Dirty Pop Digital's Erik Giusti on the Power of Fans in the Avalanche of Music Content

What artists like Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Doja Cat are doing right

Erik Giusti is a music and entertainment marketing executive with over 12 years experience in social media marketing and content creation for both superstar music artists and emerging talent. Recently, Erik launched Dirty Pop Digital, a music-focused digital marketing agency helping to bring artists and their fans closer together through authenticity, engaging content and data-driven strategy.

During his career, Erik has served artists such as Katy Perry, Sam Smith, Beck and Troye Sivan as a digital marketing expert at Capitol Records, led music strategy and partnerships for Facebook and Instagram in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and most recently collaborated on content-driven and cultural marketing campaigns with artists such as Lizzo, Jack Harlow and Tiesto as a partnerships lead at TikTok. Erik has focused his energy on supporting diverse talent, showcasing artists through cultural initiatives such as Pride, and educating talent and fan communities on the importance of mental health in this "always-on" world.

We caught up with Erik for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Erik, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now. 

I grew up as the fifth generation of an agricultural family from wine country in Northern California. I knew from a young age that I was destined to create my own path and follow my passion for music. That path has taken me through Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, London, and back to Los Angeles, where I am now. 

Your earliest musical memory. 

On my wrist I have tattoo'd the date of my first live music memory and experience: 08/06/2000. This was the day my dad took me to my first concert seeing Britney Spears on her Oops! I Did It Again Tour. I remember "performing" her dance routines for the people seated around us.

Your first concert.

Since I've already answered this question above, I'll take a moment to list out some of my favorite concerts of all time: Coldplay "Head Full of Dreams" Tour at the Rose Bowl, Spice Girls "Spice World 2019" Tour at Wembley Stadium, and Sam Smith's first U.S. solo show at Mercury Lounge in NYC. 

Your favorite bands/musicians. 

To ask someone so passionate about music this question is like asking them to pick their favorite child … but I'm no coward, so let's give it a shot. To this day, I'm still enamored by the music of my Y2K childhood. I always say, "If it was on TRL then I probably still love it." My favorite musicians are performers and storytellers who can bring complexity while still reaching the masses. Artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake will always be the ones that bring me the most joy. Anything Max Martin touches is gold. He's my musical hero. Lady Gaga once said, "Pop music will never be lowbrow."

How you get your music these days.

Spotify, mostly. But too much is never enough. I'm always devouring new music and discovering talent that I can share with friends. I also am a prolific playlist maker so if you're looking for Y2K hip-hop throwback tunes or to get the party started, you know where to find me.

Your favorite place to see a concert.

I love BIG shows! While some artists can manage standing on stage behind a guitar for two hours, I prefer to attend shows with storylines, choreography and effects that give you goosebumps. My favorite venue in the world is probably Royal Albert Hall. In Los Angeles, my favorites include the Greek Theatre, the Forum, and YouTube Theater … but please don't ask me what I think about the parking.

Your favorite music video.

I have been waiting my whole life to be asked this question. While other children were dreaming of being an astronaut, teacher or doctor, the first thing I wanted to be was a music video director! I am a visual listener and am always creating stories in my head. Perhaps that's why I feel at home in this new content-heavy ecosystem. My favorite music videos are the ones that drive conversation, strike an emotional chord, and keep me rewatching. Put these on your YouTube queue: "Papaoutai" by Stromae, "American Life (Directors Cut)" by Madonna, "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World, "Sacrilege" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and "Wyclef Jean" by Young Thug.

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

I prefer not to watch any films or TV shows about the music industry, as there's usually so much they get wrong. I much prefer shows like Euphoria that integrate music so deeply into the emotional connection of the viewer. Labrinth is able to both create a cinematic experience and a pop song at the same time. Not to mention Zendaya leaning into music interwoven in the show gives her performance extra depth. Although, if you're looking for a good podcast about music, I highly recommend the episode "The Case of the Missing Hit" by Reply All about when a song gets stuck in your head and the title is on the tip of your tongue.

