Twenty years ago – in October 2000 – Andy Gesner founded HIP Video Promo, a visionary company devoted to marketing the music videos of artists ranging from mega-stars such as Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, and 30 Seconds To Mars to indie artists few people had ever heard of before they engaged the services of HIP Video Promo.
Big or small, HIP Video supports each artist’s campaign as if it is of paramount significance, simply because that’s the way Andy Gesner operates. His way of doing business has earned the respect and business of major labels, including Sony and Universal, repeat business from the coolest imprints — 4AD, Saddle Creek, Merge, Matador, and Polyvinyl, and legions of boutique labels.
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, HIP Video Promo is a juggernaut gathering more and more momentum. Grit Daily thought it an appropriate time to catch up with Andy Gesner and discover the genesis of the world’s HIPpest company, what makes a music video succeed, how music videos have evolved, and what the future holds.
Grit Daily: How did you get started in the music business? What’s the backstory there?
Andy Gesner: I purchased my first bass guitar in 1979 at the age of 18 and my musical group began performing in 1980. January 30th, 1980 was my first rock and roll show and for 20 years I played in musical groups and had the opportunity to record many albums. By 1995, I started to wear the promoter hat in that I would arrange and produce shows throughout New Jersey and New York City. At the time we called our musical collective New Brunswick Underground, but that quickly morphed into a bigger entity known as Artist Amplification. Artist Amplification was a New Jersey musical collective where all the best local bands and artists would provide me with one of their songs and we would put together a compilation CD and offer them up free at the shows we would produce. By 2000, it became clear that this idealistic model would not take care of the rent and/or allow me to live a comfortable life. That was the moment that HIP Video Promo began.
Grit Daily: How and when did you come up with the idea now known as HIP Video Promo?
Andy Gesner: Well, it was 20 years ago, October 26th of the year 2000. We needed a name and I had owned a record label for approximately seven years called Hedgehog Records. I figured I would utilize the word “Hedgehog” as the first of three words in our acronym. HIP stands for Hedgehog Independent Promotions. We were very thankful to have Virgin Records as our very first client. They brought us numerous projects throughout our first couple of years, including Massive Attack, Blur, and 30 Seconds to Mars.
Grit Daily: HIP Video Promo has not only survived but gotten bigger and better over the last 20 years. How do you explain your success?
Andy Gesner: Since founding the company in 2000, we’ve promoted more than 3600 music videos by artists of all kinds. We’ve partnered with legends like Pearl Jam, T-Pain, Armin van Buuren, Elvis Costello, and Pixies. We’ve assisted the ascendancy of bands and artists like Paramore, Maroon 5, Sia, M83, Nicky Romero, Justina Valentine, 30 Seconds To Mars, Luh Kel, and The Lumineers. We ultimately earned the respect, and the business, of powerhouse labels like Sony and Universal, and we can call some of the hippest imprints on the planet – 4AD, Saddle Creek, Merge, Matador, Polyvinyl – repeat customers. Longevity is a rare thing in any business. In the music industry, it’s practically unheard of. Continuing relevance requires a combination of vision and flexibility. A company needs to accommodate new trends while staying true to its original principles, so that’s what we’ve always aimed to do.
In a world where most promotion companies are set up so that not only do you not talk to the person in charge, often you don’t speak to anybody, from day one, I have always been the first point of contact and make myself available to each and every client. I want them to know they have a direct line to the owner and president throughout the entirety of their ten-week marketing campaign. That human connection that I feel strongly about has been a huge part of our success over the last 20 years.
Our expertise in music and thorough understanding of the importance of music videos comes from the fact that we too are artists. HIP is staffed by musicians and filmmakers who are motivated by our love for songs and visuals, and by the joy we feel when we encounter the new and the exciting. In recent years, we’ve parlayed our experience promoting videos into making them. We’ve now made lyric clips and official music videos for dozens of clients, many of whom are members of the same New Jersey musical community that we proudly inhabit.
Grit Daily: What is the single greatest change you’ve seen take place in the music industry over the last 20 years?
