This excerpt was written following the Backstage: Global Music Industry conference that took place at Stockholms’ Business School on the 16th -17th of May 2018. Lisa Hultengren is the Creative Manager at Sony in Sweden, and was one of the guests invited to talk. The topic of this talk was Creativity in the Music Industry. Even though Lisa’s talk is mainly directed to mainstream music, some of the topics she touches upon can be applied to counterculture too. At the end of the excerpt you can read how I relate them. My aim of writing this talk is to see how we can apply her tips and knowledge to techno music and its sub-genres to push creativity forward.
What is your background and what are you passionate about in your work?
I have been working at Sony for almost four years now, before that I got my BBA Degree at Parsons School of Design in New York, so I was there for four years. My title has always been Creative Manager at Sony, but that’s because we don’t believe in too much of hierarchy there. The creative team at Sony almost started when I got hired;there was one girl there that worked before me and then together we started this team of creatives. At the beginning I was just responsible for the social media: updating pictures of artists as many of them didn’t have a facebook page or a youtube page. Then I went to creating big campaigns that we are now competing together with other agencies and I also have done a lot of brand partnerships because this is something that we really believe in at Sony to bring brands and artists together. I have been working with Sony mobile and AX for example – bringing brands and artists together and creating campaigns for the brand.
How much in your job do you go with your intuition and how much do you look at data, statistics and from the business perspective?
I go with my gut feeling so much, but then after studying at university I learned how strategy has built up my gut. I check what is happening all the time but when it comes to the big decisions it has to really feel good to my stomach because as soon as you push creativity you get nauseous and excited because you know that you are pushing the limit and then you need your gut to be with you otherwise you will not really do it 100 percent. You need to feel that you are doing the right thing. It is always going to be super nervous to push those limits because you are diving into water that is unknown: that’s how you are when you are super creative. It is something that noone has done so you don’t have statistics on it. When you are the first doing something you don’t know how it will go, so you need to have confidence in yourself.
How do you manage between producing commercially but also managing the art aspect? When you are creating visual concept for an artist’s release what is the creative process before the release like?
It is a lot of work before I release and what we really believe is that you should get close to the artist and I think that’s one of the benefits of having creatives in the house. I try to learn the artist on a deeper level and I like to work with artists for a long time because then you get this connection, beyond commercialism and finding what their truth is. We really work closely with the artist because the artist’s music is their life’s work and for me it means so much to help them and push that forward even if that means going mainstream or super artsy. All the artists I work with I have constant communication with; i text them almost every day, we have such a close connection with stuff like social media and how to push forward the release. Communication is essential and I want to emphasize that: what their work means to them and how we can share this with the public in the right way.I visualise their music and their idea to bring it to life in the best possible way.
How do you adjust your creative work/content when it comes to the international market and different cultures?
When Alan Walker was signed in Sweden, we had contact with 54 Sony offices and had to work with them. I have been to situations where we have been withdrawing because let’s say for example with Alan Walker his image doesn’t work everywhere as he is wearing a black mask. This doesn’t work in the Middle East but in Asia it works perfectly because it fits well with their culture. We do dystopian videos with Walker and we always have this discussion are we pushing it too far? We were thinking about cultural appropriation and whether people will get the concept. You always have to be careful and stay on top of the news, know cultural differences, what it means to people and also what the artist’s name means in different countries.
When it comes to creativity in music do you think that technologies/AI are disrupting the creative process or helping creativity?
I don’t think it is either or. I think it is super exciting that artists or AI can produce their music. I don’t think AI can take over an actual artist or producer. I believe we should invite it and embrace it, I don’t believe in pushing it away but rather I would like to see how it enhances creativity. I am looking forward to all the great things you can do with technology regarding AI and music overall.
What advice do you have for people who want to work in the music industry?
I would avoid specialisations at the beginning of your career because that you could do later. For example I did a program at university that has to do with business but I did design, iIdid marketing, videography, graphics, just to get this broad sense about everything. We just hired an intern and when we interview people they say I really want to specialise in this, I really want to do this and then I am thinking: “but then I can only use you for this”. The right attitude is: I can do some copywriting, I know how to hold the camera, I can design a logo, I can do some after effects- you need to know a little bit everything. With so much in your disposal everything is possible, you can be that person who embraces resources and can be helpful; I want to work with people like that.
My thoughts: Even though what Lisa was talking about applies to her experience with Sony which is focusing on commercial music, the specific focus of this talk was creativity – and creativity can be applied to all genres in music and of course to techno and the counterculture movement. I very much agree with Lisa about the fact that when you are an artist you shouldn’t settle and you should push your limits when it comes to being creative. However, what she said about cultural appropriation was right: remember when Dax J played a praying song in his set in Tunisia? So the right balance is needed.
I would like to see more artists pushing the limits when it comes to techno and creativity; whether that is in mixing or club concepts or artists themselves. I also agree with the fact that if you want to work as a DJ, producer, manager or record label owner you need to know how to do a little bit of everything and this applies especially to the counterculture as artists usually don’t have the big resources or funds that companies such as Sony have, so they cannot have a creative management team most of the time in order to get their work out there the right way.