About 20 current and former NFL players — including DK Metcalf, Joe Haden, Derwin James and Darren Waller — sat around an open gathering space at the headquarters for Interscope Geffen A&M Records in Santa Monica, California. But they weren’t there to preview new music. Instead, the athletes gained insight from executives about opportunities that exist within the music industry to build their personal brands and expand their careers beyond the football field.
Tuesday’s career day was part of the NFL’s newly launched Career Tours program, where Bud Dupree, Janoris Jenkins, Robert Turbin and Ray-Ray McCloud participated in a series of panel discussions that offered snapshots into various aspects of the music industry, from marketing and A&R to producing and signing talent.
“Over the years, Interscope has done a great job of having a relationship with the NFL and the networks, but we wanted to take a second to make sure that the players were taken care of as well,” said Dave Nieman, senior vp, sports and gaming at Interscope, the home to A-list artists like Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, J. Cole and Olivia Rodrigo.
In a morning talk about how visuals bring an artist’s ethos to life, Michelle An, the label’s executive vp and head of visual creative, offered advice on the importance of building an authentic brand that was relevant to the athletes even in their present sports careers.
“If you’re doing a brand deal, it’s really important to make sure it doesn’t feel like some brand just gave you money and you’re a pawn,” she said. “You have to be assured of your own brand for it to look like it’s a partnership.”
Emphasizing how collaborations that align with an individual’s own values are essential to a campaign’s effectiveness, An added: “When your brand is strong, you make it easy for the fans. And when you make it easy for the fans, that’s when you start creating super fans.”
The record label’s chairman/CEO and vice chairman, John Janick and Steve Berman, also spoke to the players and the afternoon sessions offered more tactile learning opportunities as the players moved to the label’s studio space for a sneak peek of Dear Mama, the upcoming FX docuseries about legendary rapper Tupac Shakur. The viewing also involved a conversation on music curation, clearing samples and partnerships centered around legacy acts.
And the pros were treated to listening sessions with Interscope recording artists Bas, Westside Boogie, EST Gee, Zack Bia, midwxst and Lil Mosey, as well as interactive tutorials on studio production with engineers and producers. That was of particular interest to Darren Waller of the New York Giants.
“I’m an artist and a producer myself ,and I want to know more about how to market myself and how record labels cultivate artists and how to apply it to my own journey,” he said. “There’s so many different ways to be in the music space and to have this level of inclusion and get this level of information. A lot of people can’t do that.”
Athletes had to apply to participate in the NFL Career Tours program, which also included Torry Holt, Tamba Hali, Michael Woods, Joe Barksdale, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Qwuantrezz Knight, Chester Pitts, Godwin Igwebuike, Alex Wright, Keith Taylor Jr. and Julius Chestnut. Roughly 75 applications were received during the registration period from November 2022 to January 2023.
“We decided that the sweet spot was 18-20 guys per event because we wanted it to be intimate,” says Tracy Perlman, the NFL’s senior vp of marketing and communications.
At the beginning of March, Fifth Season and Hidden Empire introduced 18 players to the ins and outs of the entertainment industry, including acting, casting, directing, financing and distribution. A week later another group of 16 players gained insight into product development, marketing and branding at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon.
When athletes expressed interest in learning more about the music industry, Interscope was the NFL’s first choice as a partner, Perlman said.
“They have the same philosophy we do. We are player-first and they are artist-first. Everything we do is about value to the player,” she said.
To that end, the career days aren’t meant to be one-time immersive experiences but rather jumping off points for long-term endeavors.
“The whole scope of this program is to give players insight so that they can say, ‘This is for me, I want to pursue it,’ and now they have the network to continue the conversation,” Perlman said.
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