If you have used Apple Music or are a fan of house music, Sean Glass has influenced your life. After spending time as a resident DJ in New York City helping introduce underground house music culture to the American mainstream and later starting the record label, Win Music, he was recruited to help spearhead Apple Music and helped create an aura of relevance around the platform.
Glass is a loyal Kanye fan and has previously mentioned in interviews he has an “Ultralight Beam” sign in his Los Angeles home. So, when I had the chance to talk with Glass I wanted his take on the unorthodox Kanye tour, which was canceled halfway through, and how this streaming-only record stacks up against the rest of Kanye’s discography. He explains, “The Life of Pablo is not just the music, it is all of the experience and connotation that go with it.”
Kanye presented the album at Madison Square Garden, had a highly demanded series of pop-ups selling premium tour merchandise, a number of buzzworthy videos, rereleased a number of songs and added new songs to the album, and overall had a sense of openness behind the album, creative process, and his life. The artistry, experience, and connotation developed with the cultural happenings, which proceeded to increase the value of the work and its place in society.
Looking towards Kanye as an inspiration in many ways, Glass has taken this approach of developing “360 campaigns” that go beyond just marketing or branding and instead ensure cultural relevance so as to hone out ecosystems for his products to thrive. When DJ-ing, producing music, and running a label he would routinely host events, helping coordinate masses to be his audience. Additionally, utilizing innovative technology let his music surge in exposure. This ability to hack culture and be a uniquely effective creative individual is why Apple asked for him to help them build and grow Apple Music.
In Glass’s words, “I connect content with campaigns and build ecosystems around them.” These are some of the best lessons from his experiences on how to best connect with and empower individuals in order to develop your own product ecosystems.
Know why you do what you do.
Glass launched a fashion line in early April 2017 after leaving Apple in late 2016. His company, Small Difference, rethinks the construction of garments in order to help wearers use clothing to better express themselves. “I want my stuff to be functional and not just do things for the sake of it,” Glass told me.
With a number of fashion companies launching every week, Glass say that if founders/designers cannot explain why they do what they do and why their brand needs to exist, they end up being noise and detract from the larger ecosystem. Conversely, Glass’s choice of sizing, stitching, text, models, and influencers are all done with purpose and mission.
Just as Kanye selected Desiigner and Max B for unorthodox samples on Life of Pablo to help curate his ecosystem, Glass focuses on the cultural elements of his brand to ensure perfect execution of his message. Shortly after launching, Glass was seen at Coachella with a number of performers and stars wearing his gear. His ability to enlist big names is a unique asset, but he does so with purpose, since every artist, celebrity, and influencer has a distinct voice, style, and following. In order to build the most relevance and authenticity behind the brand, he needs to select the perfect people to help flesh out the campaign.
Carefully aligning the image of the brand as a whole is key and requires a well thought out brand image. Glass says the majority of fashion is simply logos or graphics on typical hoodies, hats, and shirts. They are making for the sake of making, not to convey a message. This means it is hard to standout, since the product does not truly speak to any specific demographic and provides no real value for consumers.
Build a product experience worth talking about.
As you fine-tune your product and answer the question of why you need to exist, pay close attention to the experience of using it and how it can add value to each user. While it is commonplace for companies to hire influencers and pay them to endorse their products, if you have to pay someone to use and enjoy your product, is the experience really that good?
Kanye’s Pablo was the first album to be streaming-only and go platinum. Kanye succeeded in developing a musical listening experience unlike any other and keeping the world entranced with each consecutive development in the album and tour. Many, including Glass, say the music quality alone is not the best Kanye has made, but to consider it in a bubble is unnatural. As he says, “The Life of Pablo had a historically unprecedented construction and has made it impossible to separate music from the experience of its delivery.”
In a similar fashion, Glass “cares a lot about what people think,” even if his carefree creative demeanor indicates otherwise. When describing his creative process over the years, his campaigns always stemmed from looking at the world and seeing something that he thought should happen and figuring out a way to make it happen. This community-centric perspective that involved countless feedback loops to ensure he nailed an MVP that truly added value to users, helps add the extra layers to expand the 360 experience.
“I don’t think I ever made the best thing of the day, but when I put records out I was able to surround them with relevance,” Glass explains. Breaking beyond the standard acceptance of how things fit into our world and the viewing products with the surrounding ephemeral qualities innately tied to them, Glass has been able to routinely create and grow innovative, unique, and valuable product experiences.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.