Today’s society is composed of visually-oriented individuals, and music artists must look for new ways to get their work out there. To address this hole in the market, Jess Robert decided to start LyricVids.com. Joining Bree Noble, she shares how their freelance work snowballed into a full-blown company that provides lyric and animated videos. She breaks down how their services help music artists promote their songs, build their brand, and boost audience engagement with new yet familiar content. Jess also talks about her hopes for more female representation in the music industry, as well as the artists she loved working with, from Alicia Keys, Emily King, to Olivia Newton-John.
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How Lyric Videos Help Brand Building And Audience Engagement With Jess Robert
I am excited to be here with Jess Robert from LyricVids.com. We are going to be talking about lyric videos and animated videos and how they can be successful for you as an independent artist in helping you promote your music. Before we get into that, Jess has a lot of background working in the music industry. She’s worked with some pretty cool big names, so I want to make sure that we get to talk about that as well. Let’s start with your backstory, how did you grow up, how did music relate to your life growing up, and what made you want to get involved in the music industry?
My name is Jess Robert. I went to school originally to be a special effects makeup artist. It’s not completely different. It’s still art related. I did some makeup for music videos and stuff, but that was my beginning, and then I found that I didn’t love working on set. They were long days. I was falling asleep under my makeup table. It was not my style. I started practicing with behind-the-scenes stuff, shooting, editing, and stuff as well.
I met my husband who was a videographer at the time. He taught me a lot of what I know in terms of video and editing and stuff. We saw a hole in the market when we were shooting music videos. We saw that a lot of people were asking, “What are these lyric videos things that we keep hearing about? Who makes these lyric videos?” We went from there and filled that hole in the market and snowballed from there.
Did you have a music background at all yourself?
No. I play guitar and have a lot of musician friends and whatnot, but I have always been interested in the more the behind-the-scenes aspects of creating visual content for artists and further expanding on the existing thing, which obviously is the song and creating more visuals that can go along with that and improve the experience for the fans.
I love that, and we need that. Us as musicians, especially me, I tell everybody that everything has gone into music and I don’t have an artistic bone in my body as far as design and stuff like that. People like me need people like you big time.
It’s what I like to hear.
In our society now, everything is so focused on video, visuals, and different ways of consuming content and things like that. As far as music, we can consume it as listeners. Also, it’s a totally different experience and it enhances it being able to consume it on video. I love that you are offering this to musicians. How did you start the company? Did you start freelancing for some people and then it snowballed?
We were already working on shooting music videos for a lot of independent artists in Toronto. We noticed that a lot of people were asking about it. We started servicing the artists that were already in our social circle, making lyric videos for them, and then they would post them, and then their friends would ask, “Who did that for you?”
It snowballed in that way in the independent scene. We started reaching out to labels to see if this was something that they were in need of, and it turns out they were. They needed someone in their Rolodex who did these motion graphic accompaniments for people’s songs. We started working with some labels, and we have been doing that ever since.
Is this service more of someone handing you a song and then you go from there? Do you talk with the artist about what they are thinking thematically or anything? Do you have any self-service option where they can utilize your tools to do it, or is it more that you are creating it for them?
It’s more so that we are creating it for them. Artists will come to us with different levels of content already. Some of them, for example, have no single artwork and no visuals at all. We brainstorm with them and figure out what their songs should look like. Other artists come to us and they already have single artwork that they have already put out. They have maybe even already shot a music video. We already know the branding of that song and what they are going for that song. We can then base the lyric video on that so that all their marketing has a cohesive vibe to it. It goes both ways. Some people know a lot of what they want to see from us, and they will give us a lot of notes. Other people are like, “What should I do?” We help them figure that out.
That brings up a question that I have. Is a lyric video a substitute for a music video, or do you feel like there’s a place for both and how do they differ in how they serve the song?
Both options are true in the sense that having a music video doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do a lyric video. Sometimes, it can be a substitute. Music videos are a higher budget. Usually, if you are getting a whole crew to go out and shoot something, you need location, you need actors, and you need all that stuff. A lyric video is a great alternative if you aren’t able to afford that.
Also, one thing that we notice a lot in our industry is that sometimes people will pay for a feature on a song that’s a famous person feature, and it would be so expensive to get that famous person to be in your video. What a lyric video does is it almost gives the vibe that they are right there with you and everything’s put together. No one notices that maybe you left that part out of the song, or you show it if it’s a music video, it’s like, “What would you do when that person’s singing?” A lyric video encompasses everything and makes that work.
