Q & A with Bill Werde at Billboard Music & Advertising Conference in New York


Yesterday, I attended the first annual Billboard Music and Advertising Conference (June 4-5, at the W Hotel). The conference – hosted by Billboard’s editorial director Bill Werde – was focused on how music and advertising can go hand-in-hand, and enhance each other’s emotional impact and drive sales. It also featured panel discussions with case studies on how major brands (like Crystal Light, and Converse), artists and music supervisors can benefit from working together. It was a day filled with back-to-back interviews and panels, each one more informative and engaging than the next, including music industry all-stars like branding visionary Steve Stoute (Translation, LLC), music advertising mogul Josh Rabinowitz of Grey Worldwide, and of course, the main draw of the day: legendary music producer and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams.

Bill Werde, who punctuated the keynote interviews with his dry, sharp humor, was kind enough to grant me an interview…


Termeh Mazhari: How did idea for the Billboard Music & Advertising Conference come about?

Bill Werde: We’ve been kicking around the idea of the Music & Advertising conference for a while. It’s really one of the parts of the music business that has remained strong in the face of declining record sales. But what we saw at another event called Music & Money, that goes on in March, is that we did a panel there on music and advertising and the panel was not only really well attended – it was also quite incendiary. There was a lot of dispute between the agency side and the label side and there’s this great respect where they realized that they could make each other money but there’s also this great tension about who had the ownership and who was more important…so it’s kind of like, Hey we really should make this happen. And here we are…a few months later.

Termeh Mazhari: What keynote speaker were you most looking forward to interviewing?

Bill Werde: Well, one of our keynotes today was Pharrell Williams and I’ve just been such a big fan of his work for so long – from the pop stuff he’s done with Britney and Justin , and so many other people…He’s an amazing artist. His own stuff, N.E.R.D., actually, I think is kind of really underappreciated. And at the same time, he’s done a lot of cutting edge work with [Chris] Brown so I was really kind of curious to see what he would be like, you know, as a person, as a businessman…And he definitely had more of an artist vibe which is kind of what I expected. But it was good. He was smart, he’s really nice, and funny…I thought he was great!

Termeh Mazhari: How has Billboard been coping with the decline of magazine sales, especially now in light of the news of its peers like Blender and now Performing Songwriter that have folded…?

Bill Werde: I think Billboard’s coping by keeping a pretty laser focus on the parts of the business that are succeeding, both internally – in terms of our own business – and externally – in terms of the music business. You know, today is evidence of that. This is a conference that we pulled together pretty quickly. It’s standing room only. And yeah, you know, I think that as long as we continue to keep our eyes on the places where commerce really intersects, and keep our eyes on the places in and around music that are making money, and that are making more money, and really kind of help people do business around those areas, then we’ll continue to succeed. That’s kind of on the B2B side of our business. A lot of people don’t realize the extent to which Billboard is almost two distinct brands right now. I mean, we’ve got Billboard print magazine which is a business magazine…

Termeh Mazhari: A trade…

Bill Werde: We are a trade, but I just view us as a business magazine. I think we’re The Economist for people who make money around music. That’s what I saw it to be. A little bit of Wired Magazine, a little bit of Economist…maybe a little bit Rolling Stone. You know, I want Billboard to be recognized as a smart, savvy, kind of essential read for people who make their living in music. But then at the same time we have Billboard.com. Now Billboard.com is a pure music fan site. It is not music industry. Billboard.com has 4.5 unique million users a month. You know, there’s probably 20,000 people that work in the music industry so with 4.5 unique million users a month, I think that really underscores what we’re doing. We’re re-launching that site on July 15. We’ve seen growth, great growth – from a traffic perspective, from a revenue perspective…however way you cut it, we’re really excited about Billboard.com

Termeh Mazhari: What else can we expect to see from Billboard?

Bill Werde: On July 15, we’re re-launching the site and I think we’re really going to change the way people define the music experience in terms of charting. I think everyone knows the Billboard charts, right? But I think we’re gonna change people’s definitions of what that really means. We’re gonna make those charts experiential. We’re gonna make the data and the information you can find much more easier to access, much more easier to find. And that’s really my excitement on the consumer side. On the business side, it’s events like this that, you know… It’s always working to keep the focus of the print magazine on the parts of the business that are remaining robust and where the good ideas are coming.

Termeh Mazhari: And finally, a question about New York…What are your favorite hang out spots in NYC?

Bill Werde: I love going to Rockwood ‘cause you never know what artist you’ve never heard of before is gonna really impress you on any given night.

Termeh Mazhari: What NYC neighborhoods do you like the most?

Bill Werde: Well, I’m going to shout out my own neighborhood, which is Jackson Heights. I love Jackson Heights. I’ve lived there for 3.5-4 years now. It’s really funny actually…At this event, there was a woman who works with a music supervision company who came up to me and said: I heard you live in Jackson Heights, and I live in Jackson Heights! And it turns out that when she came up to me, we were actually standing in front of another woman who lives in Jackson Heights who overheard us, so I think we’re gonna form the Jackson Heights music industry professionals club or something. It’s such a great neighborhood. There are streets in Jackson Heights where it’s literally like being in India, or in Mexico. There are rich, rich cultures there which means there’s amazing food. And at the same time, you’re starting to see you know…there’s a Starbucks there now…But I love my neighborhood. They just opened an organic health store there so it’s great.

What else do I love?…probably my favorite venue to see a show these days, outside of Rockwood, I still think Bowery Ballroom is one of the best places to go. There’s always something magical about…Actually, the new Beacon reopened. They really cleaned it and brought out the original work there, so it’s kind of beautiful. Unfortunately most of these days, I hang out in the office. And I have a 2.5 year old so when I’m not hanging out in the office, I want to be home with my family.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 5th, 2009 at 7:15 am and is filed under Interview, Music, New York City Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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