MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfil. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves.
As Head of Music at WeTransfer, Tiff Yu is tasked with accelerating the company’s support for artists and showcasing the stories behind their creativity via editorial platform WePresent.
She joined the company in March after nearly five years working in marketing at management companies Three Six Zero and Red Light.
In her previous roles, Yu worked on campaigns for artists including deadmau5, Frank Ocean, Calvin Harris, Lionel Richie, Steve Angello and Giorgio Moroder.
Alongside her day job, Yu also contributes to global women and gender minority collective SheSaidSo, helping to organize and curate conferences and festivals as well as mentoring.
Yu found her way into the music industry when moving to New York after graduating from the University of California. “[It] was the one place I could learn a lot about the music industry in a short amount of time,” she explains.
After interning at Downtown Music Publishing, concert promoter Jelly NYC and freelancing at marketing and events company Superfly Presents, Yu fell in love with the live scene.
She says: “The feeling of planning, promoting, and then producing a show was addictive. I thrive under pressure and having the final result be a large scale show was eye-opening.
“The feeling of planning, promoting, and then producing a show was addictive. I thrive under pressure and having the final result be a large scale show was eye-opening.”
tiff yu, wetransfer
“I learned a lot of marketing skills working with promoters like Pacha and Verboten, from there it was interesting to experiment with social media and digital and see the output at shows. I got a feel for how fast the electronic music scene moved. I loved it, and ended up taking on a digital role in L.A at Red Light Management.”
Here, we chat to Yu about lessons learned along the way, transparency in the music business, what she wish she’d known at the beginning of her career, and future plans and ambitions…
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned across your career?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is there are a thousand ways to do a single job. I remember working for Bruce Eskowitz at Red Light Management and people said I was really lucky to be working with someone nice. It really stuck with me. He’s incredibly successful, has huge clients (like Lionel Richie), and he treated everyone around him with respect.
Being impatient or rude isn’t a sign of strength. I really value my time with Bruce and feel fortunate to have worked alongside him.
Within management specifically, I’d say I’ve learned anything is possible. I’ve worked with some notoriously challenging, yet extremely talented artists. They have a vision for their work and how they want it presented. And there is ALWAYS a solution to fit that vision. The lesson here is: find the right people to talk to and ask for everything you want until you hear a definite “no.”
“find the right people to talk to and ask for everything you want until you hear a definite ‘no.'”
If I needed a founder of a tech company to talk to an artist, if I needed a product ahead of its release – I’d just ask. There’s a way to get what you need. I’ve carried that lesson throughout my life, just ask for what you want or need and continue to do so (nicely, of course).
What were your highlights and proudest moments while working at Three Six Zero and Red Light?
My proudest moment at Three Six Zero was keeping Frank Ocean’s Endless and Blonde albums under wraps and then releasing them to such critical acclaim. The whole campaign was very special and Frank had a very detailed vision for his releases.
Being able to release Blonde on [distribution platform] Stem made me very aware of record label deals and how little I knew about distribution until that moment. I always thought the distribution model needed to be disrupted. Stem was purely distributing at the time and their goal was to be more transparent with streaming data and money earned.
Another moment I’m proud of is having deadmau5 play the first TwitchCon. It was really pivotal for me and I learned so much about streaming, the gaming industry, and I even had a moment where I believed websites could function as TV channels.
At Red Light Management, a highlight has to be getting to know Lionel Richie and getting him online. He’s such a legend and an amazing artist. It was fun presenting Instagram and Twitter to him. I look back and still find it hilarious. One afternoon, I think he got sick of talking about social media and let me test drive his (at the time) brand new Tesla.
How is WeTransfer’s offering evolving to support music talent? Where will that go in the future?
Our products are very simple. We make it easy for artists to collaborate, without the stress of organizing everything. It’s done, then it’s sent via WeTransfer. Whatever the format or file type, if an artist finds something inspiring they can save and share it with the Collect app, or drag and drop it into our slide-making tool Paste.
Technology changes at such a fast pace in the actual making of music, so I hope artists find it refreshing that we’re trying to make things easier for them. I don’t think everything needs to be complicated. In that sense, our products are kinda like a Max Martin song ;).
With WeTransfer’s editorial platform WePresent, we dive into the story of an artist, lifting the curtain on how they create – not just how their music is made. There’s a difference.
“Working with Frank Ocean made me realise the music artists put out is really a reflection of themselves and that deserves to be taken seriously.”
In the future, I hope the media is more thoughtful with what they say about certain artists and how they spin a story about them. I think a lot about how difficult it must be to not only put together a show, but then to perform such personal stories to a crowded room.
Working with Frank Ocean made me realise the music artists put out is really a reflection of themselves – of their personal experience, their struggles, their joy – and that deserves to be taken seriously.
In your role, how do you see artists evolving creatively in both the music they make and the way they reach fans as a result of the continued expansion of the digital evolution?
In my previous roles, I was able to take care of all the marketing and social media myself. That’s not the case anymore. An artist actually has to be there. The fans want more transparency and that can be scary, but it’s also a chance for artists to fly their freak flag and let people know they’re a normal human being.