The other side of it is that if they already have a music video, a lyric video is an additional piece of content that you can use for promoting. There are only so many times you can share a music video with your fans or so many times that you can share a single artwork or whatever promotional tool you have with your fans. It’s one of those other things to have in your tool belt to be like, “Here’s the song.” It’s another vehicle for showing your fans the song.
Do you think that there are totally different audiences that are maybe watching lyric videos on YouTube versus listening to the song on Spotify? Do you find that people are listening to the same song and experiencing it in different modalities over different platforms and stuff?
People will always have their way that they prefer to listen to a song. Lyric videos are great for the mega fans, the fans who want to absorb everything they can about this song. They want to have it on their playlist, but they also want to see what type of music video they have put out, and they are like, “There’s a lyric video too. I want to take in those lyrics while I’m watching the artist branding in a cool visually intriguing way.”
It’s great for the mega fans in terms of them going to YouTube to find it, but the artists often will also post it on their social media. Even if someone’s not a mega fan, maybe they are checking out that artist for the first time. They get to see that little piece of content as well and are like, “That’s what they are saying at that part. I can read those lyrics and see everything that’s going on.” Everyone consumes content in a different way, but it’s good for a variety of different types of fans.
It’s interesting because myself being a musician and a singer, I think about lyric videos in a totally different way than the average person like, “If I look up a lyric video, it’s because I want to sing along.” I wonder. With the average fan, is that what they are doing with a lyric video, or are they just enjoying the experience of watching the lyrics go by with the branding?
I hope that people are singing along with it. That would be awesome. Mostly, it’s people going to experience everything they can about that song that they like. I always say this to people who are like, “Lyric videos.” Lyric videos have come a long way since the simple karaoke video that is fan-made that you used to see on YouTube. This is years several years ago or more on YouTube. There would be these simple karaoke-style videos. They have come a long way since in the sense that it’s not about displaying the lyrics, it’s also about extending the branding of the artist and of that song so that everything is cohesive and fits in.Lyric videos have come a long way since fan-made karaoke videos on YouTube. It is not about displaying the lyrics, but also extending the song and the artist’s branding so that everything is cohesive and fits in. Click To Tweet
I do think you are right that lyric videos got this sophomoric reputation from the old days of what you were talking about. You probably have to educate people a little bit like, “Lyric videos are cool.” Have you experienced that a little bit?
Yes. Fortunately, we have a huge portfolio to demonstrate that it’s more than a karaoke video. Sometimes there are photos of the artists. Sometimes they even send us footage, and it’s almost a hybrid between a music video and a lyric video. Sometimes it’s a cartoon of the artist, and it’s animated. It can be all over the map. It’s not just lyrics on the screen.
I wanted to ask about animations, too, because I know that’s what you guys specialize in. Is that a different video or you are using animations in the lyric videos?
Both. Sometimes we do these floating head type videos we call them where the artist’s head is there, their mouth is singing along to the lyrics, and the lyrics are popping out and it’s cool like that. Other times, it’s a fully animated cartoon where there might not even be any lyrics. It might be a cartoon music video almost. We offer both things.
This sounds amazing what you guys are doing, but it also sounds like it’s a lot of work and is expensive. Is this accessible for the average indie artist to be able to hire you for this?
We offer all types of price points. We have our standard videos, plus videos, platinum, and then infinity videos. Those are the different levels going up depending on how much of a budget you have and also how crazy you are thinking of going. Some artists do want it paired back and do one background lyric on the screen so it’s very simple and clean. We offer all sorts of budget ranges. We work with a lot of big labels but also still work with a lot of those independent artists on their releases as well. I’d like to think that we have everything.
That’s great to hear because a lot of people reading this are DIY. I wanted to make sure that this would be in their price range. I love that you have so many packages so people can customize it to what they want. I’m looking at this information that was sent to me about you, and I have got to ask this question. It says reaching 250 million YouTube views. That’s insane. Is that for your guys’ channel?
No, that’s the combined views of any lyric videos we have made for artists.
Your work is being seen by a lot of people.
