behalf does not create an emergency on mine,” on your whiteboard. I think that speaks volumes to what you actually said. But could you explain that a little bit?
Zeena Koda: That’s actually, I stole that from Juliette, who is one of our head honchos in radio. One of the first weeks I got here, somebody actually mentioned that, and I love that so much. Unfortunately, in digital we can’t necessarily live by that, because everything’s so immediate and nothing goes up without us. But I think that that is an amazing statement. And something that you should really think about when you’re kind of scoping out a release plan or whatever.
Because the bottom line is there’s so many levers that need to be pulled within the organization in order for us to actually get something done, and to do it right, and do it with creativity. To get the right people there, I think you really need to prepare. And preparation, because of the digital age, is something that’s kind of like taken by the wayside, because you can just make something and throw it up.
There is something to be said about having preparation time, and having the ability to sit with something and realize it’s the dopest shit that you could come up with. Because not a lot of people, A) have the time to do that, or B) really think of it that way. They’re just like, “Let’s get it up, let’s get it up.” Yeah, I think that none could be true. And that’s actually a hope for me, which is why I put it up there.
Jesse Cannon: Aspirational quote.
Zeena Koda: Yeah exactly.
Jesse Cannon: Not inspirational, aspirational.
Zeena Koda: Exactly.
Jesse Cannon: So tell me a story that’s like real world about what you guys do, and then how it manifests in the world, and makes a difference for an artist getting bigger.
Zeena Koda: I’ll start off with an artist that’s become really big on both sides. So I’ll do one that’s pop-ish, let’s put it that way. Bazzi is an artists I’ve been working with since the beginning of his time here at Atlantic. He’s with APG, and we just kind of built on a real ground level with him. He put out a song, “Mine,” that made an OK splash in November when we first released it. And then for months it was just like trying to get our ducks in a row. And really built his vibe, built his creative out, built his look, built his brand identity.
A lot of people forget that these artists are brands at the end of the day. Especially in a time where digital consumption is so high that people need to feel that consistency, or feel a vibe. Whether or not it’s shitty, right? Look at 6ix9ine. People have grown to have love him-
Jesse Cannon: I like that that’s the example for whether or not it’s shitty. I think I know what you were saying.
Zeena Koda: Yeah, yeah. People have grown to love him, though. It is a brand. It’s strong.
Jesse Cannon: I’m a 40-year-old man who follow him on Instagram, I mean-
Zeena Koda: Exactly. There you go. But he’s an incredible marketer of his own brand.
Jesse Cannon: Yeah.
Zeena Koda: It may not be the sexiest brand to everybody, but hey the kid has got a hit, right? And he’s been doing this for a while. So it’s just interesting. With Bazzi, we laid a lot of groundwork. And with Bazzi, we also spent a lot of time working with influencers on the backend. So he’s not really an artist that will engage much with influencer content, because he actually came from the influencer world. He was on Vine for a long time, rest in peace. He gained his musical footing on Vine, let’s put it that way.
He doesn’t really want to engage with them. So, we’re tasked to basically still make this song pop off with zero engagement from the artist. That is not an uncommon task that we are forced to kind of take on. And it’s incredible, we figure all kinds of different ways. Because he does have a little bit more of an urban lean. We dealt with a lot of cool urban accounts. We got one of his songs on WorldStar.
We tried to get content creators that could create stuff that’s a little more urban-leaning, but he did have the advantage of us being able to outreach to those kinds of people insights. Because he had a little bit of that vibe. Right? Doing that, but also keeping it in the pop world and really working all different angles with that budget. There was times where I was like, “Is this a song? Is he going to be a career artist? Is this going to pop off?” Because you just never know when you’re kind of like a few months in. And then seeing him sell out an entire tour within a day blew my mind.
