Joe Beliotti on New Songs for the World to Sing
Joe Belliotti earned his Berklee degree in MP&E in 1995, and after years in Los Angeles and New York working in publishing, music supervision, and music marketing, he’s landed in Atlanta heading music marketing for Coca-Cola. Belliotti has guided the development and production of anthemic songs such as “Wavin’ Flag,” “Move to the Beat,” and “The World Is Ours” for Coke’s marketing campaigns for the 2012 Olympics and for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup games. His work takes him into the studio with top producers, songwriters, and artists from around the world. Additionally, Belliotti has built strategic partnerships between Coke and Spotify, and other entities. Billboard magazine has twice included Belliotti on their list of most powerful players in the music business.
What was your plan after graduation from Berklee?
I didn’t have a master plan. I moved to L.A. and started working at a small studio as an assistant engineer, getting people lunch and doing some editing. The studio was in the same building as Maverick Records, which was a joint venture between Madonna and Warner/Chappell. I spent every free minute in the halls there talking to everyone. I met Lionel Conway, the head of Maverick’s publishing company and a legend in the publishing business. I told him I wanted to work for him and he said, “That’s great, but there aren’t any jobs.” So I told him I’d work for free. I rearranged my hours to work for him during the day and then at my studio job from 6:00 P.M. until early in the morning. I did that for a few months and then Lionel hired me. So my first real job in the music industry involved trying to find new writers and artists and get their songs into film and TV soundtracks.
How did you start working on music marketing and branding campaigns?
A friend and I started a company doing music supervision for film and TV projects for Miramax, ABC, and Warner Bros TV. Then we started getting calls from advertising agencies looking to find music or celebrity talent for their campaigns. I became interested in the role music could play in supporting a marketing or branding campaign.
Later, I moved to New York and started a music-marketing agency called Brand Asset Group with Chris Lighty. He managed hip-hop artists 50 Cent and L.L. Cool J and was bringing hip-hop and branding together. We started thinking of how music could help drive a brand’s marketing objectives. It was more strategic than simply asking if companies wanted to put their product in a new music video. We got clients like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and GM. And we worked with celebrities trying to figure out how their brand could be extended beyond their music. We helped a lot of people with their fragrances and their books. It was building new and separate businesses for them.
So was this an evolution from the work ad agencies or marketing firms have traditionally done?
There are a lot of different agencies and partners that touch music. But from a marketing perspective, we are now seeing more deep specialists from the field of music. There are agencies that are really focused on music or entertainment and music or social media or experiential [marketing].
When did you get involved with Coca-Cola?
In 2008 we got a call from Coca-Cola about music for their Open Happiness campaign. In the 1970s, Coke created the iconic song “Teach the World to Sing,” so we were trying to live up to that. We wanted a song inspired by the idea of open happiness and helped them find the right producers and artists. Some that we thought represented the optimism and uplift of Coke were CeeLo, Janelle Monáe, Patrick Stump [Fallout Boy], Brendon Urie [Panic at the Disco], and Travie McKoy [Gym Class Heroes]. They wrote the song “Open Happiness” and we launched it in 110 countries in 32 different languages. Artists from China to Myanmar to Argentina remade the song. That was the first piece of global music content we created for Coke.
After that, we paired Drake with Sprite [another Coca-Cola product] as Drake’s album was being released. Then we put together a song for the FIFA World Cup campaign in 2010. That was the largest campaign Coke had ever done—it ran in 160 countries. The song “Wavin’ Flag” by K’nann was the anthem for the campaign across TV, digital, mobile, and experiential. It went to number one in 17 countries and sold 2.5 million singles. It was significant to have this in a football campaign and showed how music resonates with people.
How would you describe your work with Coca-Cola?
It’s a combination of things. Coke is connected with happiness, optimism, and uplift and you see and feel it in everything Coke does. I work at expressing that through music and creating the strategies to bring the brand to life through music. These strategies have to work in different global markets because the music that consumers are listening to in Thailand is very different from what people are listening to in Peru. You want them to be part of the same musical experience. With “Open Happiness” and “Wavin’ Flag,” we made translated duet versions for different parts of the world. We had versions in English and Spanish or English and Bosnian or English and Japanese. That helped to create a deeper resonance with music fans everywhere. I also work on global partnerships. In 2012, I put together a partnership between Spotify and Coke to help Spotify become known in different parts of the world.
How does that relationship work?
A partnership model needs to create shared value. We prioritize the objectives that each brand wants to achieve. Spotify was in 18 countries when we signed the agreement. They wanted to grow and expand to more countries. Today, they are in 55 countries. We used our marketing and media to build awareness and help them grow faster than they could have on their own. For Coke, I wanted there to be an everyday presence in music that brought our brand to life.
We have a brand profile page on Spotify. You can hear playlists from around the world. We had Pharrell curate a playlist for International Day of Happiness [established by the United Nations]. Spotify helps us bring the Coke music experience to life everyday. We feature Spotify logos on our packaging in Europe or cobranded TV commercials or Coke media on the Spotify platform.
What has your work for Coke on the upcoming World Cup involved?
When we have global programs extending into 100 or more markets—like the Olympics or the World Cup—I build the music layer. In 2012 we had producer Mark Ronson go to Moscow, Singapore, London, and the U.S. to record the sounds of Olympic athletes training. He turned that into a song sung by Katy B for the centerpiece of our campaign.
For the upcoming World Cup, we’ll bring the musical richness and diversity of Brazilian music to the world. We created a song called “The World Is Ours” with the songwriting team Rock Mafia from L.A. and producer Mario Caldato Jr. It was sung by an unsigned artist named David Correy [a 2005 Berklee alumnus]. We took the song around the world and recorded David singing with Gaby Amarantos from Brazil, Carlos Vives from Colombia, with the Chinese rock band Mayday, and with a Japanese artist. The version for the Middle East incorporates traditional instruments with Brazilian beats. I just partnered with Aloe Blacc to make a remix of the song. So all of these different artists from around the world make the song their own by singing it in their language with their musical sensibilities.
Would you say music is healthy worldwide in 2014?
People around the world are listening to music more than ever before. Music as a passion point has never been bigger. There are so many new ways to hear music these days, so the business around music is evolving and opening up so many more opportunities. When I graduated from Berklee, Spotify didn’t exist. The way the music business is evolving has made a breeding ground for new technologies and different ways of thinking about the business. And for people like me who want to be involved in the music business, there are lots of opportunities. You just don’t know what they are until you start exploring.