I always think like if that many people were in a room watching a premier of my videos, that would be amazing. Sometimes it’s nice to smell the roses because YouTube views sometimes are very abstract. I’m like, “Who are these people?” It’s cool to think of it as an audience of real people that are watching your art, which is super awesome. Our website has some code in it that compiles all the lyric videos that we have done on other artists’ YouTube channels and tallies all the views. We are super proud of that.
I always try to think about it the other way, too, if I only have 250 views on my video and I’m sad. I’m like, “What if I had 250 people in a room? That would be a lot of people.” You have some pretty cool stuff on your bio that I wanted to ask about too. It looks like you have worked with some seriously iconic women. How did you have the opportunity to work with these iconic women? Let us know who a few of them are.
My favorite is probably Alicia Keys. She was a big one. We worked on a Christmas track of hers. Stevie Nicks is obviously a very big one as well. Stevie Nicks was very cool because often we work with the artist management via email and stuff, so we don’t get to talk to the artists, but Stevie Nicks specifically had some feedback that she wanted to get to us. We got to email her rather than her manager, which was very cool.
As far as how we got to work with them, it’s honestly the label connections that we have had. They reach out and say, “Stevie is looking for a lyric video to accompany her new song she’s releasing. Are you guys interested?” Usually, what we do at that point is we pitch an idea of either a treatment or maybe even a short sample of the song of what we are thinking again depending on whether they are basing that on existing visuals like single artwork or whatever, or maybe we are making it up completely from scratch.
We pitch them on that and get some of their feedback. If they like the vibe we are putting out, then we get to work with them, which is so awesome and amazing. Do you know Emily King? We have also worked with Emily King. She’s one of my favorite artists, so that was very cool. We worked with so many awesome women.
I’m not familiar with her, but I have seen you work with Olivia Newton-John.
Yes. That was a cartoon. It was Olivia Newton-John featuring Paul Anka. It was Hanna-Barbera inspired cartoon of them hanging out around New York City. It was a fun project.
Diane Warren, was that she came to you with a song that she had written for another artist?
Yes. With Diane Warren, she had put out an album full of songs that she had written but that other artists were performing. It was Diane Warren and GEZ and somebody else I’m not recalling right now, but they contacted us to do that for her. It was a piece of the promotional assets that they use to promote that album.
You started the company with your husband. Are you cofounders or were you the founder?
Cofounders. We already had a company where we were doing videography and stuff for music videos. We leaned into this, bought the domain, and we have been in it together from the beginning, which was 2015.
2015 is when I started this business. We have been in business for about the same amount of time, so I can have the feeling of what that feels like to be in the business that long. It feels like a minute and a century all at the same time.
I completely agree. I say that it feels shorter but also feels somehow longer at the same time. We originally started out of a small apartment in Toronto where it was me and him getting on each other’s nerves, working together all the time. We were basically working, eating, and watching TV, all in the same areas. The only room that was separate was to sleep.
Everything was all in the same area. In 2020, we moved out of the city so that we could buy a larger house that has a completely separate wing for office space. Behind me is part of our office space which is another room as well. We got to bring more people in. We have three motion graphics artists that work with us here in-house as well as an illustrator, and then we have a couple of other people who work offsite in their own homes as well. We have grown so much since being in that tiny apartment in Toronto in 2015 and feel so much better to have a full team in to feel a little bit more real.
I’m assuming even though you are in Canada, you serve people all over the world and you are able to do that because of the power of the internet.
Yes. Most of our clients are US-based, but we also work a lot out of the Netherlands. There’s a big EDM label there in the Netherlands. That was one of our first big clients. There are a lot of UK artists and the Netherlands. Mostly in the US and then a lot in Canada as well.
Since you mentioned EDM, it got me thinking about this. Are there any particular genres that either love to do lyric videos, make it a standard part of their release, or are best fit for lyric videos?
Hip-hop, rap, and trap music blend very well with a lyric video because they are very lyrical. Sometimes they are rapping so fast that you can’t even know what they are saying. Also, I find country music. We have been doing a lot of country music. We had a video with Tim McGraw who’s a big country guy. That was very exciting. I find a lot of country people as well. I think that people want to showcase their lyrics in an additional way other than people googling them and reading them on Google.
Those are singer-songwriter-style people that are very meticulous about their lyrics and very attached to them because they wrote them. I wanted to ask you also being a female founder, how have you found the industry as you came into the music industry from not being in the music industry? How did you find that when you first came in 2015? Did you feel it was an environment where there were a lot of female founders and you felt very at home there? Do you feel like that’s improved over the last several years?
