In Rolling Stone‘s weekly series At Work, we go behind the curtain with decision-makers across the fast-changing music business — exploring a range of responsibilities, burgeoning ideas, advice for industry newcomers, and more. Read earlier interviews here.
File transferring doesn’t have the most glamorous sheen. But the music business relies on it, as the technology keeps music creation organized — especially if writers, artists, producers, and others in the process are siloed in different parts of the world, as they are right now.
Tiffany Yu is the head of music for popular file-transfer service WeTransfer, where she facilitates artist collaboration on the platform and through editorial projects on WePresent. Artists including FKA Twigs, Alt-J, and Anderson .Paak have worked together on the platform; it’s also been home to more experimental projects for artists who want to deliver original music files to fans. Grimes recently released stems and video files so fans could remix her song and music video “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around, for example, and Charli XCX did the same for “Claws” off of her quarantine-made album how i’m feeling now.
Yu — who previously held digital marketing posts at Red Light Management and Three Six Zero — spoke with Rolling Stone about quarantine experimentation, lifting the veil on music production, and the value of letting fans in on the creative process.
What does your usual day-to-day entail?
I read a lot, I comb through Rolling Stone of course, and there are some guilty pleasures. I look through Hits Daily Double, and then I’m just listening to music finding various artists. We’ll also have curation meetings once a month — we’ve got a team looking for different verticals. We have a challenge monthly, more recently to find artists from Southeast Asia, whether in film, photography, music.
I have meetings about budget, about how to tell a story more dynamically than pictures and words. I get into different meetings with people from labels, management, from PR on the artist side. Calls from UMG, The Orchard, Infamous PR, Purple, Huxley. That just runs the gamut throughout the day — but it’s always about finding interesting projects or people that are kind of like-minded and think the way WeTransfer or WePresent think.
How do you start the day?
I wake up pretty early. My entire content team is in Europe, based in Amsterdam right now. Obviously with the quarantine, we’re all over the place, but the day starts early. We’ll have editorial meetings around statistics, insights, we’ll have curation meetings.
It’s been nice in quarantine because I can wake up half an hour before the day starts, whereas pre-quarantine I was getting up at 5:45 a.m. to go across town to the office in Venice.
We’ve seen a few major artists using WeTransfer for unique campaigns the past couple months to engage with fans. How’ve those projects come about?
With Grimes and the team, they weren’t just looking to reach out to fan — they wanted to reach out to other creators and get it in their hands. We’d gotten requests in the past from a lot of artists just wanting to do remixes or give away stems and other video treatment, but especially now we’re being a bit more picky about choosing plans that have more thought.
The way they’d shot it, it was like five different videos in chroma screen merged into one and given out to the creators. She has a very technical fanbase, so we knew the output would be amazing. It could be intimidating to receive something in green screen and just be like ‘Ok, go ahead and make something.’ But she made suggestions on the easiest way to work on the content.
With Charli XCX, although we weren’t a part of that, the way she was quick on her feet to do it and upload was interesting. The type of content she does is sporadic — it’s great to see her put herself out there like that.
We had another one for Smino called SmiTransfer. He took WeTransfer and made it his own and personalized the platform for himself with his own site. He’s been a producer for many other artists; it was nice to see something standalone.
We’re working with one artist who wants to raise money for charity, but he isn’t allowing anyone to hear the music. He’s releasing a little brief meaning about the song and lyrics. That artist will be asking a bunch of creators to create the treatment on that, which to me is something compelling and different.
Do you think these types of rollouts would’ve happened if not for social distancing measures these past few months?
I don’t think we would have actually had a lot of these chances. They wouldn’t have stretched it out to make it happen. Just working with labels, to give away tracks like that or to give away status, you’re lifting the veil and giving away that secret sauce for these artists, producers and writers. That’s where it has been very different.
Artists are becoming more vulnerable with that and giving away stems. After the Grimes project released, a lot of artists reached out wanting to do similar things. But mainly a lot of artists have asked about using WeTransfer to release songs they want remixed, or they want other bands or creators to help make a music video. During this time, where resources are limited, it’s got to be frustrating for artists to have such a specific vision that can’t come true — but we hope that with WeTransfer and WePresent and the creators collaborating, we can creatively make that happen for them.
Will artists want to go back to keeping the veil covered once there isn’t more of a marketing need for this uniqueness?
I’ve always encouraged artists to do things differently digitally because you have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. But there are some noticeable limitations to those platforms. At the end of the day, it’s not your own. Still, within those limitations has been some insane creativity. You look at that Verzuz that Timbaland and Swizz Beatz were doing, and it was brilliant.
People are getting stretched to be more creative and use different technology, especially emerging technology. Digital and things on the internet move very quickly. Artists are realizing that sharing those things isn’t as precious as they thought. They’re not curing cancer — it’s just social media. It’s just this one campaign that exists, and it’s ok if there’s slight mistakes.
In fact, I find that more endearing. We’re human, and through this quarantine, the most important thing about being an artist and going through this whole thing is recognizing that we’re human.
What are some of your hobbies when you aren’t on the clock?
Previously, I would go to at least three shows a week, which is kind of intense, but that’s been the most exciting. Now I usually try to go outside and take a walk. I’ve been running a lot more just as a form of meditation. There’s been a lot of anxiety through the quarantine, and running’s been a good form of meditation, since my mind moves pretty quickly. And at the same time, I just don’t want to be in the house.