LVRN became one of the most creatively progressive entities in music within the last half-decade. Partners Junia Abaidoo, Sean Famoso McNichol, Carlon Ramong, Justice Baiden, and Tunde Balogun all came from immigrant backgrounds and bonded in Atlanta over a shared vision of building a multi-pronged business larger than themselves.
But how did they develop such an unshakable ecosystem that produced some of hip-hop and R&B’s freshest talent? What pushes them to continually step beyond the responsibilities of a traditional management firm and label to take on initiatives that promote the overall well-being of artists and the black community?
LVRN’s once-grassroots approaches have, over time, become refined techniques that now bring about chart-topping debuts, sold-out tours, and multiple Grammy nominations. Stem spoke with co-founder Justice Baiden about the angle they took to market 6LACK’s sophomore effort East Atlanta Love Letter, and dove deep into their ability to build a protective ecosystem for their artists.
PRIORITIES OF A ROLLOUT
6LACK’s introduction to consumers was shrouded in mystery. His debut, Free 6LACK, “was supposed to feel explosive,” Justice said. “It was supposed to feel very immediate, very underground – dark, moody, grim – and maximize on the senses that spoke to where he was in his life. It was supposed to feel like a street champion.”
The album peaked at No. 11 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
But LVRN’s strategy for 6LACK’s sophomore effort, East Atlanta Love Letter, was to pull back on the commercial appeal in favor of showcasing his artistic integrity. Still, the album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B charts with 77,000 units moved in its debut week. The success is mostly due to the consistency and depth of fan engagement LVRN implemented with the album’s rollout.
Justice explained the thorough approach they took to ensure 6LACK avoided the sophomore slump.
BUILDING OUT THE WORLD OF EAST ATLANTA LOVE LETTER
Justice says LVRN approaches every album as its own world. “The music is just the soundtrack to whatever the environment is,” and serves as the cherry on top of a foundation of narratives, themes, colors, fonts, photos, and visualizers.
East Atlanta Love Letter’s theme focused on “opening up the conversation about love.” From there, LVRN approached each touchpoint of the rollout – visual assets, websites, and physical products – with concepts that ensured fans were immersed in the conversation 6LACK was narrating.
I. VISUAL ASSETS
Album assets outside of music videos included a video series campaign titled “Confessions,” in which notable figures in the music industry spoke on their views surrounding the album’s theme.
Pulling in popular figures like Majid Jordan and RAYE positioned love as a conversation that required voices from all walks of life, as well as added star-power to create further intrigue. Though fans weren’t involved with the facilitation of this specific asset, they were drawn into the discussion through the lens of some of their favorite artists.
The team also developed confess.eastatlantaloveletter.com to add a social and interactive dynamic. Fans were invited to record their own confessionals surrounding the topic of love and relationships and were encouraged to post their responses on the websites and social media.
With an easily accessible website, fans were invited to participate in the album’s conversation alongside a broader community of people who were actively communicating with one another and with 6LACK.
III. PHYSICAL PRODUCTS
Ahead of the album’s release, LVRN mailed out 25,000 postcards to fans with personalized explanations of the album’s concept and questions asking for their thoughts on love.
For this aspect of the rollout, fans were engaged on a personal level. This strategy allowed a core base of consumers to come closer to the album’s theme, which made each postcard recipient feel as if 6LACK was communicating with them directly.
BRAND PARTNERSHIP SUPPORT FOR EAST ATLANTA LOVE LETTER
LVRN’s ability to secure high-level corporate sponsors to support their campaigns didn’t develop overnight. In their early days, when they didn’t have as much cultural capital to leverage for brand deals, they still found creative ways to build their portfolio and bring their visions to life.
Their extensive catalog of past successful campaigns made solidifying major backing for activations and parties surrounding East Atlanta Love Letter an easier task. Supportive brand partnerships included:
I. ALBUM RELEASE PARTY
- WHAT: An exclusive event in Los Angeles meant to emulate the cultural significance of Magic City in Atlanta.
- PARTNERS: Magic City & Spotify’s Rap Caviar
II. DRIVE-IN LISTENING PARTY
- WHAT: “Giving riders a chance to receive a free ride to the event by using the code 6LACK for a wonderful riding experience in a luxury Lyft car. Upon arrival, each car was given an assigned spot at the drive-in where riders waited patiently in anticipation of the artist’s arrival.” Participants then “return to their vehicles and tune into the drive-in’s radio station. Guests were able to listen to every song on the album. Rolling out interviewed 6LACK before the listening session began.” — via Rolling Out
- PARTNERS: Lyft
“You have to have a track record to get companies to believe in what you and your artist are doing,” Justice said. “A rare trait about us is we put creativity at the forefront and use it to leverage things we’ve built to get help and sponsorship support to be able to create these moments.”
Even if your options for finding major brand partners are limited, consider collaborating with smaller companies that align well with your brand. Every time you allow fans to consume a product or experience an event, make an effort to document the results for as many KPIs as possible. The end goal of any partnership should be to showcase the amount of creativity, influence, and demand your artist possesses.
While East Atlanta Love Letter engaged fans with physical postcards and virtual confessions, LVRN brought 6LACK’s most recent EP, 6pc Hot, to life with the creation of a branded hot sauce line.
As management, consider appealing to the emotions and the senses of your artist’s fan base. By releasing a condiment, LVRN was able to stimulate taste (a sense that isn’t explored often from a promotional standpoint) and create a new revenue stream for 6LACK.
BUILDING AN ARTIST-FIRST COMPANY
LVRN has established itself as a model company when it comes to supporting their artist’s creative visions. But their commitment to providing a guarded infrastructure for their roster to thrive as people and businesses is just as prevalent.
Below are two of the most impactful initiatives LVRN has taken on to create a healthy environment for its artists and staff.
A FOCUS ON MENTAL HEALTH
Hanging on the walls in the common area of LVRN’s office is a simple message: “You’re safe here.”
While some management firms and labels may only focus on providing their artists with the tools to sharpen their talents (such as vocal coaches or personal trainers), LVRN made a company-wide commitment to enhancing their artists’ mental health earlier this year.
“There are certain artists that when they’re not feeling great, it inspires them,” Justice said. “It might send others into a spiral. Within the last year, with all the tragic events and everything that has happened, we have to be more responsible about the people we care about. We try to lead by example.”
While diet and exercise have put Justice and his partners in a better mental state, he admits that dedicated therapy sessions have been the primary catalyst for improving the communication flow between staff and artists.
But adding this component to their operations wasn’t an easy task. Because providing mental health services expands beyond the responsibilities of a management firm and label, it increases LVRN’s liabilities and expenses as a company. Nonetheless, they believe it’s a worthy investment and risk to take.
“We want to lead in good faith and deal with things as they come because we feel like change isn’t easy,” he said. “That was our motivation to get this done.”
A FOCUS ON FINANCIAL LITERACY
It’s not always easy to convince an artist of what they should do with their money. Many may rush to purchase a new car or a home when they get their first advance check. Some may believe the best option for their money is to keep it in cash.
Justice admits to dealing with both scenarios. Rather than withhold the information and resources they’ve acquired over time, LVRN makes a concerted effort to educate their artists on essential topics, specifically financial literacy. Justice has developed a proven pedagogical approach when it comes to revealing the importance of investing in the future rather than showboating for the moment.
“It’s not always as advantageous to be liquid,” he tells his artists. “Being liquid isn’t doing anything with the money. Money is just supposed to be a tool. If you’re not using that tool correctly, then you’re missing on an opportunity of creating wealth for yourself and creating new income streams.”
Download Justice’s full playbook below!