I had no clue that the little efforts that we were making — although you’re seeing the streaming, you’re seeing it go up, you’re thinking to yourself, “Is this just going to be a viral moment or is this going to be a real deal” — and when he did it, and then seeing him hit the stage last week when he played in New York, I was blown away. That was one of the few times where I was like, “Wow, I really know that I had a hand in kind of sculpting that.”
And smoothing out a presence, and making sure that he had the digital…also the nerd shit, all the digital pieces that he needed in order to become a real artist in a very quick amount of time. And he’s very particular about his imaging, what he wants. So that definitely was a moment that made me proud, and it was really cool to see that. And to see him get bigger and bigger. It was just like a dope moment for me.
And then with Rico Nasty too, we put a lot-
Jesse Cannon: Oh yeah. Love her stuff.
Zeena Koda: Love Rico. Rico is so unique. Rico is me. She’s the black, Puerto Rican version of me. She is-
Jesse Cannon: I’m seeing it now, though, the old school Zeena look.
Zeena Koda: Yeah.
Jesse Cannon: I’m seeing the fashion thing.
Zeena Koda: The colored hair, the crazy look. She is 21 years old, a mom. When I first met her, I was just blown away by how mature she was for somebody so young. And the fact that she was very bold. She’s not a conventional hip-hop artist, whatsoever. And in such a short time with her as well, really working with her team, who are all very young. To steer them the right way, bug them for the right things, make sure we had the content the way we needed to, tagging things the right way.
Things that they don’t need to be worrying about. Things that they need to be letting me handle, so that they can deal with the artistic output, I find amazing. And to see her on the cover of The FADER, and just like also selling out tours in the last month, and people recognizing her, singing along to the song, seeing that visual content. Just the fans’ adoration. And watching her really become a very unique voice, sonically, in hip hop is amazing. Like she’s got a song, “Rage,” on her mixtape that’s literally a rap-rock song.
Jesse Cannon: It’s that weird thing of that now Marilyn Manson has become the greatest influence in a lot of underground hip hop.
Zeena Koda: Which I would have never thought.
Jesse Cannon: I know. Like if we spin the “Wheel of Fortune” of guesses, I would never have put that on the wheel of what was going to happen to hip-hop.
Zeena Koda: Who knew that Manson was in? I mean maybe Interscope was a good indication. Because there were always metal, rock, and hip-hop. But yeah, it’s really interesting how he’s become this god to these kids. So I love the weird shit. I love working with an artist, especially a female artist that’s very headstrong. And we did a live podcast for her at VFILES, called Improper Etiquette, that was all about female empowerment, and women in different sectors really kind of just showing a piece of their personality. And why they are strong, and why they are trying to move the culture forward.
So those are the two examples where I feel like it’s so dope to work with an artist over a short period of time and just see them explode. And you can only hope to work with artists for a few years and see them become even bigger and bigger. And sometimes it’s also satisfying when you see them kind of take a little dip down, and then you’re able to rebuild their career a few years later. So, I would say those are to me, over the last few months, my biggest successes. And also Nipsey Hussle, because we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that release. And he deserves it. He’s an amazing artist.
Jesse Cannon: Yeah. That’s rad. OK. So, someone’s listening to this. They’ve heard you say all this stuff. They’re like, “I want to be like Zeena.” What do you tell them to focus on while they’re in college and they’re coming up?
Zeena Koda: Don’t fall in love with music.
Jesse Cannon: What do you mean by that? Come on!
Zeena Koda: Don’t fall in love with music. She’s a terrible mistress. Now look, you only do this because you love this.
Jesse Cannon: Yes.
Zeena Koda: This doesn’t happen, because money does come eventually, but the money is not always there. And that’s the number one thing I can impart. I would say save up every penny you can for the ability to have freedom. Because I think that one of the biggest thing is, I didn’t grow up with money. I literally worked my way through college. I eeked out that internship at Earache, very barely, and still worked full-time there while I was graduating college.
