Teen tunester strategy

Ifyou're a female between the ages of 12 and 34, you should be getting to know the name Sozzi right about now. You first heard her voice on the WB's hit teen series Dawson's Creek last spring, then on the soundtrack...
September 1, 1999

Ifyou’re a female between the ages of 12 and 34, you should be getting to know the name Sozzi right about now. You first heard her voice on the WB’s hit teen series Dawson’s Creek last spring, then on the soundtrack Songs From Dawson’s Creek. You’ve seen the video for the single ‘Letting Go,’ produced and directed by the show’s creative team, on MTV and VH1. You were handed a Dawson’s sampler featuring one of Sozzi’s tracks with your purchase at American Eagle Outfitters, the mall-based clothing sponsor of the show. If you checked out this summer’s Lilith Fair tour, you may have caught Sozzi in concert. And if it has all gone according to plan, you are beginning to hear the single on the radio, even though the 23-year-old singer’s debut album, Life Goes On, is just being released this month (September 15, Columbia Records).

All this would make Josh Zieman, the label’s VP of product marketing, very happy. An industry veteran who has helped launch artists from Bon Jovi to The Cardigans, Zieman remembers the days when ‘you could rely on radio and on video alone getting the message across that this is the latest, greatest thing to own.’

Now, he says, even though it’s ultimately about getting airplay, ‘it’s much more important to have other, nontraditional outlets to start the ball rolling.’ball rolling.’ These days, for a young adult artist positioned to the teket, These days, for a young adult artist positioned to the teen market, ‘Dawson’s is ground zero.’ The show not only nails the demo, but showcases music in a far more prominent role than other TV series and films. For example, songs on Dawson’s are often dubbed louder, and in some cases, extended sequences forgo dialogue altogether in favor of music and image. Dawson’s even pioneered the practice of identifying music with a visual and voiceover following credits-ideal exposure for the artists (and a way for the show to license songs at a lower rate).

The soundtrack is also unique. According to executive producer Paul Stapin, the CD was designed to feature songs that would be used on the show after its release date, so ‘I was picking out music that I wanted in upcoming episodes, as opposed to just looking back on old musical choices and putting them together.’

Along with exposure from the series and soundtrack, Sozzi earned a place on the show’s Web site, which features music, video, biographical information and photos of the artists. Such a close link with the Dawson’s audience has opened the doors to a wide range of marketing opportunities. In addition to show sponsors like American Eagle, Urban Decay Cosmetics and Bloomingdale’s are featuring a CD sampler with purchase, and there is talk of Sozzi doing some in-store appearances in connection with Tommy Cosmetics.

The challenge for the labels is finding the next phenomenon in the teen market. Lee Dannay, director of A & R at Columbia, believes ‘kids identify with artists because they think they’re saying and singing things that they think in their heads.’ She looks for ‘the type of artist or performer who has the ability to be relate-able,’ so that ‘their choreography, their look, their dress-everything about them-speaks to teenagers.’ There really aren’t many clubs that feature pop musicians, so Dannay gets most of her leads through managers, agents, lawyers and other industry contacts, plucked from venues such as ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ and ‘Kid’s Time at the Apollo.’ To broaden the pool at the grassroots level, some of the labels also sponsor open auditions in various cities. Dannay herself attends such showcases, where she might see 30 different acts in a couple hours.

While Columbia has carefully cultivated a wide spectrum of teen talent, Sozzi is aimed at a segment of this demo much closer to artists like Lisa Loeb or Natalie Imbruglia than say Britney Spears or B*Witched. The artist herself aims to keep it that way, but she’s thrilled to be identified with Dawson’s and pleased with the results of the marketing campaign so far.

Says Sozzi: ‘I think the way they’re marketing [me] is exactly what’s fitting the music, so it’s a really happy medium-and it’s working.’

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