While most college graduates write cover letters and fill out applications to land jobs, Dorothy Hui can attribute the start of her career to a more proactive approach: the email "cold-call." The newly-promoted SVP of Digital and Audience Development at Sony Music UK's 4th Floor Creative has worked her way up in the music world through a combination of personal passion and courage. Today, Dorothy and her team are working hard to ensure Sony artists have the tools to share their music and still connect with their audiences in a meaningful way. We sat down with Dorothy and learned just how big of an impact platforms like TikTok can have on music discovery (and re-discovery), why her team is so focused on voice activation, and how she ensures she is building an “Avengers-style” team when interviewing potential candidates.
How did you get to where you are today? Any noteworthy aha-moments along the way?
Growing up, I spent hours taping songs from the radio, lining up at Ticketmaster, and reading Rolling Stone. As a child of first-generation Asian American parents, I studied biology for my undergraduate degree with the notion of pursuing a career in medicine. I first discovered the business side of the music industry by booking shows on campus and DJing for our college station. I landed an internship at Astralwerks by emailing the record labels behind some of my favorite albums. I got my foot in the door by combining my own personal passion for music with the courage to cold-call (e-mail) people. Over the course of my career, the media ecosystem has evolved. I’ve learned that knowing when to change tactics and abandon the tried-and-true is critical in order to stay ahead of changing fan behaviors and new models.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how is it changing the future of the industry?
TikTok is redefining self-expression and music discovery. Unlike other platforms where there is a heavy focus on new content, on TikTok the release date has no bearing on how users may creatively engage with a particular song. Matthew Wilder saw his 80’s hit “Break My Stride” (originally released on Columbia Records) become a TikTok prank earlier this year, which saw song plays on key streaming platforms spike nearly 1,100% and has resulted in a sustained streaming lift.
What are you working on now that's innovative?
“Voice control will continue to become ubiquitous, changing how we consume media and get things done.”
Voice control will continue to become ubiquitous, changing how we consume media and get things done. Teams across the company are thinking about what will be required to market artists and music once voice is the dominant way of navigating…the world. We’ve developed a few Amazon Alexa skills to help bring artists and fans closer together. We collaborated with RCA UK and Paloma Faith to create “Paloma's Bedtime”, a skill to help send children to sleep, which was a great success. We [also] launched a skill called “Hand Wash Tunes”, which features a collection of 20-second musical timers recorded by US & UK artists.
More recently we launched our first artist-led quiz series available exclusively for UK-registered Alexa devices called “Number One Fan”. This skill allows fans to connect with their favorite Sony artists one-on-one after being tasked with answering one question each day for a month.
How have you pivoted your strategy amid the Pandemic?
The pandemic has seismically impacted the live sector which is a hugely important part of the music business. Artists and labels pivoted overnight to live streaming platforms. Our Video Production team used video conferencing to reinvent how they deliver shoots… sending simple camera, lighting and audio packages to artists along with floor plans tailored to their homes. The teams and artists adapted their skills for the situation, enabling “self-shot” content with production value.
What hasn’t changed… is our strategic focus on the audience. Understanding their lifestyles, motivations, and behaviors are more critical now to ensure we evolve our services for our artists and fans, with the audience at the heart of all we do.
Are there any innovations for your team that have sped up due to Covid-19?
As the world has had more free time to create and consume videos, the role of short video—on platforms such as TikTok, Triller, Instagram Reels—has become an increasing focus in music marketing. Artists may be on a learning curve (i.e. setting up a profile). Our team has been intensely focused on working with our labels to build learnings around these platforms by hosting company-wide sessions…and facilitating cross-sharing between labels.
What is one skill that you think is currently underdeveloped in Marketing?
There’s a big emphasis on data and employing data-driven strategies, but there’s an underemphasis on translating what this really means: a data driven-strategy is an audience-driven strategy. Underneath the data are millions of fans and listeners whose behaviors give rise to said data. Understanding their motivations and owning the relationship is ultimately what underpins marketers’ data-driven strategies. There is an opportunity to ensure we think of data in human terms and in turn, convert this into marketing tactics catered to each of our fans.
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?
“You must be comfortable with getting things done without existing blueprints.”
- Key Characteristics: Imagination and an entrepreneurial spirit. You must be comfortable with getting things done without existing blueprints.
- Personal Strengths: [I ask] what they want to be known for in two or five years’ time in contrast to the popular “where do you want to be in 5 years” question. This helps me understand the individual’s values and skillsets…and coach team members to achieve their goals.
- Context: I consider the broader existing team and what…already exists. A diversity of viewpoints, strengths and professional experience can make a team stronger. I try to consider the broader picture of superpowers a team may have, Avengers-style.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
… Understand what motivates others as soon as possible. This applies to team members, artists, leaders, colleagues, and even the fans we’re trying to reach. Simply understanding other people’s motivations can be the single best way to help you achieve your own and your team’s goals.
What’s something that most people don't know about you?
I was on a cult-favorite U.S. network reality TV show back in the day...