Who: Olivia Coleon
What: The Vibe Project
Field: Music
Where: Singapore
Follow: @oliviacoleon | @vibeprojectco

How to be a Music Curator

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The Vibe Project aims to make a soundtrack and create an experience for brands or spaces with music, design, and events. With extensive market and brand research, strong music knowledge, music trends, and client feedback, The Vibe Project not only curates music but also an atmosphere and culture for their clients.

Olivia Coleon is the founder of The Vibe Project and works as the Vibe Director where she consults clients on lifestyle or music strategies. She also curates music and travel, plans events, and builds relationships by partnerships with brands. She has visited more than 50 countries and has gained valuable experience on understanding our surroundings and trends in the world. Previously, in New York City, she worked at The FADER Inc., Boiler Room TV and Momentum Worldwide and had partnerships with companies like Nike, Guinness, Sonos, PUMA, American Express, and Ray-Ban.

Introduce yourself and your background and experience?

I’m originally from New York and lived there after I graduated from university in 2010. I studied global communications at the American University of Paris, and knew after graduating that I wanted to work in the music industry.

Music has always been my “thing.” But it was only in university where I realised I could make it my career. By reaching out and asking people to be interviewed for my final thesis, I moved to NYC with tons of contacts and three summer internships lined up.

I got my first job at Momentum, an advertising agency, working with American Express on their concert series, unstaged. I worked on this as a coordinating producer for over two years, but I was able to do this by really stepping up, becoming essential in the planning, and leveraging my relationship with my boss. I started as his assistant, but left with extensive account and production experience under my belt.

From there, I went to work with a music and lifestyle company called The FADER, where I ran their new account with PUMA. I ran all of PUMA’s North American music initiatives that ranged from scouting, negotiating and managing their artist endorsement deals, running their sponsorships and event activations, to their in-store music selections.

I’ve had a lot of experience within this realm. Working with brands like Ray-Ban, Boiler Room, and Nike to establish themselves in the music world - whether that’s through artist endorsements, events or partnerships. Working to really understand a brand’s position, their audience and how to connect the dots through music.

Had you started a business before?

No: I had not.

Tell me about the company?

The Vibe Project has gone through many evolutions - and it’s still evolving. Right now, TVP is a creative experience studio that works with hospitality spaces and brands on music curation and events.

It started purely as a music curation service, but I quickly found out that this is a very time-consuming model and it also wasn’t as intellectually interesting for me. So I expanded into events and experience strategy. And though I’ve worked in more lifestyle industries in the past, being in Singapore has opened up the tech world more, which is great because I’m getting a lot of experience there and just forcing myself to learn about new audiences and movements that are happening and adapt my business to those needs.

What was your first move in starting the business? 

I knew I wanted to get out of NYC and needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what it would be. My A-HA moment came during a trip to the Dominican Republic, where I was staying at a beautiful hotel in the jungle. Everything was incredible but the music was complete shit. So I approached the manager about it and told him I would curate music for his space. He agreed.

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Within a couple of days, I sent the manager of the hotel music and a week later he emailed me back saying the impact the music had had on the space. His staff was happier, more people were hanging out and spending at the bar.

So the next day I quit my job. I knew I couldn’t do this in NYC - I had visited Bali a couple of years before and knew about the digital nomad scene there and everything clicked into place. I was on a plane 5 weeks later.

In retrospect, I probably should have waited a bit and saved more money, but I had such a sense of urgency to get out of what I was doing, that I just acted. I had a bit of money saved up, and was relying on income from renting out my apartment in NYC. But a week into being away, I got caught by my building management and had to cancel 5 months of back-to-back AirBnB rentals. It was really a disaster and I ended up have to bite almost two months rent. It ended up being okay in the end, but the lesson here is not to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to income. Not having what I had counted on really put a ton of pressure on me, but luckily I was living in Bali where expenses are much lower.

What were the first business practical moves?

When I moved to Bali, I had no idea where to start. So I first hired a business coach, who was located in Bali, with the sole intention of launching my business. She was great because she had me think through all the details - my target audience, getting test clients, putting together my brand story and positioning - and finally got me into launching.

