“I wanted to find a way that was more productive than drinking and smoking weed with my friends.”
That was the impetus behind Andre Benz setting up Trap Nation in 2012 when he was still in high school. It’s the YouTube channel that has exploded and is now housed under the Trap Nation umbrella and spawned a series of genre-specific sub-brands such as Chill Nation, Bass Nation, Rap Nation, Indie Nation and R&B Nation.
Interviewed by Chiara Michieletto, digital marketing executive at Music Ally, at our Sandbox Summit NY conference, Benz explained how the company grew from his bedroom to now having 15 full-time employees (and four part-time curators) and has been elevated to a hugely important taste-making platform.
He said his aim is to help break acts and get them to the stage where they can sign label deals to take them to the next level. He did caution, however, that this is a world driven by rapid turnover.
“The lifespan on YouTube curators is quite short,” said Benz, adding that attention span is a huge issue to build a brand around. “It’s about consistency and authenticity.”
Asked to define what his company is, Benz said, “Trap Nation is not a corporation – it’s a personality.” He believes the audience relates to that and key to the personality side of things is ensuring that all user comments are, as much as possible, responded to and engaged with.
“There are a lot of curators who are not social at all,” he said of what he sees as a key failing in the market for many. “It tales weeks for them to reply and it might only be one word […] I am very social and I like making relationships with people.”
Benz did, however, say that to survive and grow, it is reckless to not think beyond YouTube; it is the starting point but should not be the end point.
“Right now I would consider us a media company,” he said. “To be a prospering company, you have to expand to other platforms like Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon.”
To that end, Trap Nation has a label and it is branching into live. The end goal is about wanting to pivot the digital world to the physical world.
Benz also sees the evolution of YouTube as a key factor in expanding beyond the current video-creator community and adding new tiers to its offering that will necessitate an increase in quality control from all working with video as their primary creative outlet.
“I love YouTube Red – it’s the one model YouTube put forward that can compete with Spotify and Apple Music,” he said. “There is a lot of possibility for original content on YouTube Red.”
Asked what are the important metrics for success for anyone working in and around video on YouTube, Benz said it was most definitely not views.
“Comments and like ratios,” are what he looks to in order to gauge success. “Views are not the most important things – and nor are subscribers.”
He ended by talking about the one artist that everyone should look to in order to see how a YouTube channel should be run.
“Who is really nailing it on their YouTube channel?” he asked before giving a one-word answer. “Marshmello.”
The EDM star has music on his channel but also includes things like cooking and automotive repair. By diversifying his channel, he is able to pull in audiences way beyond a core music one. The trick for Benz is to diversify and court not just one audience but multiple overlapping ones.
“Marshmello has annihilated and crushed what an artist channel can be.”