Zoe Gillespie is the Director of Brand Partnerships for Capitol Music Group in Hollywood, California. She has worked on campaigns for major artists such as Katy Perry, Troye Sivan, BANKS and Lewis Capaldi, and brands including MAC Cosmetics, Marriott, Honda, Disney and Harley-Davidson.
We caught up with Zoe to learn about her start in the industry as an intern at Capitol Records, her top advice for aspiring music executives, some of her recent brand collaborations, and more!
Talk to us a little about you + your journey. How did you start your journey in music?
Music has always been such an important part of my life. I grew up in a very musical household, played an instrument, and loved going to concerts with family and friends.
In high school, I promoted for an underage club and in college I interned at Capitol Records. I stayed in touch with my Capitol boss and kept her updated on my career developments since being her intern. When I graduated, there was an opening there that I jumped at. I’ve been at Capitol ever since (almost six years) and have had the honor of working in three different departments.
What have been your favorite brand collaborations so far?
One that I’m most proud of is working with Troye Sivan on MAC Cosmetics’ 25th anniversary of their Viva Glam line that benefits their AIDS Fund.
"The opportunity to work with a great young artist on our label who stands for so many important things and a brand I’ve loved for years is why I do what I do. That feeling is unparalleled."
How do you go about partnering brands with artists?
There isn’t one strategy or formula to partner brands and artists, but the most important component is to establish an organic relationship or purpose in partnering. This purpose can be as simple as the brand and artist already being fans of each other or simply have launches that can align powerfully together. We take pride in having really honest conversations with artists about their brand goals and aspirations, which can help guide our outreach. On the flip side, we get inbound requests daily from brands and agencies looking to work with talent.
People say this all the time, and it’s true: this industry is so relationship-based; it’s who you know as well as the reputation you’ve established. Do you and your artists collaborate well? Do you have innovative ideas that help the brand develop their story? Can brands and artists trust you? There’s nothing more gratifying than partnering with a brand and building such a strong relationship that you’re already working on campaign #2 before #1 even launch
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your day-to-day?
My favorite part of my day is working with our awesome Brand Partnerships & Sync Licensing team here at Capitol. We’re a tight knit group who truly look out for each other and have a passion for winning together. Simply put, we love bringing our artists fruitful opportunities and furthering their career through strategic partnerships.
The least favorite part of my day is probably that it rarely turns off.
"This business is a living, breathing one which is to say that situations need addressing at any given moment. It’s a constant people-pleasing machine and ultimately you have to remember that while you’re taking care of everyone else, only you will take care of yourself."
What made you realize you wanted to be in Brand Partnerships?
I had been working in digital marketing for a few years and while I was passionate about the work I was doing, I was ready to apply those skill sets to another facet of the industry. I received advice from a few individuals that I trust with my career who saw potential in me that I didn’t at the time. With the support of them and a personal leap of faith, I joined the Brand
Ultimately I wanted to expand my network, contribute funds and strategy to artist campaigns and have the autonomy to work with external partners. In the end it was a no-brainer decision and I am so grateful for the advice and support I have received along the way.
Is there data you can share to show how brand partnerships have helped break a song or artist?
There are so many components that go into a successful song or year for an artist – it’s truly a team effort – but I do believe that a perfect brand partnership has the potential to be at the center of this momentum. For example, a strategic and culturally relevant partnership can give other teams in the building ammunition to continue telling the artist’s story to their partners.
It works the other way around too; if we can share information about a growing streaming or digital story for a record or an upcoming TV booking, we have the brand’s attention. When all of these aspects align, we have a much better chance at breaking a record and an artist.
How can unsigned artists go about working with a brand?
Unsigned artists should aim to align with brands that will elevate their social channels and put them in an aspirational lane. Also, if in need, brands will often gift artists product which is something to take advantage of.
"I would caution any artist to avoid over-posting about a brand that is niche and might eventually take them out of a larger category.
Additionally, if that brand doesn’t have plans to grow their music strategy, the artist may end up appearing as more of an influencer instead of a musician.
Unless this artist is getting major exposure and sees their channels/reach growing or receiving a paycheck, it may be worth reconsidering the partnership."
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how have you overcome them?
Absolutely. It depends on the challenge, but the best advice I was given by someone I trust is to make sure your personal life is stable and fulfilling because at the end of the day, with all of the challenges this industry throws your way, the chaos shouldn’t come home with you at night.
That’s also much easier said than done, by the way, but ultimately I make sure I am surrounded by incredible people in and out of this industry who will support me through any challenge.
How do you decide what’s worth fighting for? Not only for yourself but for your artists?
"If you believe in something wholeheartedly for the betterment of the artist and their career, it’s worth fighting for."
That being said, if a situation gets to the point where you care about something far more than the artist or their team does, if they can’t see the upside or potential of the opportunity you are presenting, then sometimes you need to know when to let it go.
Always fight for what you believe in. And if there are people who support you, be sure to nurture those relationships and never take them for granted.
What is the biggest challenge for you at the moment?
Learning how to balance everything and pursue a fulfilled personal life. I travel so much (51 flights last year) that I find myself reinvesting in my personal life now more than ever and making efforts I never had to before.
Which artists are you excited for this year?
So many! But FLETCHER is one of our incredible artists who is putting in the work and has so much to say and share with the world. Also Tiana Major9. She is so talented, and is just getting started.
Looking back, what would you tell your younger self?
Pay yourself first! That can be challenging in an industry that doesn't necessarily pay a lot in your early years, but can also make you feel that you need to spend to keep up with concerts, networking and such.
"The best thing I’ve done is invest in my future by remembering to save."
Also, I would tell my younger self to keep going. You have no idea where this journey will take you, girl.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Being dependable, strategic, positive and, most importantly, treating people well.
What are you most proud of in your life + career?
No matter what gets thrown my way, I take pride in being diligent, empathetic and hard working. I also love being a great friend and aunt. At the end of the day, I am proud to be someone that people can count on.