Andre Benz is the founder of Trap Nation, a YouTube music channel that launched in 2012, and has since grown to 18.8 million subscribers, notching up 6.65bn views in the process.
Benz is a keynote speaker at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit NYC conference in New York this April, and talked to us ahead of the event about how The Nations is evolving.
He says that the most exciting thing in the last year has been “watching the growth of a YouTube network transform into a recognisable brand throughout several different areas of music” – citing live, a record label and artist development in particular.
The label is independent imprint Lowly Palace, although signing artists hasn’t distracted The Nations from deepening its partnerships with established labels too.
“Labels have adapted to learn that YouTube is now a widely accepted platform to push music to and can organically break artists without outside key-holders that control playlists and the SEO,” says Benz.
“Artists and labels have really tried to use our platforms in the last two years to execute marketing campaigns that involve video content. Usually we say no to that though,” he added.
YouTube may have been the launchpad that helped Benz to build the various Nation brands, but it’s far from the only platform that his company is operating on.
Trap Nation’s Spotify account has more than 184,000 followers, for example, while its flagship playlist has more than 1.8 million people following it. There are also more than 344,000 followers on Facebook and 462,000 on Instagram.
“Spotify, Apple Music, and all of social media react really well with our audience,” says Benz, who says the company’s strategy is based on two fundamentals: how it grew its audience, and what those fans appreciate about what it has to offer.
“We take those two fundamentals that make the brand what it is and apply it to every platform but in a unique way every time,” he says.
“For Facebook we usually post photo content, for Twitter it’s specifically a way for us to engage with fans on a personal basis, and for Instagram it’s specifically video and photo content.”
The Nations has also worked hard to foster a positive community: its site stresses a goal to build “a community that replaces hate with constructive criticism, views with engagement, a comment with replies… not just a network of music channels, but a community of engaged listeners and curators that care about the artists and music”.
That can be a challenge on some platforms, so how have Benz and his team approached the task of trumping trolling with genuine, positive engagement in music?
“Positive reinforcement actually; just reminding fans and the community that the channel isn’t just another YouTube channel,” he says.
“Music is about creating a sound to relate to people’s lives and as a curator who has the power to push that music to millions of people, it’s my responsibility as a brand to make sure I’m pushing a positive message with the music.”
For now, The Nations is pushing on with its brand extensions, its work with labels and artists, and its growth across the various online services. YouTube remains key, of course: Benz is looking forward to the expansion of its Red subscription tier, which is expected to have even more of a music focus.
“YouTube is looking to invest a large sum of capital into Red Original series this year and we’re excited to see how we can work together,” he says.
Sandbox Summit NYC takes place on 25 April 2018 in New York. Benz will be joined by AEI Media’s Farhana Aboo; Sony Music’s Sarah Flanagan; Island Records’ Cindy James; and Warner Music’s Tom Mullen among other speakers. Get more information and tickets here.