In my latest interview of our Socials, I got to speak to the delightful Natalie Lam, ECD at Razorfish New York (one of our super member agencies) about her new start-up business, Youtubers, New York and the role for modern brands and advertising:
What’s your That’s Me That is (i.e. the piece of work that best defines you)?
It’s my new company, The Foxgrove, which is my electronic music and DJ school which was completely created and executed by me and my partner. We’re setting out to break down the barriers between the professional music industry and the general public by making it super easy to learn to create music or DJ without any prior background. The record industry commercialized music and alienated the creative process from the public, now we’re putting it back to the hands of everyone. One music writer recently took a class and in just an hour was amazed at finally being able to peek behind the curtain to see how music is made. In the same way Instagram makes everyone a pretty decent photographer, simple but brilliant software like Ableton makes it pretty easy for anything to sound good.
What have been the biggest challenges so far with getting the Foxgrove off the ground and how do you manage to juggle it alongside your day-to-day job?
The biggest challenge is there’s no such model out there so we have to make decisions mostly based on gut instincts instead of prior success examples, so we made many mistakes, big and small, throughout the whole process. There’re a couple similar schools but they’re geared towards people who want a serious career in music production or DJ-ing. There’s nothing for the general music-listening public to dabble into, or treat it like a hobby. Ages ago when I was in college I considered going into fashion but as soon as I saw the rigid grind that go behind the glamour and fun facade, I was instantly intimidated and disinterested – I’m much more interested in fashion now that I treat it as a hobby rather than a profession – and there are currently no schools for music hobbyists. As Ken Robinson said, you can only be creative if you’re prepared to be wrong. This goes for both us and our audience: we made plenty of mistakes in building the school, the students made plenty of “mistakes” in making their tracks, but at the end we all learned something.
You have told me before that Razorfish have been very supportive of your side project which is refreshing to hear, especially from a company that is part of a network? How do you think a side project like this makes you better at your own job?
In advertising, we’re always coming up with ideas to launch new products or create new brands for our clients. Going through this process myself helps me understand what’s ultimately important in setting priorities – there are many elements to balance and you just can’t have it all. It helps to put things in context and sympathize with “real” client concerns.
What are your favourite brands and why?
Really don’t have one, I like a lot of brands and what they offer, but I can’t say I have a favourite one.
As you know, I absolutely loved the work you did for Uniqlo using Youtube influencer Colin Furze. How do you think creatives can best reconcile the tension of wanting to create their own content with becoming curators and finding others to create content that best connects with the audience?
It’s always a struggle. As creatives we want to craft and control everything: come up with the idea, make things, obsess over details, and be proud of the end results, because every element comes with our personal blood and sweat. We always judge one’s creativity by measuring whether the craft is exquisite enough, weird enough, beautiful enough, clever enough… but what we often forget is that we’re not always the best at doing things, there’s always someone better at it. I think the key to being curators and taking a back seat, is you better find people who can do it better than you, rather then just blindly go after the “content creators” out there with huge followings, but what they offer are really mediocre noise. So, as long as you’re using someone better than you, then we all benefit from learning something new.
Would you consider yourself a Hacker, Maker, Teacher or Thief (or a combination of them all)?
A combo for sure.
If someone was visiting your city, what are the three must do’s for someone visiting for the first time (restaurant, attraction, experience?)
The Frying Pan: access to the water is a premium in NYC, and nothing beats having a summer afternoon watching sunset at the Frying Pan.
Gramercy Park and Irving Place nearby: Gramercy Park and Irving Place are old school NY, it’s amazing how this little spot is so quiet and peaceful in the centre of bustling NYC.
The Foxgrove: shameless self promotion here. Forget about another fancy meal, Sleep No More, a night out in Brooklyn somewhere, learning to make your own music and how to DJ with absolutely no prior music knowledge is the next big thing.
What trend do you think has the potential to most disrupt brands?
Something that reminds you that you’re different from everyone else, something that gives you a unique voice. We live in a world where we’re spoilt by having too many options, which are often available 24/7. As a result people start losing their judgement because everything’s there. You don’t have to take a stand anymore. You don’t have to work hard anymore for anything. I miss the days that you identify strongly with a belief, a cause, something with a deliberate choice. Recently when we did research for a music brand, we learned that 20 years ago college students identified with 10 genres of music at most, nowadays it’s easily over 50. I miss the days when you made a choice – there was a lot of thought that went behind these choices.
Do you think that brands/advertising are killing culture?
Sort of, see my above point. More brands are created to give people infinite options 24/7, and we tell people why they need that with advertising. I’m not sure if this is a good thing. There needs to be a balance somewhere.
If there was one thing in advertising you could fix, what would it be?
There’s a huge gap between what the real world wants, vs what the advertising world loves to create. I wish to see more amazing work creating real impact in the real world.
What’s the one business book you would recommend to anyone who wants to get ahead in advertising?
To be honest, the few business books I picked up before a plane ride all seemed similar. The first one that opened my eyes was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People – I didn’t even know there’re these types of books out there until I was made to read it. I don’t know if it helped me get ahead in advertising, but it definitely helped me
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given (and from whom)?
Your life comes before your work (a famous ex boss)