Mary Rahmani on Baking Music Into TikTok and the Talent of Everyday Creators
Mary Rahmani is founder of the new multidisciplinary creative agency and record label Moon Projects, a company poised to provide creative solutions for brands and artists at the intersection of the music industry and the creator economy.
Rahmani is a leading expert in the worlds of short-form video, strategic creative partnerships and A&R across emerging platforms. In addition to helming Moon Projects, Rahmani is global head of partnerships at Triller, the social media app favored by musicians, influencers, athletes and overall culture setters with more than 300 million users worldwide. She joined the company in 2020 after two years at TikTok, where she was director of music content and artist partnerships, playing an integral role in the app's meteoric rise.
Rahmani has spent over 20 years in the music and entertainment industries and has previously held senior positions at various major and indie labels, publishers, as well as serving as an artist manager.
We caught up with Mary for our Liner Notes series to learn more about her musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work she's proud of and admired.
Mary, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born and raised in Southern California, from Echo Park, Santa Clarita, to Orange County. I currently live in Pasadena.
Your earliest musical memory.
Discovering my parents' vinyl in a closet. I was impressed that my immigrant parents had records by Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles. I remember feeling that those records were magical and started to dive into jazz, classic rock, Brit-pop, and then became consumed with all the incredible alternative and hip-hop artists of the '90s.
Your first concert.
Back to my immigrant parents, I wasn't allowed to attend concerts, so I would sneak out. I think my senior year of high school, we went to see Third Eye Blind—they were all over the radio and one of the biggest artists of that time. After that, I dove into "cooler" artists—saw Radiohead, the Verve, and attended as many shows as I could consume over the next couple of decades. I feel like I lived at the Echo, Spaceland (RIP) and the Troubadour.
Your favorite bands/musicians.
Radiohead. OK Computer blows my mind. It did at 17, and it still does today. The emotion of Thom's vocals, the way the instruments take you on an emotional journey, and the way they incorporate tech sounds and effects—it just wakes up every sensation. Their music just makes me feel all the things I don't know how to put into words.
The Walkmen. Hamilton's vocals, the way they incorporate gorgeous horns, keys, guitar and drums. It's indie, it's alternative, it's rock, and I just love everything they create.
Arcade Fire. I can't recall the radio station, perhaps KCRW, but I heard "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," and I was like, "Who. Is. This?" I immediately drove to Tower Records to purchase their album, and my love affair started from there. They create insane melodies, riffs and emotional lyrical journeys that make you want to dance and cry.
How you get your music these days.
I love learning about new artists through blogs and indie/college radio stations—old-school habits. But of course, I stream on many DSPs and dive into playlists.
Your favorite place to see a concert.
The Troubadour. It's intimate, historic, and you feel like you get extra cool points when the door gives you the VIP sticker to go upstairs. The Greek is a close second.
Your favorite music video, if you have one, and why.
a-ha's "Take on Me." I grew up watching MTV in its prime, and the animation was unique and immediately stood out to me. Mark Romanek and Michel Gondry have made some of my favorites, such as Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and Johnny Cash's "Hurt."
Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.
I used to love MTV's 120 Minutes because it's how I discovered alternative/indie music and videos that weren't commercial at the time.
Soundtracks are always a great way to discover new music. There was plenty of teen-focused programming that showcased indie artists, and it's a great forum to find out what is underground and what will bubble to be next.
A recent project you're proud of.
Honestly, I'm proud of my time with TikTok. When I started, we were building from the ground up. I was able to create a lane for artists and music to shine and have a presence. The platform was multiplying every day, and making sure emerging artists and their music didn't get lost in the amplification of creators was extremely important to me. I was able to take my background and experience in discovering talent early and help elevate many of the artists and songs that have commercial success today.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
I appreciate the creativity of everyday creators on short-form platforms. Yes, there have been many brands and agencies that have created innovative campaigns for their products. But there's nothing like organic, authentic grassroots virality that comes from everyday people, whether that's an '80s inspired workout dance to The Weeknd, a skater bringing new life to cranberry juice and Fleetwood Mac, or the incredible mini-movies that strategically integrate Adult Swim. I admire how one person's idea can become a viral sensation that integrates into pop culture.
How musicians should approach working with brands.
Musicians should view collaborations with brands as an opportunity to take their art and bring it to new audiences. It gets their creativity into a new forum and can be financially rewarding to allow them to continue creating and growing.
How brands should approach working with musicians.
Brands need to remember that musicians are not influencers. They create music that their deepest feelings and aspirations have inspired. Artists are crucial to our world, and without musicians and music, none of us could function. I'd love to see brands continue to advocate for emerging artists, diverse genres, and budgets that value their contribution to their growth.
What music can do that nothing else can.
Music represents every emotion we feel as a society. It can take you from happy to sad, to pain to joy in the same 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Our voice is our song, and it's a part of our world forever.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.
If I weren't working in music or something creative, I'd focus my time on philanthropy. We are nothing without each other, and we need to continue to advocate for human rights: homelessness, victims of abuse, social and racial injustice. We are in no shortage of ways to help each other in this world.
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.