Nate Auerbach on Oatly's 'Wow No Cow' Remixes and Brands as Patrons to Artists
Nate Auerbach is a partner at Versus Creative, an agency that builds meaningful connections between fans and music culture. With expertise in digital content, fan experiences and music business strategy, Nate and Versus lead unique campaigns for clients including Spotify, Amazon, Goldenvoice Concerts, Facebook and Instagram, Rockstar Games, Oatly, Monotone Management, the George Harrison Estate, Discogs, Vinyl Me, Please and the LA Memorial Coliseum, as well as top-tier artists like the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Solange, Vampire Weekend and CHVRCHES.
Prior to joining Versus, Nate spent a decade as a digital music executive at some of tech and entertainment's most influential companies. Nate spent four years as head of music at Tumblr, and before that worked at The Collective talent management company in L.A. Prior to The Collective, Nate held many roles at MySpace.
Nate got his start in the industry as a tour manager while finishing college at Syracuse University and, upon graduation, traveled the world with multi-Grammy Award winning band Ozomatli.
We caught up with Nate 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.
Nate, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, outside Cleveland, and currently live in Brooklyn. But I'm also in L.A.
Your earliest musical memory.
Singing backup for my mom's children's music album, which is still available on all streaming services.
Your first concert.
My first real concert was Bob Dylan at Cain Park in Cleveland. I don't remember the details like what he sang or what merch they were selling, but I do remember how amazing his band sounded and the way I felt while sitting in the grass watching people of all ages sing every word. The joy still sits with me.
Your favorite bands/musicians.
Outkast and the Grateful Dead. They're both so iconic, pioneering, genre-defying, genre-defining in their own ways and have influenced my passion for music and innovation. The Grateful Dead's songs, performances, ethos and community remain unmatched by any live experience, and something I always revisit. Outkast, to me, is the greatest duo of all time. As I evolved as a music fan from middle school through college and into my career, my love for Outkast would grow with each incrementally mind-blowing album they released. I'll never forget going to the Soundgarden in Syracuse on the day Stankonia came out during my freshman year of college, and the overwhelming rush I had when I first heard "B.O.B." over the Bose boombox in my dorm room. I feel their influence in some of my favorite contemporary artists, like Tyler the Creator, Janelle Monáe and Earthgang.
How you get your music these days.
One of my favorite sources is a "new music" Slack channel I'm on with members of Vinyl Me, Please—a client and company I advise. Their "On Rotation" playlist of new tracks is consistent fire and refreshes every Tuesday. Egon from Now Again Records has a fantastic playlist of gems. In my mind he is music's Indiana Jones.
Some labels and publicists send me music early or before it's released. I'm on Spotify every weekday for all the things it's great for—Pollen, Butter and personalized recommendations. I use Apple Music as my library, where I catalog my music and stream albums and playlists that I don't want to mess with my algorithm.
And I collect vinyl—subscribe to Vinyl Me, Please, buy from Discogs, Human Head in Brooklyn, and from local shops wherever I travel.
Your favorite place to see a concert.
At home: Kings Theater in Brooklyn.
Anywhere: Red Rocks in Colorado.
Your favorite music video.
Beyoncé's "Single Ladies." It's the greatest of all time.
Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.
TV show: The original Muppet show.
Podcast: Broken Record with Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell and co.
A recent project you're proud of.
We worked with Oatly to craft a music strategy around their "Wow No Cow" Super Bowl spot. Our directive was to align with Oatly's values of sustainability as a product that is "made for humans." Rather than prioritize getting the most views or working with the biggest artist, it was important that we were just real and a part of the music community rather than just doing the obvious splashy thing. In repping these values, we aimed to partner with a diverse array of niche creators and musicians, as well as the "unsung" touring professionals to make their own versions of the song, and some incredible videos, with the goal to "just have fun." We ended up with 60 total versions, which are all up on oatly.bandcamp.com, along with limited-edition merch to benefit the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA).
We got to shine a light on members of a touring industry who had been stuck at home for a year. For the road crews who had been isolated, their collaborations brought them back to the camaraderie they had been missing.
This was also a huge group effort between my company, Versus Creative, and our friends at Humbleriot, and I'm proud of the team that worked on the project. The results—the incredible creative set of songs and videos—show what happens when you bring together people of different experiences, backgrounds, ages and skill sets to employ their unique super powers. These 60 songs and videos are a collection of every genre and niche, from Taiwan to Des Moines, sea shanty to lo-fi beats, country to shoegaze.
I am also proud to work with an inspiring brand whose values I admire and whose partnership is a joy.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
The Bleacher Report NBA Remix merch series is brilliant. They recruited popular artists to design NBA-licensed gear. It embodies so much of what a solid tech product needs in order to establish its own cultural importance. First, it brings sports and music culture together through the demand of scarcity and hometown pride. Second, it provides something desirable for all parties involved—artists, sports teams and fans of both. It invests in cultural equity, rather than just borrowing from it. Third, it's a repeatable series that can continue to grow as long as it can stay fresh.
How musicians should approach working with brands.
A musician should aim to partner with a brand that matches up in values and will be a patron to their creative vision. It's important that the partnership can accomplish at least one of three things for the artist: 1) allow the artist to do something creative that they've always wanted to do, 2) expand their audience reach or distribution, or 3) be a means to achieve an artist's future goals, whatever they may be.
How brands should approach working with musicians.
Too often I hear brands say, "Can we get an artist to do ______?" This objectifies artistry and makes it more about the brand. Instead, try saying, "What can we create so that artists will want to do ________?" That mentality shift makes you a partner and not just a check. Most brands partner with artists to borrow cultural equity and bring that artist's fans to their brand. Instead, try thinking about what the artist wants out of it and what would make them excited enough to tell their fans about your work together. Most important, what will make other artists look at what you're doing and say, "I want that!"
What music can do that nothing else can.
Music can take people to a place, create a feeling, or power a mindset. I always think it's so wonderful that music is best enjoyed both in solitude and with people. It has the urgency of art, the fandom of sports, the frequency of food, and creativity of film. Through music, people are able to identify and celebrate who they really are and find others like them. It's everywhere, ever evolving, massive and personal.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.
I would be working at a brand agency, or in-house somewhere. My drive is to create non-traditional marketing experiences that impact our culture, and I'm inspired by the potential that brands can wield.
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.