With Genius Level, the company decided to
pivot and focus on the veterans who created the
current music industry. The idea was to present
real icons with a quarter-century of experience
behind them and a lifetime of wild stories to tell.
Right away, Frederick and Markman decided if
they were going to do this project, they needed
to do it big. That means working with a live studio audience and really creating an event out of
the whole evening. This was the first live/online
hybrid event Genius had done, so there was a
lot of nervousness around getting it right.
Genius is well set up to host live productions,
as it happens, since its Gowanus office has an
event space capable of holding 400 people. The
company has held concerts, parties, and lectures there, but never a live show. The stage is
in the middle of the audience, which creates an
intimate experience for guests.
Given that Genius is a lyric-oriented website, Frederick and Markman felt the first
Genius Level guest should be someone known as
a songwriter. That led to them booking Nash,
one of the best-known songwriters of the past
20 years. If his name isn’t familiar, his credits
are: He’s worked with Rihanna, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears, and Jay-Z. Besides
being a songwriter, he’s a recording artist in
his own right. With Nash, the producers knew
they could dive into the creative process of a
hugely talented artist and generate a lot of excitement around their event.
For their second episode, Genius choose
someone rooted in hip-hop, since that’s part of
the brand’s DNA, and chose producer DJ Premier, aka Chris Martin, perhaps better known
as half of the iconic ’90s duo Gang Starr. Since
then, he’s worked with talent like Biggie, Jay-Z,
and Nas. Like Nash, he had plenty of stories to
tell—about his own creative process and working with important rap talent.
In crafting the interviews, Genius looks to
its community of passionate music fans. It asks
them to submit questions ahead of time, integrating them into the interview. The interviewer even credits the fans who posed the questions. In preparing for the first episode, Genius
held a contest on Twitter in which the person
who suggested the best question could come to
the event and ask his or her question in person.
“We had a guy who came, he was a huge fan of
The-Dream and was super excited to be there,”
Frederick remembers. “He asked his question
and The-Dream was like, ‘Did you ask me this on
Twitter? You sent it to me like 100 times didn’t
you?’ And the kid was like, ‘Yeah, I was a little
overexcited.’ So The-Dream already had seen
the question and knew it and this kid had been
so excited he tweeted at him like 100 times.
“We love those moments of just connecting
someone who’s a super fan with the actual artist
to find out something, that question that they’ve
been dying to know this whole time. Even for
our community members who couldn’t be at the
actual event, just for them to see their question
asked and see their name in the video was, I
think, really exciting for them in a similar way.”
For both of the episodes created so far, Genius asked people who wanted to be in the audience to RSVP, and received about a thousand
responses each time. The organizers capped
both events at about 200 guests, because any
larger would look too packed on video.
Brand New Guy
Booking the talent was the first step in creating Genius Level, getting the audience was the
second, and the third was getting brand support.
Genius wanted to create an experience for fans
at home and in the studio, and for that it needed
brand participation. It found brands were happy to come on board. The first episode included
participation from Tidal, Levi’s, and 1800 Tequila.
A step-and-repeat displayed the branding for
red carpet pics, as did all the event signage.
Tidal sponsored a photo booth, and 1800 offered
what the organizers called “the exclusive pour.”
For the second episode, Cîroc took over pouring duties, while Breather, a coworking space
company, joined in. Sponsors get access to Genius’ mezzanine, which becomes an exclusive
VIP lounge during the events.
Brands were involved in all the messaging for
the Genius Level episodes, including invitations
and teaser content presented ahead of time.
When the videos came out, brands were listed
as presenters. Naturally, host Markman wore
Levi’s in the first episode to promote the sponsor. Brands didn’t have a say on the editorial
content, but The-Dream pulled them in anyway.
During the first episode’s taping, he thanked the
sponsors by name without any prompting from