VFiles: ‘We want to be the next Motown’

Social networking platform VFiles received a big endorsement in September after striking a distribution deal with Universal’s Caroline for music by artists gaining traction on its platform.

The idea behind the deal is simple: artists who upload music to the website will have a chance of getting picked up by the Universal Music distribution system and becoming a VFiles official release.

Described as ‘a new kind of record label’, LOUD is the music arm of VFiles. It exists as an online portal that’s used by over 20,000 artists who can all submit a demo to get signed, release songs, make a music video, create merch, and play shows.

They make up part of the 330,000 young creatives signed up to VFiles, which, as a brand that’s largely associated with fashion, spans designers, photographers and more.

Set up in 2012, VFiles is the latest in a string of creative online platforms that pledge to surface young talent and help new artists cut through the noise.

According to founder Julie Anne Quay, the difference with VFiles is the ability to offer video and merchandise production alongside a distribution system.

For example — the first winner of its VFiIes Loud talent incubation programme in 2015 was Brockhampton, who won the opportunity to create a music video with 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell. (Mitchell recently shot Beyoncé for the front cover of Vogue).

Based in New York, VFiles has a store in Soho that sells clothing by up-and-coming fashion designers, which is where its entry into music started.

The likes of Migos and Lil Yachty entered the shop as customers and wanted to play music; open mic night #PassTheAux was born. 

Since then, Metro Boomin, Rae Sremmurd, Mike Will, Justin Bieber (pictured right with Quay) and Cardi B have made in-store appearances, and four up and coming acts played the VFiles runway show at the Barclays Centre in September.

The first VFiles release under the Caroline deal arrived in October as six singles from female performers. A series of #PassTheAux releases will follow from artists based in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, LA and possibly overseas too.

In addition, the brand recently selected 20 emerging artists to take part in Sprite’s “Get Vocal” ad campaign.

Quay has a long background in fashion, having worked at V Magazine, Vogue Japan, Australian Vogue and for photographer Steven Meisel.

The motivation for setting up VFiles was to provide a way for young creatives to get into the fashion and music businesses by using technology and social media to disrupt the traditional paths of recruitment.

” VFiles has become a movement, it’s a young creative platform and we really believe we can have a huge affect on culture.”

julie anne qUAY

Quay explains: “Back in the ’90s, fashion was closed off, now with something like VFiles you can identify talent and create opportunities to be on the runway, create and release music, and we just did a partnership with WME to develop our young photographers. VFiles has become a movement, it’s a young creative platform and we really believe we can have a huge affect on culture.”

The concept of VFiles is to be “artist first”, she says. “So many times the artist is taken advantage of, not necessarily in a bad way, but like ‘You’re going to do a track for me and I’m going to own it’.

“Our mission is to connect and empower youth, and how we do that is create ways for them to make money and to connect with others to make better projects, to be more successful and to get noticed.”

Music that gets released through Caroline is under a licensing deal. Quay explains: “We don’t want to buy or own masters, I want artists to stay in control, put the effort into creating a great track, and then we market it under a licensing arrangement.”

The ambition for VFiles in the music space is big, and Quay tells us she wants to break artists into the global charts and become the next Motown. Here, we discuss how she plans on making that happen.

You recently signed a deal with Caroline, can you tell us how that came about?

We didn’t want to just be distributing our music on SoundCloud and we knew that we needed a partner to handle distribution and to help us with marketing. Our expertise here is fashion which is a completely different thing to music and we know what we don’t know.

When we sat down with [Caroline] they got it right away and we did a deal really quickly. I have so much respect for them, I love Jacqueline [Saturn], I think she is amazing, I love their team, and the digital marketing is really interesting that they do.

We could be talking about a music video, and it’s like, ‘Is it a whole song, or is it only one minute, how long should a music video be?’ We are having all these kinds of conversations. They are really innovative, we are able to challenge them and they are challenging us.

When you decide to release music by an artist on your platform, what do you offer them? Do you do talent development?

Not so much [talent development, but] if an artist want to be connected to a producer that is very easy for us to do.