And the one thing that I could always think is like, “Why didn’t I save more money when I could have?” So I think when you’re in college, we kind of forego that. And in your early 20s you’re like, “I got money. I’m hood rich. I can spend it all.” But the worst thing is sometimes you get bound to moves that you make because you have no choice financially. And you should recognize that money is always freedom. So if you have another idea for something that you want to do, you could have that freedom to explore that if you had the financial means. If you’re rich then good luck to you, and I hate you.
But basically, yeah, that’s the biggest thing. And don’t be fooled. You’re going to have to work. When you succeed, you’re going to have to work even more, again. Because I actually just wrote a little piece about this on Medium, because it’s my blow steam off outlet. When I wanted the popularity of people coming to me for help. You want it, you want it, and then you get it, and then you want to hide. Because you’re like no, then everybody calls you. Because then you get a situation like when you walked in my office today, where everybody wants to know the answer and you have to have it.
And sometimes you’re tired. Sometimes you need a nap, sometimes you don’t want to think of things. I look to our president, I look to Julie and I’m just amazed by her. And I watch what she eats. I watch that she’s not drinking at shows. I’m watching her behavior. She’s eating a salad, no meat. You really have to be next level to be “A game.” Not everybody’s ready for that kind of life. There’s no vices, there’s no escape. You really have to be a machine at a certain point.
Just really paying attention to everything you’re doing and how it’s affecting your ability to think with clarity and act with clarity, I think is a big deal. I had many years where I’d just party with bands. And those were great years. I went out, got drunk, got stoned, had a grand old time. But these days, I’m going home. I’m working out at seven in the morning. I’m drinking a lot of water.
Jesse Cannon: Yes. Right there next to you. So how about advice on what they should be learning if we take it to a more nerdy level of software, apps, skills. What about things like that? Where should they be learning to do what you do?
Zeena Koda: Oh, that’s a great question. I had a friend actually write a post about this one time and it hit home so much. He was like, “Take a look at the best practices of all of these social media platforms.” Some of them can be a little bit heady, right? Like it’s just things that we may not necessarily get into unless you’re doing it in practice. I think that really understanding the ways and the algorithms by which a lot of these platforms work, can A) increase your output and make your life a lot more efficient. And B) allow you to better find your product, right? It’s all metadata at the end of the day. Understanding the terminology. Understanding how an ad plan works. Understanding targeting.
It may not seem sexy at first, but when you’re really trying to efficiently work a business, knowing targeting and just knowing how to leverage the most out of your money, and leverage the most out of the different partners that you’re working with, I think are the most important. In terms of programs, know Final Cut, know GarageBand at a basic level. Know how to use Pro Tools.
Even though it may not seem that you’re going to be doing those things, the world is going more and more in a content production way. I mean clearly, we’re producing this content.
Jesse Cannon: Yeah.
Zeena Koda: You know what I mean? If there’s one thing that I would say gave me leverage over other people, it’s that I’m a content producer too. And I know how to edit video. And even if it’s not the sexiest thing on earth, I’m not making a masterpiece, the ability to do it did set me apart in a lot of ways. And taking it on without any question, definitely set me apart.
So those are things, I think you just have to be a beast these days. You really have to be very multifaceted, because we’re actually very lucky. Because those tools weren’t readily available to us. Right? If you wanted to record, you really had to invest in it. And these days, anybody can record it in their room. Right? Which I think does change, because I always think about this being somebody who worked in hip-hop and rock. This changed the relationship with instrumentation for people, because it is a lot harder to learn an instrument, right? And to master the craft of having an instrument. So people are picking up midi controllers and making entire compositions now, because it’s a little quicker to do that. Right? And then you can do some posts, and you’re done. And you got yourself a fire beat, right? Kids rapping, it’s pretty easy. You watch the YouTube tutorial, you’re good to go, if you’ve got a 100 bucks from drug money.
