Meet the Speakers: James Kirkham, Defected Records

Ahead of YMS21 LDN, we’re chatting to some of the youth marketing experts who’ll be taking to the stage to talk about their passions, experiences and what they’re looking forward to at the event in September.

We spoke to James, Chief Business Officer at Defected Records, about how Defected Records adapt to suit the ever-changing market, the secret to retaining a loyal fanbase and how they use social media to engage Gen Z audiences. 

Just before we dive in – what does your job involve and what do you most enjoy about it? 

Currently, I sort of sit across three core facets of the business. One side is at the top of the content and promotion through our social channels to our community. So I help our incredible team bring in new formats, shows, innovations, new IP, and look to further and develop new ways of storytelling. As well as this I work leading our commercial partnerships – from our award-winning work on the Heineken Champions League event last summer, through most recently to a live Twitch based magazine show direct from Croatia for Toshiba.

Adapting to the ever-changing market at the beginning of the pandemic, Defected Records started to host virtual events in March 2020. What other opportunities have been presented to you over the past year and a half?

It feels like we’ve spent a lot of time continuing to trial, pilot, and do what we can to keep people going before this recent return to physical real life events which has been so welcome. Our virtual festival series caught the imagination, but we were also proud to raise money through all our virtual activity for the COVID-19 relief fund, for Mind (the mental health charity), for the Trussell Trust (the food bank charity), and plenty more. In short, we’ve looked to add purpose to our coming together of fans – music bringing in positivity and people doing what they can to make a difference. Our series We Dance As One elevated then-abandoned clubs and venues, and also employed the very people who had previously been displaced by the pandemic to shine a light on their incredible skills. 

How does Defected Records keep its loyal fanbase interested in the brand? 

We make sure we tell them the stories they need to fuel their passion and their love, we give them content that transcends, which is sharable and elicits discovery in their own social spheres. We also make sure we’re always the knowledge and the insight and the authority for those who want to learn more. And we put smiles on faces.

How do you work with the artists to promote the brand? 

Artists lean in through a variety of ways – some go above and beyond to give us as much of their time and their assets as possible. From unique one-off streams to featuring in content; for example, our series ‘Inside A&R’ would talk of the creation of the records themselves and how they came about. Or we’d look to speak uniquely to them – collaborations work well as live discussions, for example, lifting the lid on the magic and the alchemy. We need to fuel this machine with as many wonderful assets and passionate content as we can. 

Your social media presence is massive, with over 3 million followers on Facebook, 782k on Instagram, and 42.9k on TikTok. How do you use these platforms to engage with your Gen Z audience? 

Yes, and with YouTube, Twitch, the DSPs and Spotify and the like, the total number of fans and followers under the Defected umbrella is now around 9million. 

We look to leverage the USP of the platform as best we can, when we can. So you mentioned Facebook,  and recently this was about killing it with creativity and crafting amazing looking video content which sold our songs, but through beautiful looking aesthetics and visuals – it was a chance to transport someone from their desks locked down at home to a faraway place with our music as the soundtrack. TikTok is relatively new for us and far more transient, but incredible for discovery, and Twitch has a huge length of duration of interest, allowing audiences to really sit back and watch but also lean in and converse with this amazing community around them. It’s important that you never do a once size fits all approach – it’s not matching luggage.

Defected Records turned 20 in 2019. Where does the brand hope to be by its 30th birthday?

Probably a question more for our founder Simon Dunmore, but his ambitions up until now have always been to retain authenticity, retain legitimacy and live by our missions statements and brand promises. 

“In our House we’re all equal” has become a hugely important and progressively relevant statement, the growth of brands like Glitterbox, which is the epicentre of this judgement-free dance floor, are a good example of how important that philosophy is in the world today. 

Making amazing music with friends and family in this way, people who want to be a part of this community, that’s something which will never disappear.  

And the questions that we ask everyone: 

What’s your favourite app at the moment? 

Boringly enough, it’s still WhatsApp. Just far too useful, immediate and reliable.  

What are you looking forward to at YMS21 LDN? 

Seeing and hearing about the new, the next, the about to happen. The edge of the near future is the most exciting place to be.

What should we have asked you that we didn’t? 

How our team manage to create, produce, broadcast and document the whole of Defected Croatia – a six-day festival, with stages closing at six am and boat parties starting around lunchtime! It’s like witnessing the most insane military operation in the sunshine with incredibly talented House heads under the Adriatic sunshine beside the best beats in the world. 

Catch James on the panel ‘What’s Next – Should Marketing in 2022 Go Back to Normal?’, where our speakers will be discussing how, or if, learnings from the pandemic can drive a better relationship between brands and Gen Z consumers. 

His session and many more can be found over on our Voxburner+ platform to watch all the footage from previous YMS events, and many more youth marketing topics.

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