The [benefits of] being a part of the VFiles Loud music programme is two fold — there is the Caroline side of things, which puts you out there in terms of sync, marketing, distribution, playlisting, and there is the VFiles side which is our marketing, content, merchandise, the ability to play at events, the exposure and the opportunity to partner in the commercial endeavours that VFiles is developing.

There’s lots of music out there today, and there’s about to be a whole lot more with Spotify recently announcing that it is opening up its platform for artists to upload directly. What are the best marketing strategies you see cutting through that today?

I think it’s all about curation and it always will be. Why do people listen to the radio, or go to parties and concerts? Because there is a DJ that’s curating the music.

Our role in this is to curate, to listen, and then to put together and repackage things under the VFiles banner.

What’s your ambition for VFiles Loud?

I would love to be able to break into the global charts with an artist in a similar way that we have done with fashion, and with the designers from VFiles.

We want to establish a whole lot of careers and grow our family of artists. [We want to be the next] Motown. If we can be that and create that family feeling, those opportunities and incredible music, we’ll have succeeded.

I’d also love to be able to have a whole catalogue of music videos that you can watch on repeat, and spend time developing and reinventing the music video.

Do you plan to hire A&Rs and expand into more of a label style set up?

We have a team of 13 people here and every single one of them is an A&R. Every single person who walks into our store is an A&R, as is every single person who uploads music to VFiles.

We have no shortage of that and where we differ with other labels is that we listen to all the music that’s uploaded to our platform.

“We have a team of 13 people and every single one of them is an A&R. Every single person who walks into our store is an A&R, as is everyone who uploads music to VFiles.”

So I’m not planning to hire a team of A&Rs, but I would be planning to hire a marketing and promotional person who can work with us to develop all the talent that is literally walking the streets outside our office right now.

There is a VFiles artist, which is a certain type of person or a certain type of energy, and I think that we are really good at identifying them.

What makes a VFiles artist?

Our lawyer always refers to us as either going 100 miles an hour or being asleep, and that is a VFiles artist. Working, passionate, obsessively creative about getting the job done, doing it right, learning, working with others and number one, being a good person.

We have 10 commandments at VFiles and number one is that we are kind. We look for that in the artists that we work with, we look for talent, they should be community driven, and family is important.

These are certain values that come across in their music and who they surround themselves with.

When you say reinventing the music video, what do you mean by that?

There is so much technology that you can apply now to a video, you can chop it, you can turn it inside out, you can flip it, do it backwards, you can put motion graphics in it, you can do virtual reality.

I’d really love to explore how to take some of those technological developments and apply them to a music video because I believe it’s the most digestible form of content in the world.

Being able to redefine and create some new ways of digesting music is really important to us.

What are the most exciting things that you see around the social media and digital marketing space right now?

I think what is exciting is that the world in general is really embracing the freedom to create and distribute music. What you were saying about Spotify is great, and I think that discovery and branding of your music is becoming more and more important.

Also, the development of music video and content, and the different sorts of content that you can make in music — the lyric/music/vocal/unplugged video… it’s really interesting how there are so many ways you can promote and create and build an audience for yourself.

One thing that is kind of sad is that a lot of companies just work with people based on their followers or the audience they can bring with them. We don’t ever look at that here, we look at their talent and the person —  someone who is in the studio 24 hours a day writing great music doesn’t have time to do two Instagram stories, a social post, a tweet, and an essay on Facebook because they are working.

When we worked with Brockhampton I don’t even think they had a [social media] account, when Lil Yachty (pictured) played at VFiles and 2,000 people came to see him play, the police were like, ‘Who is that person?’ and I was like, Exactly, you don’t know who he is, he doesn’t have a huge following but he is really talented. That is something that we really want to focus on — talent speaks loudest as oppose to the number of followers that you have.

do you see any new musical genres or movements on the horizon?

There is a mellow RnB movement that we are seeing, there is a lot of lyrical hip hop that is much more melodic than just straight out rapping.

The one thing we are not seeing a lot and we want to bring back are bands, I don’t know whether you can attribute [the lack] to social media — kids are more likely to be on their own rather than in their garage with their friends making music, plus the fact you can get equipment that makes you a band on your own really simply.

So I want to look for bands, and at the whole country music phenomenon too because that is something that is very VFiles and we haven’t moved into that space at all.

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