It’s improved. We work with a lot of project managers and artist managers who are women, which is awesome. I remember when I was younger when I went to makeup school. I heard nothing wrong with being a makeup artist. I want to preface saying that, and I had a lot of many great years being a makeup artist. What I will say was the reason I chose that career when I was younger was because I felt directing and creative directing and stuff was a man’s job.
I didn’t see any women in that industry, so I thought, “I guess will be a makeup artist or hairstylist,” which is so unfortunate, but this was a long time ago. This is when I was eighteen or however long ago that was. It was a while ago. I do think that things have improved, but I would still love to see way more women creative directors, women music video directors, and lyric video directors out there. Showing that this is a job that women can do is an awesome thing. It has improved a lot in the past few years.
Have you seen any increase in artists that come to you being more women than men? My thing is I want to see more representation of female artists in the industry. Like you just said, that needed to change for multiple reasons. 1) It is because there haven’t been as many opportunities, but 2) People haven’t seen the representation there so they’re like, “I couldn’t do it.”
Exactly. It’s all about having role models to show you that this is a path that you can take. We are still working on it. It’s still skews male sometimes. It depends on the genre of music as well, but we are seeing lots of female artists.
I’m always looking for signs that what I have been doing for the past several years is helping, and I do think it is. I do believe that it is. We want that representation in there. Sometimes it comes down to who can afford to invest in lyric videos and things that. Whether the label would get behind a male or a female artist, there are all those variables that we can’t see.
Is there anything else that you’d like to let artists know? Most of the artists that are reading have their own music. They have thought about lyric videos. A lot of them have come to me and were like, “How can I make a lyric video? Who can I go to because I don’t have time? I don’t know how.” What would you say to them about why it would be worthwhile for them to contact you?
First of all, we are very friendly and responsive. Even if you are not sure yet, and you want to ask some questions and stuff, we are there for you. We will send you some emails. We will send you some options and some examples. We will listen to your song and maybe see some examples of lyric videos that we have done in a similar genre and a similar budget range and all that and what we can do for you.
Other reasons are that it is an additional thing to share with your fans. I do find that the fan feedback for lyric videos is great. They are always like, “This is so cool.” Usually, the feedback is like, “This was a cool piece of content,” because it’s so different than displaying your single artwork and saying, “Go to Spotify and stream there.” That’s great and necessary as well, but it’s that additional fun thing for your fans to engage with. Your song is the audio experience, and to give it a full audio-visual experience is going to hit another one of those senses. I consider it. Feel free to contact us with any questions.
I have found that lyric videos are a little more sharable. Your fans might be like, “This is cool. Let me send it to a friend,” versus them sending a link to Spotify or something.
A lot of people, too, when they post it to their social media sometimes will post a snippet of it. The full lyric video will exist maybe on YouTube, but on their social media, it will be the bridge of the song or maybe the beginning of the hook or something. It’s a great way to tease the full experience of the song.
You get them to go over to YouTube. Since YouTube is a universal platform, there’s no gating or anything. Spotify is, but if you don’t pay for it, you have ads and stuff like that. YouTube has ads too, but I always love everything about YouTube because YouTube is that universal thing that I also find fascinating even for older people like my mom who’s on YouTube all the time.
It lives there forever on your channel. Whereas your social media will pass, it’s nice to have it living there forever on YouTube.
Are you guys on socials with LyricVids?
Most of the time, it will be @LyricVidsDotCom. Look us up, engage with us. We are always responsive and ready to hear what projects you have going on.
Thank you so much. You have inspired a lot of artists who are reading to do some lyric videos. It sounds exciting to me. I did have a little bit of a bias about lyric videos of the old style. I need to watch some of yours to change my automatic thoughts about those.
Let’s convert you. Let’s bring you on board the lyric video team.
Thank you so much, Jess. This has been a great conversation.
Thank you. It’s been awesome. Thanks so much.
About Jess Robert
Jess is the founder and Creative Director of LyricVids.com; she’s worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry on animated visuals for their music releases including Drake, Ed Sheeran, John Legend, Alicia Keys and many others. She also works with independent artists around the world from North America to Europe and Asia. Jess and her team have racked up an impressive 250 Million YouTube views on those videos.