No, I’m kidding. But you know what I mean? I really wrap my head around it because it’s…you know this because you’ve done this, there’s a vibe to playing a live show that you will never get from just being in the studio making a song in a produced way like that. It works for other people, but I think it’s kind of a beautiful feeling that kids don’t really get to feel as much anymore.
Jesse Cannon: I like that. OK. So obviously this business changes so fast. What’s something people might not understand that really goes into breaking bands that you’re involved with here, or breaking artists, I should say?
Zeena Koda: I would say a lot of content again. There really is a lot of content that goes up. And literally everything that you do needs a support plan. I think that a lot of times people think, “Well, we’ll throw it out, we’ll see what happens.” And yet I can’t say that. It’s a really weird fine line. Because sometimes you just have to throw shit out and see what happens and see what sticks. And it may be something you never thought that would pop off that does pop off.
But I think that having a plan behind everything, or at least having some kind of vision for what you’re going to do to support, is really important. The content plays into that so hard. Whether or not it’s influencer content, and them making content surrounding a track. Or having actual video content, or some kind of supportive content like animated, or other weird shit that we come up with. I really think that that’s super important.
With the business just changing every day, having more of a digital footprint is honestly the biggest deal. I can’t tell you how many artists are like, “I want to increase my followers. I want to get my followers up on Instagram.” OK, what are you doing to engage your audience? Right? It is your personal TV platform. And you really need to build an audience by literally engaging with them. I think that that’s one of the big things that has changed. It’s a very linear communication platform at this point between artists and their fans, so talk to them.
Jesse Cannon: Nice. When you talk about that content, do you see anything really moving the needle that you could talk about?
Zeena Koda: There’s new technology that always pops up within each of these social media platforms. You know what I mean? Like when Twitter incorporated video, or Twitter’s huge GIF platform, right? So, GIFs move like fire through Twitter. Even thinking of messaging as a platform. I’ve definitely done a few different initiatives around that. A few years ago, I worked with Lil Yachty, and we did a bunch of amazing GIF’s that did further than I would’ve ever expected. I remember watching a Google commercial and seeing one of the GIF’s that we made. And I’m like, “How did this even get in there?”
Just understanding that each of these pieces really are important, depending on who the artist is and what their vibe is. Because you never know where someone’s going to discover you. So you kind of just need to be a little bit of everywhere. And once something raises his hand, kind of fanning the flames, as they say. Putting a little fire to it and seeing what happens.
And then also just thinking about creating something that’s different. Instagram has Instagram TV now. Instead of doing a tutorial that’s going to go on YouTube and live in the universe of a billion other beauty vloggers and all those people, why don’t you create something that’s indigenous to there and indigenous to that particular platform. It’s really looking at those kinds of things. And everybody wants to be the first on something, right? And it’s really hard to tell. Sometimes things fall to the wayside. Sometimes things slowly die, like Snapchat.
And sometimes things just completely take off in a way you would have never expected. I never thought I would use Instagram Stories the way that I do. I was like, “I don’t want to deal with this. This is too much effort.” But then once you start seeing people adopt it and then they start putting in this alternative technology where you can basically do the same shit you’re doing on Snapchat. Little by little, sure enough, you start seeing people adopt it. So really just knowing where people are communicating and how you can best leverage it. Whatever content work and that could be a myriad of things.
Jesse Cannon: Nice. So how about, what are you interested in outside of work that sometimes really helps at work?
Zeena Koda: Particularly right now, in the last years, I’ve become very politically involved. And a little bit more obviously interested in politics, because of the temperature of the country at this time. And it’s weird because politics has always been something that’s kind of been in my mind somewhere. But the political system has been a little over the top for me. And it’s not something you study in school, or not something you really grow up with. My mom, being an immigrant, she worked for the U.N., and they don’t really care about the U.S. government system.
It’s there, because I grew up watching a lot of news. I didn’t watch cartoons in the morning. It was always the news. But it only clicked to me in the last maybe five, six years, how much I cared about the world. The last maybe three years, because of everything that’s been going on, the only way to make a difference is to make a difference.
