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THE MARSHMELLO PLATFORM: GETTING VERTICAL THE
SHALIZI WAY

Marshmello is unlike any other music brand—and in fact far transcends music, having developed massively lucrative “verticals” in gaming, social video, food and more. Manager Moe Shalizi has been a primary architect of the innovative Marshmello story.

Shalizi has helped forge a distinctive path for the playfully enigmatic DJ/producer with the white bucket on his head. Alongside a tight team that includes crafty attorney Josh Binder, the 29-year-old manager has negotiated a series of increasingly pricey one-off deals with majors (now said to be in the $1m range apiece, with shorter-than-average licensing terms) for Marshmello collabs while also scoring with the producer’s solo records on his Joytime Collective imprint. Featured vocalists on the aforementioned singles have included Kane Brown, Khalid, Bastille, Migos, Selena Gomez, Anne-Marie, Roddy Ricch and Lil Peep, among many others.

One noteworthy element of these pairings is that Marshmello has become what Shalizi describes as a label-neutral A&R resource for the majors, enabling them to broaden the reach of developing acts using “the Marshmello platform.”

Not having a traditional deal with a single major, meanwhile, has helped the brand steer clear of the “politics” often associated with features.

’Mello has earned some 10 billion+ streams. He has a colossal social following—which Shalizi tabulates at about 100m across all platforms, so far, including 39.6m YouTube subscribers (more than any other DJ) and 27.7m followers on Instagram as of this writing. He recently unveiled a two-year, $60m Vegas residency. And his biggest score of all could come from chocolate-filled marshmallow treats.

His is a consummately global brand (Shalizi insists the U.S. is the fifth-biggest market for this bucket-headed golden goose), yet two years ago, at Marshmello’s last Los Angeles concert, “We sold 23k tickets at the L.A. Convention Center for an 18-and-over show.”

SoCal native and UC Riverside finance major Shalizi joined Red Light in 2015 and helped craft the management giant’s EDM division; he split the company late last year to establish his own shop, The Shalizi Group.

“I had offers from every management company,” before hanging his own shingle, Shalizi recalls, “but I almost feel like a lot of these companies are in a box. It’s music and that's it. But I think the biggest thing about this generation of young managers is the cultural influence we have. Social media, for example, has changed everything. You now have to learn how to market to the millennial and other demos. And if you're not on those platforms yourself, if you're not up to date, you get lost. I think that's where this new generation of younger managers has the upper edge.”

Shalizi says he was determined “to build something that was bigger than just music.”

He notes that at the outset Marshmello was dismissed by some in the biz as a “gimmick,” and Shalizi and team were at pains to point out that “the outfit and the costume were part of the whole brand strategy: a faceless brand.”

“With electronic music,” he elaborates, “we don't have a cultural impact outside of our world, the dance world. Every Hypebeast kid is trying to look like Kanye West or Travis Scott; hip-hop is culture. In the dance world, as producers, you don't have that yet. Nobody's looking at what  Diplo or Calvin Harris are wearing and doing, and they’re not doing that with Marshmello  either. So for us the focus is more on the audience.”

Over the course of a few years, he recalls, the team built “this massive core of Marshmello fans that were there for his music, the brand and the ethos of the brand that really resonated with them—a faceless kind of character that anybody could be and anybody could relate to.” This, he says, informed the strategy going forward.

It also enabled some of their boldest moves. The anonymous, playfully artificial Marshmello, Shalizi insists, can go anywhere and collaborate with anyone—unlike EDM contemporaries whose personal brands have more narrowly defined what sorts of moves will come off as “authentic.” And when Marshmello’s Fortnite prowess earned him visibility on the gaming platform, Shalizi sold Epic Games on a Marshmello “skin” despite their long-held rule against celebrity skins, because Marshmello “is a character, like Batman or Thanos,” rather than a recognizable person. Next came an unprecedented in-game Marshmello “concert” on Fortnite, a virtual melee at which fan/players could get their digital freak on. “We shut down the game for five minutes and the concert was the only thing you could do” on the platform, Shalizi relates; 10.7m users steered their controllers there.

Marshmello scored another virtual triumph, in tandem with Kane Brown, when they appeared on Good Morning America in August to perform “One Thing Right,” as a virtual-reality piece (via the MelodyVR app)—a first for a live TV appearance.

And then there’s the cooking show, wherein we see what a truly alternative brand recipe looks like.

Shalizi notes that the idea for the Cooking With Marshmello show on his YouTube channel originated in conversations with managers who rep social-media influencers, some of whom, he reports, are earning up to $1.5m per month in merch sales. “If you think about it, it’s insane,” he marvels. “These content creators are making 10-15-minute blogs every day but have more revenue coming in than some of the biggest music artists. How the fuck does that make sense?”

Some focused study, he says, underscored that “the consistency of content is key. If fans aren’t watching or listening to you, they’re watching or listening to someone else.” The typical music artist simply doesn’t have the range of content to fill this gaping maw. “But with Marshmello we always had a brand, a character—so we had the ability to do whatever we wanted to.”

Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that Marshmello’s biggest markets were in distant territories—notably Asia and Latin America. It occurred to Shalizi that one way to solidify the relationship with fans from different cultures was via food. “My family's from Afghanistan,” he notes. “I was born here, but understanding the importance of culture to people outside of the United States, how do I create a deeper connection between Marshmello and the international audience? Let's make recipes for local delicacies for all of our biggest audiences.”

So here we are, in a music-industry trade publication, talking about why it matters that a DJ with a plastic bucket over his head is preparing Indonesian cuisine on YouTube. Well, it turns out to be a lot more important than you might think.

First off, “The kid in Indonesia—our #1 market—sees it and says, ‘Marshmello is cooking what my mom makes for dinner,’” Shalizi points out, underlining the profundity of such a connection. Secondly, anyone searching for regional delicacies, due to the astronomical views earned by the clips, tends to encounter Marshmello—thus extending the brand organically. And the reach of the show has led to celebrities wanting to appear on the channel, hooking the Marshmello brand up to their various followings.

Moe and Mello in Vegas with iHeart's Tim Catelli, Tom Poleman, John Sykes and Marissa Morris

Meanwhile, Shalizi reports that he and his and crew have been developing “a separate kind of channel for kids,” which will undoubtedly offer myriad ways to brand and market Stuffed Puffs, the proprietary chocolate-filled marshmallows the team has rolled out. (You won’t be shocked to learn that more than one of the 99 installments of Cooking With Marshmello involves using the treats as ingredients.) Stuffed Puffs are outselling every other marshmallow brand in Wal-Mart and other mainstream retailers by a wide margin, and rumors abound of major food congloms circling with giant checks.

And, oh yeah, there’s still music, with a Yungblud/blackbear collab in the offing and more “big features” promised after that, and a Fallon appearance coming up. “We have our next seven, eight singles done,” says Shalizi, who nonetheless underscores that his focus remains on “turning this brand into its own thing. There are tons of ideas that I'm working on. It's just every vertical as its own thing that can be built out.”

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