“For the first time, unsigned artists will be able to submit their videos for MTV consideration directly through their web pages.”
An exclusive HITS dialogue with MTV SVP Creative Music Integration Joe Cuello

The first in a series of articles about music industry movers and shakers on the front line of innovation by Simon Glickman

You may be asking yourself: What the hell is Creative Music Integration? MTV’s Joe Cuello—a  bespectacled Texas native with the demeanor of a highly relatable college prof—gets that a lot.

“My job varies from day to day,” he says. “[EVP Music & Talent] Amy Doyle facilitated the creation of a whole new department focused on music in shows.” He adds that his team is responsible for all music used by the network other than in videos—like songs and score in series like Jersey Shore, Real World, Teen Wolf, Teen Mom, Punk’d and countless others; co-branded entertainment; and every other network initiative that requires music.

Among those initiatives is Hype Music, a much talked-about licensing partnership with Extreme/Sony ATV that performs the dual function of breaking new artists and providing an infinitely exploitable in-house music library. Another is Artists.mtv, a next-gen web opportunity (splashily announced by Viacom Music Group chieftain Van Toffler at South By Southwest) that’s open to every act that wants to build a page there.

Both these platforms provide MTV with a means of discovering strong new music for use in its shows—which remains Cuello’s primary mandate. But Hype Music is based on an unusual new deal paradigm: The creation of works for hire are owned by MTV, but the proceeds of which are split 50/50 with the artist.

This means that a song by a promising act (like electro-prankster Wallpaper, now signed to Epic), purchased by the network, will be used in various MTV-affiliated series, promos, online properties and so on, generating huge exposure (and multiple impressions, which were hard to come by for baby bands in the old days of MTV). If the artist creates an EP containing, say, four songs that MTV owns and four songs over which it retains ownership, MTV will digitally release and market that recording.

Meanwhile, Extreme will shop the Hype/MTV songs outside the network (for movies, trailers, non-MTV shows, games and whatnot) and divide the proceeds with the artist. Sometimes bands are contracted to compose theme songs or instrumental score music for shows in addition to contributing songs.

And when the right artist is paired with the right show and ancillary promotion, the results can be commercially explosive. “Wallpaper sold more than 100,000 singles after being featured on Jersey Shore,” Cuello notes. “We played his video at the peak of the show’s viewership—more eyeballs saw that song than anything else on TV that week. We had integrated marketing with Taco Bell offering free downloads. He walked the red carpet and was a guest on the VMAs. We used him on the Real World San Diego finale and other places. It was a real win for us.”

“Because our arrangement is attached to this enormous, two-sided promotional opportunity,”

Cuello elaborates, “MTV and our partner Extreme Music will rep the music and share the proceeds forever. This model lets us build a real partnership with artists.”

The value of such a partnership, he adds, will be enhanced immeasurably once artists.mtv is in full effect. Built in partnership with Topspin, its pages will enable bands to bring all areas of their work and promotion—recordings; videos; blogs; social feeds such as Facebook, Twitter  Instagram and more—into one online location that already attracts millions of eyeballs and also serves as an easily searchable talent database for MTV’s music supervisors and programmers. “For the first time, unsigned artists will be able to submit their videos for MTV consideration directly through their web pages,” he explains. A “One Big Thing” area at the top of each page, meanwhile, will enable artists to hype whatever’s new in their careers.

Having these tools handy will enable MTV artist partners to be ready for what Cuello calls “a moment.” Artists who’ve been smart about marshaling their resources and keeping in touch with their networks will be best positioned to exploit the energy generated by the network’s use of their music.

Of course, it isn’t enough just to be skilled at working your Facebook friends. To be a successful artist partner, emphasizes Cuello, a band has to live up to old-fashioned criteria like making solid records and being good live performers. 

Artists given a boost by MTV’s new pushes include indie electro kids Of Verona, the U.K. post-punk outfit New Cassettes, U.K. punk-poppers Reachback and Americana singer-songwriter/shaggy-haired heartthrob George Byrne (the pulchritudinous brother of actress Rose Byrne). But it isn’t just the future format stars who’ve benefited from the network’s resources.

“I’m also really interested in the middle class of artists—the ones who just want to make a living making music,” volunteers Cuello. “That’s the hardest part of the business. You’ll always have superstars who are well-funded and promoters, but traditionally there have been fewer opportunities to just make some money. So being able to help these artists generate some income through our various channels is immensely gratifying to me.”

Merely including on-screen song IDs in a series has had a huge impact. “In the aggregate, we drive millions of sales,” Cuello insists. And even a smaller piece of MTV’s online presence, like its mostly unpublicized soundtrack blog, can make a big difference for bands. Fans began visiting the blog to find out about artists they heard on the shows, so MTV began putting free downloads there. Despite not spreading the word about the initiative, says Cuello, “We’ve given away close to a million tracks since last fall. And the numbers we’ve gotten from participating artists tells us that when they give their music away, they sell more.”

Could the Hype model represent a paradigm shift, a glimpse of a new kind of deal that somehow promises both greater ownership stakes for media companies and more overall freedom (and access) for artists? Maybe, but that’s not Cuello’s primary concern.

“Ultimately, we’re a content creator,” he explains. “Our biggest priority has to be music in our shows. One way or another, we’re going to spend money to put music in our programming. We can either use it to create assets or just pay for whatever we can get, in a way that probably doesn’t benefit the artist as much as our deal does.”

Cuello arrived at his post by a highly circuitous route. Hailing from Garland, TX, the self-described “rabid music fan” earned a B.A. in Fine Arts before heading to Cali to get his Masters in Education. He taught for a time before helping launch an eyewear company, Initium, that leaned heavily on music culture for its marketing.

After meeting some people who worked on MTV shows, Cuello became a PA on a friend’s pilot. He displayed skills in music supervision and eventually talked his way into a full-time supe gig with the network, handling cues for (among others) Newlyweds, Pimp My Ride and his personal favorite, Bands Reunited. He credits Doyle and the network for being “supportive of an entrepreneurial spirit.”

“I found what I love to do here,” he says. “This brings it all together. And it’s different every day.”


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