Toyota's Scion Music Label Puts Artists First

Steve Aoki, The Black Lips and A$AP Rocky on board

Steve Aoki Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images

In order to reach the coveted millennial demographic, Scion is attempting to speak to them through music. Since 2003—a year after the Toyota car brand was launched—it's run record label Scion AV, working with over 1,500 artists ranging from The Black Lips, Chromeo, A-Trak and A$AP Rocky.

"Most corporations will have a one-off lifestyle execution," Jeri Yoshizu, manager of marketing strategy for Scion, explained. "Our approach was different. We wanted a consistent voice, and combining lifestyle and audiovisual content kind of carries everything. It was something to capture the lifestyle branding, and not have mixed messages about product and brand awareness."

In all senses of the word, Scion AV is a real record label, similar to other brand-led initiatives like Red Bull Records and Mountain Dew's Green Label, powered by Complex. It releases albums, music videos, films and Web series, as well as produces live events and even hosts pop-up record shops. Though music and video content is posted on its main website and may bear the Scion branding, the artists own the masters and rights for their content. Yoshizu said the label absorbs the cost of production, licensing, distribution and promotion, and profits go back to the artists. Afterwards, the musicians are free to rerelease the content if they desire.

Most surprising is the level of talent Scion AV has managed to attract in the hip-hop, metal and electronic dance music (EDM) genres. Yoshizu said they pick acts mostly on their gut instincts, focusing on up-and-comers that are just about to hit the mainstream or those with a big underground following. It produced a show with French electronic music duo Justice and released an EP with bounce music superstar Big Freedia. Yoshizu said the label has been branching out to include bigger names, including sponsoring a 2014 tour with Slayer and an EP with legendary punk/metal band Melvins

Electronic music artist and producer Steve Aoki has worked with Scion AV for the last decade. He continues to work with the label because it supported him in his early days. Scion AV backed his Pickle Patch Tour, named after his infamous apartment-turned-music-venue in Isla Vista, Calif. He described it as "15-person shows in my living room."

"They're the ones that came to the table and made the tour happen," Aoki said. "A lot of these are bands that have no recognition at all. They really are in it for all the right reasons."

Even though he has his own record label called Dim Mak Records, Aoki still works on a variety of Scion projects including designing a mobile DJ car for the company and allowing his tracks to be used in some Scion commercials. While many artists who have achieved mainstream recognition try to avoid being attached to brands, Aoki says he embraces Scion because he believes it is coming from an honest place.

"It makes sense to attach ourselves to brands that are pushing culture forward and in more youth-driven demographics, that are doing something that's meaningful instead of short-lived," Aoki said. "Working with bands consistently over a longer period of time shows Scion knows it's all about the culture."

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