Photography by Nehemiah Brent
Styling by Karissa Mitchell
"Everything that you see on the internet" is Touré Ali Shiver's response when asked what he does as the Digital Marketing Manager at Columbia. He works with a handful of today's top artists, such as Tyler, the Creator, to create a cohesive rollout for each release. Read on to hear how he got to where he is and the advice he learned along the way.
This interview took place over the phone between Tate VanderPoel Smith in Los Angeles and Touré Ali Shiver in NYC.
TVPS: Starting off, how did you get here?
TAS: My story begins in high school. At the time, I was making music and working on my first project. I got to a point where it was time to start putting together all of the creative for the project: the artwork, the videos, just general creative. I didn't have anybody that was helping me build those things, so I was like, cool, you know, it can't be that hard to make a mixtape cover. I went onto YouTube, did a quick video search, and that was my entrance into graphic design.
For real, always YouTube University.
I went to college in 2012 at North Carolina A&T State University to study marketing and picked up photography around the same time. When I got on campus, I developed a deeper passion for it and started doing photoshoots with people all throughout NC.
My work started to get attention, and I ended up starting my own design, photography, and creative agency TAXCO, which eventually led me to land larger clients. Overall, my goal was to make what I was learning in school applicable to real life, and the best way to do that was through building my own portfolio.
Sophomore year rolled around, and I got an internship at Karmaloop, which at the time was a huge streetwear retailer. I took on the role of content production intern, so I was designing assets for the website and also taking photos at the same time.
How'd you land the role?
So I applied [laughs]. I went to the Karmaloop website and emailed every single email they had listed. I’m one of those people that at the beginning stages of my career, I cold emailed every major brand that I like. No one really gives you a manual for how to apply for a job, so I figured as long as companies have an application from me in their inbox, I'm going to land something.
Working at Karmaloop gave me access to all the different streetwear brands that they were selling, and being able to shoot them essentially gave me a ton of content to help build my portfolio.
The following summer, I got accepted into art school in Italy to study photography. I came back to the states a few months later and the very next day was on a flight to Portland to intern at Adidas.
While I was there, I fell in love with the process of working behind the scenes. It was cool to find out that the people who hire big-name creators and influencers for jobs are really just everyday people who love what they do. You don't see them as the face of marketing campaigns, but they are the ones who put them together.
Not to mention it was my first time in a real corporate setting. The amount of game I picked up in that one summer changed my life for the better.
After Adidas, I went back to school and finished out college with a rolodex of clients and connections. I had built a portfolio, worked with some of my favorite brands, and understood how social media was shaping the world.
For me, being able to do those things early on is what helped my career get to where it is now. By the time I got out of college, I had a great foundation that allowed me to springboard into the next phase of my career.
I graduated in 2016 and relocated to New York to get my master's and run social at this agency called Laundry Service. They had a media company called Cycle which was essentially a cross between Complex and Bleacher Report so I spent my time there managing all of the brand's social channels and creating viral editorial content.
I transitioned to music after a friend recommended that I and do digital marketing at a record label. I felt like I got everything out of agency life after two years of creating content and running socials. For me, switching to work in the music industry was a full-circle moment that I couldn't pass up.
I ended up getting connected with Columbia Records, and since then I’ve been executing digital marketing strategies for about half their roster. 24kGoldn, Baby Keem, Chloe x Halle, Lil Nas X, Polo G, Tyler, The Creator to name a few. Artists I grew up listening to and new artists that are making noise. So far it’s been the best career decision of my life.
What’s your day to day?
My role as a Digital Marketing Manager encompasses everything that you see on the internet.
Our jobs are a mixture of social media management, strategy, audience development, content creation, and more. Mostly everything that comes out from an artist on socials we play some type of role in.
We manage the relationships between all of the digital partners, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, etc. We plan out rollouts for artist's songs and albums, develop digital advertising campaigns, work with influencers, and overall help artists build their brands on the Internet.