A recent project you're proud of.

The projects I'm most proud of are the ones that bring once-in-a-lifetime experiences to fans without shoving call-to-actions or products down their throats. During my time at TikTok, I loved working closely with Papa Roach and ADA to bring to life a live-performance experience pairing the band with one of their contemporaries, Simple Plan. Fun chaos ensued. Being able to work with artists with deep discographies who still have creative vision, aren't afraid of new technologies, and know how to lean into cultural conversations is the absolute best. I love helping bring those visions to life for their fans.

Music consumption is so different nowadays. What's familiar is new again and what's new is, well, overwhelming. You see so often, especially with apps like TikTok, that people are so bombarded with "new" that they feel a sense of safety rediscovering the music that once made them feel good. That's why songs with samples are doing so well. You see the same phenomenon in film with movies like Top Gun, Hocus Pocus, etc.

Shout-out to Mike Greene, Ian Dietrich, Aylish O'Sullivan, Bryson Roach and the whole team for their hard work! It takes a village.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

I love watching the artistic growth of Lil Nas X. Here's an artist who started out as an meme influencer on Twitter then used his knowledge of online culture to transition followers into music fans. Many people had written him off as a one-hit wonder. But when he was able to come back fully embracing his truth and narrative so unapologetically, he transcended expectations and opened up new conversations. What's special is his understanding of how to drive conversation and keep connected with culture/his audiences even during major success. You see so often artists lose touch and get complacent in their fame, but he's managed to stay true to his audience and true to himself while still blazing paths. 

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how good your label's marketing team is, you can no longer manipulate success by throwing money at large music videos, advertising, late-night TV or even really choosing singles nowadays. The power is in the audience's hands. Success now comes directly from the relationship between an artist, their community, and culture. The artists that understand this, like Lil Nas X, are the ones who are succeeding and building lasting careers.

How musicians should approach working with brands. 

Authenticity. Yeah, we all love big paychecks, but if the brand does not feel authentic to an artist, then their audience will see through that immediately. Fans are constantly being bombarded with advertising and sales messaging to the point of exhaustion, so it's important for artists to know when to sell and when to not sell. Break through the noise. A lot of the reasons why artists like Lizzo are so successful is her ability to find the right balance of everyday lifestyle content and asking fans to buy something. People talk about the "80/20 rule" being a good way to approach your audience: 80 percent of content not selling, 20 percent selling.

I don't envy musicians nowadays. Not only do you have to write music and tour, you also have to be a full-time content creator, brand ambassador, philanthropist, actor and sometimes even therapist to fans. That's why I'm so passionate about working with artists, and why I started Dirty Pop Digital, as a way to make social media and content creation less intimidating by building strategies that fit individual needs and goals. 

How brands should approach working with musicians.

Again, authenticity! A perfect example of what to do and what not to do is Taco Bell's partnership with Doja Cat. A copywriter sending a list of corporate liners and suggestions to an artist like Doja Cat, who has built a career being her authentic self, was never going to work. But what Doja Cat did was genius, exposing the corporate process and flipping it on its head. By being transparent with audiences and using her brand of humor, she was able to create content that felt authentic to her and drove engagement beyond Taco Bell's wildest dreams.

What music can do that nothing else can.

Music gives you an emotional connection you can always come back to—thanks, streaming! I associate music with certain feelings. When I want to dance, nowadays I'm going to turn on SG Lewis, Tove Lo or Rihanna. Or when I'm feeling some type of way, maybe Giveon, Victoria Monet or Sade. With over 100,000 new songs added to streaming platforms daily, young people are steering away from genre and artist loyalty, instead searching out music that fit a specific mood they are in or want to be in.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

I'm extremely passionate about thrifting and vintage clothing. I love the feeling you get when you go on a treasure hunt and find something unique. I can't wait to eventually open up my own shop … and of course still having a music section of my favorite band tees and vinyl.

Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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