I’ve also noticed less distance between the artist and the “fans” who are also quite creative. Big mainstream artists are realising it’s exciting to let their fanbase create with them, or celebrate how they express themselves. Whether they’re drumming up the same beats in their bedroom, making an incredible video using various software, or even the steamy fan fiction pieces! I respect the artists taking the time to reach out to their audience and recognise the fans who are getting their attention.
I particularly love the artists that have taken WeTransfer and gone beyond our framework. Like Smino and his website smitransfer.com. It’s a whole ecosystem where you can see inside his artist persona and download his mixtapes via WeTransfer. Perfume Genius also welcomed video treatments via WeTransfer, and artists were able to submit any treatment in any format, because that’s how simple our product is.
What does the future hold for music and tech? Are there any developments you’re really excited about right now?
I hope the way musicians earn money falls back into their own hands and there’s a more sustainable way for them to earn what they deserve. One thing I really love is actually pretty simple: CreateOS’s Record Deal Simulator. While working at Three Six Zero, Dean Wilson explained to me the pros and cons of the 360 deal, which no longer exists.
When we released Frank Ocean’s Blonde on Stem, it was one of the few places you could actually see streaming data. Record deals and DSP streams shouldn’t be that difficult and there should be more transparency between the two.
“I’ve always thought the ticketing industry should be disrupted and the data they hold should be looked into… it’s actually pretty scary how much they know.”
I’ve also seen ticketing companies, like Dice.FM, pivot and take shape using virtual events and their ability to move quicker than say, Ticketmaster. I’ve always thought the ticketing industry should be disrupted and the data they hold should be looked into… it’s actually pretty scary how much they know.
From where you’re sitting, how do you see the coronavirus crisis impacting the music industry long-term?
I’m sitting alone in my house, where I’ve been since March… ! The biggest thing I’m noticing is there isn’t a cookie-cutter way to release music anymore. Artists need to innovate. I think the effects of streaming are here to stay, and Twitch’s music channel getting into Amazon’s bed makes it undeniable.
As well as this, artists are figuring out what they actually need to run their businesses. They’re figuring out what’s working and, more importantly, what isn’t. They’re going to be running very lean teams and ultimately understanding you can’t have marketing teams paint your image as an artist.
In the past, we could create a plan and build a facade to show artists are currently working and maintain their relevance. They now have to be very much part of the digital world themselves.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before entering the music industry? What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in music today?
Understand what you’re doing to your mind and body while working. Think about how it will affect your next job, your future self. Yes, all the travelling seems glamorous but at the end of the day it’s pretty lonely, and you’re tied to the artist’s schedule. Keeping up with all the time zones and all the partying won’t get you far either, it’s just not sustainable for your body. Plus, there’s actual work to be done and a certain level of professionalism required. Figure out how to connect outside of that environment.
“Surround yourself with good people, not just people who can do things for you.”
Surround yourself with good people, not just people who can do things for you. Be sure to give back, be with people who will say your name in a room if there’s an opportunity to.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have incredible interns in the past and most of them are continuing to succeed in the industry. I’m more proud of that than anything else in my career. Those are real people, and you get to see good change come into effect.
What would you change about the music industry and why?
There needs to be a more sustainable way for artists to earn money. I find it bizarre that people need to have successful multi-consumer channels in order to earn a liveable income vs. the profits of their art alone.
“I find it bizarre that people need to have successful multi-consumer channels in order to earn a liveable income vs. the profits of their art alone.”
Most importantly, legacy thinking needs to die. We need more diverse perspectives, and this has only become more prominent during the pandemic. It’s brought to light what an artist needs to actually be an artist. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors, middlemen can be cut out, and the artists willing to innovate will shine through.
What are your future plans and ambitions?
I want to make WePresent the go-to destination for global music and the stories behind it. I want to show artists in a more relatable and personal way from different parts of the world. It’s exciting to talk about the psych-rock scene in Taiwan, or a post-punk/new wave band from Russia finding fame on TikTok. I want to dive into more of these subcultures that exist everywhere.
An ambition of mine is to empower and highlight more women in the studio, particularly when it comes to actual music-making – behind the boards and songwriting. I’m part of this amazing group of women called SheSaidSo. What’s beautiful about the group is we’re global – I’m currently mentoring a woman in Italy who’s doing so many exciting things with music.
She’s writing for a music site, she works at a management company, and has her own radio show. It floors me to think she doesn’t speak up more about her accomplishments and ask for what she deserves. I want women in the industry to realise their achievements and have more confidence in their ideas. There’s a hell of a lot of good stuff going on and isn’t it time we celebrated that?
MBW’s Inspiring Women series is supported by Ingrooves, which powers creativity by providing distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners. Ingrooves is a leader in the independent music distribution and marketing industry, provides independent labels, established artists and other content owners with the most transparent and scalable distribution tools including analytics, rights management services, and thoughtful marketing solutions to maximize sales in today’s dynamic global marketplace.Music Business Worldwide