So it’s been interesting even like working we Meek Mill and various other characters that we have in the building. That political knowledge, and people who are activists within each of these communities. having the knowledge of that and just what’s going on in the world, I find to be really important. And really refreshing, when you’re looking at kind of the more micro issues that sometimes come up. Thinking about like, “OK things are way crazier outside of just these smaller problems.” And using it for perspective sometimes I think is definitely great.
And I would say also like working out definitely creeps its way in. Because I watch little workout videos and random little things. And sometimes we have content that actually does play into that. So that’s the other like strange thing. And liking makeup because everybody likes makeup tutorials and music in it.
Jesse Cannon: Nice. So, then I probably could already guess what the answer to this is, but so what’s the music style or genre you wish would come back?
Zeena Koda: I don’t know. Maybe hip-hop will make a renaissance. Hip-hop is pop music at this point.
Jesse Cannon: Yes.
Zeena Koda: Let’s be clear like there’s no-
Jesse Cannon: Yeah.
Zeena Koda: There’s no way to skirt around. And the numbers don’t lie. I’m really happy for it. I feel it’s in an interesting place, right? Where all these styles are converging within hip-hop itself too. Look at Post Malone. What an interesting person, character, sonic output to like really come to the forefront. I would love to see a good old post-hardcore rock comeback, right?
There’s just so much amazing musicianship, and vibe to that kind of music. And I don’t like necessarily a very clean vocal, let’s put it that way. But I do like a vocal that has melodic quality. And also just has like some balls, right? I feel like I miss the fact that watching live music is more of this production, instead of just like feeling the music and feeling the band.
And maybe that’s like the 90s kid in me. Like, “Oh the band man.” But I remember just the bands that I grew up watching. And the scenes and the shows. It’s just something I don’t think really exists in the same way because it’s not as popularized. And because kids aren’t picking up instruments as much. I would love to see heavy rock and punk rock make a comeback. Or at least become more financially viable.
I feel like once it becomes more financially viable, then people want to do it. Right? Nobody wants to struggle. Nobody wants to struggle. You know? We both have friends that are like still going for it. “The band’s going to make it, man.” Yeah. And I feel fortunate that like I can still pursue those things on my free time. Right? If I really wanted to join another band, I’d go do it again. But I know the reality of the business terrors.
But I’m optimistic that with the angst that’s going on in this country, that somewhere in the mix there’s going to be one band that like really goes for it. I’m just going to hang my hope on that hat.
Jesse Cannon: Nice. How about, what’s the ultimate artist that you wish you could work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
Zeena Koda: Oh the ultimate. I don’t know if there’s an ultimate artist. It would be really cool to work with Rhianna. I actually did put together a marketing plan when I was at an agency for her. And I did like several iterations of it, and I loved every minute of it. Because she’s just such a cool, interesting character, and there’s so much you can actually do with her. And so many doors that would be open if you just floss that name. I think that Rhianna would be kind of like one of my bigger ones.
And I would say, I actually would like to work the Slipknot album that’s coming up.
Jesse Cannon: Nice.
Because I feel like there’s such a nostalgia for Slipknot. And amongst the hip-hop community too. XXX used a Slipknot song-
Jesse Cannon: Zillakami sample…
Zeena Koda: Yeah. It’s literally a Slipknot song in his album. So I would love to do that because I feel it’s such a good time too to kind of re-educate people to the band. And Corey Taylor is an amazing singer. He really is an amazing singer. And they’re an amazing band. When you think about what they’ve achieved as so many members, over so many years. And the the franchise that they’ve really built out for themselves. And so fingers crossed. Maybe that will come my way.
Outro: Thank you for listening to Landed. Subscribe to this show for free at your preferred podcast service.
Today’s music is courtesy of Rico Nasty.