My day to day changes based on release. For the most part, it's prep, making sure things are set up with partners, assets are ready, and campaigns are good to launch. From there, it's executing and ensuring things get posted, and we follow through on our digital plans. Every project is different, so the approach always changes.
What does your team look like?
Our digital team at Columbia is fairly small but we're a tight circle of some of the best in the industry. We understand how the internet works, move in real-time and we're all just trying to win at the end of the day.
How do you make time for yourself?
I'm very big on mental health and creating space to make sure that I don't get overwhelmed. It's very easy to overwork yourself in the music industry, so you have to make sure you're always making time for yourself. For me, I try not to start my workday before a certain time in the morning. When I wake up, those first few hours are dedicated to me. Going to the gym, meditating, and setting myself up for the day. That clarity is important. On weekends, I enjoy life and take those necessary breaks. Vacation / PTO time is important too. Never feel bad for taking time off. It helps with restoring inspiration and creativity.
How was working on Tyler’s album, Call Me If You Get Lost?
I worked on IGOR when I first got to Columbia. Tyler is an artist that does everything himself, he’ll come with a plan of what he wants to do, and it’s our job as the label to help him execute it. For IGOR, that was exactly the case, we executed, and that's it.
But for CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, he had us fly out to LA and played us the album to really get our minds going. It's different when you hear everything from the artist firsthand. He allowed us to come in and pitch ideas and talk through concepts. As a result, we were able to ideate and execute what I think is probably one of the best and most cohesive rollouts of the year.
What does a cohesive rollout mean to you?
So what that means to me is that the day the rollout starts, there’s a seamless flow, and the music, videos, creative and digital activations all align.
If you look at Tyler's album and how it was rolled out, he started with a phone number; that phone number featured a bunch of different voicemails that were all pieces from the album. From there, you get a website from the website, you get the album creative, then you get videos, and next thing, you get the album. There’s not a single piece of content [from Tyler's album] that you can look at, even down to how he dresses, and say that doesn't look right.
I think that's very important to understand when delivering music because it's no longer just about the music anymore. Fans want to buy into the full package, and with so much content being shared all the time, you have to really cut through all of the noise and bring people in.
For someone who is considering this type of career path, what skills would you say are the most important to have?
Off rip great communicating skills. You have to be someone who can articulate the vision of the artist and the vision of the team. A person who is organized and can easily adjust to anything because a lot of things happen in real-time.
Even though it shouldn't have to be said, I think you also have to love the internet and be great at social media. You have to know what's going on in culture and have creative ideas. We're always trying to take it to the next level so creativity is super important.
Take Chlöe for example. I'm working on her debut single "Have Mercy" right now and we're going crazy on TikTok. As her digital marketing manager, I have to be able to speak to what trends are taking off for the song, how we can maximize and what creative things she can do to engage her audience.
I think the last thing is having control over your ego. You're going to have ideas, and sometimes those ideas aren't it. I've had days where an idea didn't hit at all. You can't take that personally, though, and you have to be able to say, alright, cool, back to the drawing board. Let me come with something better.
Well said! That almost answers my next question—do you have any advice for someone who looks up to you?
Don't get discouraged and know what you’re in it for.
I'm going on my third year in the music industry. For me, I’m in it to break artists and build careers, so my focus is all about the work. That work drives me, but with everything, these things take patience.
Don't be afraid to take risks. You’re going to email a ton of people and do coffee with somebody, and they might not be able to put you in the position that you think they can put you in, but that shouldn't stop you from pushing forward and taking a risk to get to know somebody new or expand into a new situation. Build those important relationships and do what you can to make them happen. Understand that we are all regular people, though, so be genuine in your approach. Nobody wants to talk about work and music all the time.
You can always tell who really wants to win, and it comes out in the work. If you're passionate about what you do, you're going to get to the top in no time. It might take a second but know that you got this because at the end of the day, having faith in yourself and the journey is what's important.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Touré Ali Shiver
Special thanks to Polaroid