Andy Gesner: When we began, music videos were an expensive undertaking because quality music videos needed to be shot on film. At the time, we delivered our clients’ music videos to programmers utilizing Beta SP tapes, 3/4 inch tapes, one-inch tapes, DVCAMs, Mini DVD, and even VHS! The biggest change has been the digital revolution. Now almost all visual content is delivered via the internet and has led to a great increase in the number of clients and projects that we can take on at any given time. Because barely anyone just listens anymore, practically nobody reads, and very few people turn on the radio, music videos have become the tip of the promotional sphere for independent artists. So to seriously consider all of the potential promotional avenues for a brand new music video is profoundly important in moving forward in your musical career.
Grit Daily: Do you see music videos evolving in the future? If so, how?
Andy Gesner: Sure, the music industry is in flux, and it’s bound to change more. One thing is not likely to budge, though: the music video remains the single most powerful piece of marketing. Music videos can inscribe the face of an artist on the memories of millions. A creative low-budget clip can vault an unknown group from basement status to the big leagues. A video can establish a musician’s brand, aesthetic, message, and look faster and more efficiently than anything else he or she can make. And given advances in video technology – and the bewildering array of options for online distribution – entering the game is easier than it ever has been before. With the costs of creating visual content continuing to decrease, it allows more creatives to produce wonderfully crafted, fully realized music videos for just a fraction of the cost than it might’ve been 10 or 15 years ago. These days, music fans need to see who it is they are listening to. In fact, I would contend that many online partners are less enthusiastic about featuring a song without a video. The web is all about visuals and having a compelling visual that accompanies your brand new song is a must.
Grit Daily: What elements make a good music video?
Andy Gesner: I’ve always told my clients that you “don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Quite often I’ve had to discourage clients from moving forward when a video will NOT be a good first impression. A music video is too important of a marketing tool to not go full-on, pedal to the metal. I’ve always told my clients that if you create a video that when you’re done watching it, you have no other visceral at the moment other than to watch it again, then you’re all set to move forward.
Grit Daily: Of all the artists you’ve worked with, which took the most daring steps with their videos?
Andy Gesner: We’ve seen all kinds of amazing music videos over the years. The FKA twigs “Cellophane” video was a trailblazer when it comes to visual content. I was super impressed when Armin Van Buuren took his entire staff at Armada (the label he co-owns) skydiving as a way of thanking them for all their hard work. I would also say Montreal. Of their 18 videos we’ve promoted, they’ve all been wildly diverse and incredibly compelling. Kevin Barns of Montreal definitely knows how to create visual content to move the needle from whatever they’ve done prior.
Grit Daily: What is the single biggest impact Spotify has had on the music industry?
Andy Gesner: Back in the day, you needed to purchase an album, CD, cassette, 8-track tape, or listen to the radio to hear your favorite artists and songs. Those days are long gone and Spotify is remarkable in that it’s revolutionized the way people listen to music. Playlists, the algorithms, it’s all very much about the listeners’ experience and I do see Spotify and the other streaming platforms continuing to increase in popularity in the years to come. Spotify has even been signaling it will be shifting to include videos, too.
Grit Daily: Why New Jersey? Why haven’t you relocated to Los Angeles?
Andy Gesner: Being a part of the New Jersey musical mosaic for 40 years, I’ve always felt comfortable here and surmised that the larger markets, whether it be Los Angeles, or Chicago, or our neighbor New York, seemed a bit too crowded or overwhelming for my tastes. Being close to New York City has given us the opportunity to stay close to our programming friends at the national outlets whether it be MTV, BET, Revolt, or Music Choice. We plan to stay here in New Jersey moving forward since it’s always been our home, so I don’t see us moving from the Great Garden State anytime soon!
Grit Daily: Looking ahead, what’s next for HIP Video Promo?
Andy Gesner: At HIP Video Promo, we don’t boast too often about what we’ve done. On the anniversary of our twentieth year in operation, we’re inclined to let the facts speak for themselves. We remain what we’ve always been: the leaders in independent music video promotion, pledging our allegiance and dedication to nobody but the artists we serve. At HIP Video Promo we’re always staying ahead of the trends and as the owner/president and the one-man sales crew, I always listen to the clients. They will tell you exactly what they want and need. We’ll continue to fight the good fight. And with music videos more important than ever, I feel strongly we will have at least another 20 years to continue to champion the best of the best in independent music.