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The third thing I did was join the co-working space and community. There were so many other people going through similar journeys and challenges, and very eager to share their lessons and advice. It was also great to be with these people because even though it’s not “reality” per se, you don’t feel alone or judged - when you might be at home where everyone is part of a very different lifestyle. So it was great to be a part of this for this period of time.

What kind of events do you put on?

I’ve worked on Runway shows, small panels on blockchain. There really is no type of event I’ve shied away from because it’s an opportunity to learn. Of course my expertise is more in lifestyle and music, but since that industry isn’t huge here, I’ve had to adapt.

My favorite event endeavour I’ve started has been Naked Nights: A Celebration of Vulnerability. It’s deep, it’s meaningful and creates real opportunity for growth and creativity. That’s my jam.

You’ve worked with brands such as cowork surf, Ted Ex, the Hive, Hungry creative agency. How did you approach these brands/make the contacts?

There isn’t one clear answer for this.

For me, I would say about half of my clients have come from connecting with like-minded people that have eventually opened doors.

Whether through traveling or grabbing coffees with people, there are always people you will naturally have a vibe with. And those relationships have cultivated into business relationships as well.

The other half are acquired through my website. People reaching out to me directly by finding me online. I wrote a blog article entitled, “What is a music curator?” that got my website to the #1 slot when someone googles, “music curator” - this has been amazing.

And others have come about by speaking up. If I hear someone talking about a project they’re working on that sounds interesting to me, I’ll ask them about it and see if they would need my services.

Then of course it’s by word of mouth. Singapore is small, so that really helps here.

How did you market yourself when starting out?

Nailing the language has taken a lot of time and has been a huge challenge. How do you communicate the importance of music to someone who really has no idea or doesn’t really care?

The best practice was when I was working with my website designer. If I explained something to her and she didn’t understand it, I knew I had to find another way to communicate. Also using my dad, who is so different. He doesn’t really get all of the millennial lingo, which forced me to cut through the fluff and really break down what I was doing in a way most people could understand.

Getting some press and having articles written about me helped a lot. Doing something that was super helpful because it added credibility.

I’m quite bad at social media. I tried a FB and IG page, but I found myself spending so much time thinking about it and it felt really inauthentic. So I decided to ditch that until a time that felt right.

What has been the biggest challenges throughout the process?

The biggest challenge has been doing it alone. The progression of the business is solely reliant on you - how fast you move each day, your vision, how much you put in. It’s a lot of pressure. There are good days and bad days and I can really beat myself up on the bad days, where I’m feeling unmotivated and tired. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, but it’s a lot when your livelihood relies solely on how quickly you move.

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What’s your one piece of advice for someone about to start their own business? 

1. Community: Be a part of a community where you can talk about your challenges and get feedback.

2. Set hard dates and timelines. If you’re not making x amount by this time, what are you going to do about it?

3. Have another source of income, or money saved up. Financial pressure gets real and it can really cloud your vision and judgement. How can you start a business with as little of this pressure as possible?

4. Always keep learning.

“Make an active effort to learn new skills, know the new technologies that are coming up. Stay on top of the game.”

- Olivia Coleon

Who in the world of business do you most admire most?

Arianna Huffington

What was your darkest day, or season? The days where you most felt like giving up.

When I just moved to Singapore, I was a bit lost. I had just moved my boyfriend to the other side of the world, didn’t have many friends, and the financial pressure was high. I wasn’t part of a community and felt really alone.

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I didn’t know that what I was experiencing, others do too. So I was really hard on myself during this time.

What does your morning routine look like?

To be honest, I have a lot of trouble waking up in the morning and sticking to a routine. On the week day, my alarm is off at 7:30, but I’m usually in bed until about 8. Two-three times a week I will do a morning workout. But when I don’t, I will meditate for 10-15 minutes in bed, make my morning concoction of apple cider vinegar, and then connect with family and friends back home. Since most of them are on the East Coast of the US, it’s the only time I have to talk with them. So I’ll usually do that until about 9:30a so that I’m working by 10am.

Knowing that I’ll be chatting with someone I love from home is a great motivator to get out of bed and get my day started!

If you had to gift one book to someone what would it be and why?

The Alchemist, hands down. It’s all about being who you truly are, no excuses, and embracing your journey. I read this book once every couple of years, and it never seizes to captivate me and teach me a hard lesson.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph.

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“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams…”

9 June, 2019



Karmen TanG