What Justin Timberlake Does At Myspace, Beyond A SXSW Secret Show

He's not showing up at the office at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday in a suit and tie. But he did help build a dream team.

If you find yourself at Myspace headquarters in Los Angeles (as I did for my current story on the company’s attempted comeback), don’t bother looking for Justin Timberlake’s office. He doesn’t have one, despite his ownership stake in the company. Ditto his job title. Although Timberlake’s been described as Myspace’s creative director, he’s not. "People ask all time what his role is,” Myspace COO and co-owner Chris Vanderhook tells Fast Company. “It’s pretty broad.”

Given the number of celebrities with lofty and rather vague corporate titles these days (Alicia Keys, global creative director at BlackBerry; Lady Gaga, creative director at Polaroid), it’s fair to ask what Timberlake actually does at Myspace, beyond lending fame by association (as we chronicled the other day) and performing a Secret Show at SXSW (his Myspace fans got the inside scoop).

When he joined online ad execs Chris and Tim Vanderhook to buy the bedeviled site from News Corp. for $35 million 2010, Timberlake made it clear this wasn’t a vanity project. He wanted to help turn the new Myspace into a music portal to help artist manage their brands and connect with fans. “He said, ‘This is going to be fun,’” says Chris, “‘but I’m not going to be there at 8 a.m. on Monday or five days a week running meetings.’”

Early on, Timberlake gave the Vanderhook brothers, who built Specific Media into the second largest online ad network behind Google, a crash course on the music industry. “The average executive doesn’t understand how complex it is,” says Tim. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know. He educated us a ton.”

When they suggested bringing aboard some familiar faces--"The J Team," they jokingly called it--to make him feel welcome at the office, Timberlake told them it wasn’t necessary. Nonetheless, several months in, they realized they needed execs with expertise in music and entertainment and they turned to him.

Know any good musicians who understand technology and social media? the Vanderhooks asked.

Timberlake: I have an idea of somebody. Enter Kenna Zemedkun (he goes by “Kenna” professionally), a silky-voiced Grammy nominee and early MySpace devotee bursting with ideas and industry connections.

How about someone who specializes in music curation?

Timberlake: I know a guy. Enter Scott Vener, the former music supervisor for Entourage and How to Make It In America.

Brand gurus with digital and music chops?

Timberlake suggested brothers Eric and Keith Tilford, the former creative directors of the Martin Agency. Not only were they experienced music video directors. At Core, the well-regarded marketing agency they founded in St. Louis, they helped engineer brand comebacks. “We got a text from Justin asking us if we wanted to join,” says Eric.

And that was that. Timberlake’s Ocean’s-Eleven recruiting was done, giving Myspace a creative team unlike any other in tech. “Justin and I are here to make sure we give the insight of what an artist needs,” says Kenna, who, like Timberlake, doesn’t have a title. (Artist-executive has to do.) “We know what we need. When you’re a musician, you have five businesses: distribution, publishing, merchandising, ticketing, and promotion. Our goal is to make this mission control to make all of that easier.”

Ideas for site features emerge from Kenna and Timberlake’s regular conversations. The other part of the job is recruiting more artists to use the site. After all, they’re the target user. If they flock to Myspace, the thinking goes, fans will follow. “I’ve talked to everybody from Adam Levine to Mark Foster [of Foster The People] to Kid Cudi,” says Kenna. “And Justin has talked to so many people.”

Perhaps the best way to describe Timberlake’s role, says Tim, is this: “He sits in the center of this constant conversation.”

“His involvement is consistent,” says Chris, “but what he does is all over the place.”

[Image: Getty Images]

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13 Comments

  • Henryvantis

    I actually love the new myspace. it's not super active yet but the seamless music integration is just bomb.

  • Kahuna

    I like Justin.. since he performed with B2M in Hawaii.. I like that he likes Swing.. which was critical in 1990 Montreux.. black and white.. movie.. girls.. dance is most important thing.. people do not dance to ghetto crap anymore they want to swing.. disco.. touch hold each other but what do you know about love.... maybe missed its window.. Justin needs to add 3 females who can sing and dance and let them be the center of attention.. be the band leader and sing like a god.. always good to be the band leader.. when you get old you dont have to move so much.. just shake your ass and smile.. I hate Budweiser ads.. but that is his management.. at least he is director of marketing at Anheuser Bush advertising.. or whatever title the German's give him.. he would be a good Nazi bad guy in Bond movie... he is most talented of the Disney factory era boy bands and wunder kids.. at least he combs his hair back it is now his look.... he could be old new age singer.. but he has no songs..needs to make trance music latin dance lessons.. dont dance rap dude.. that is for ghetto.. I hate ghetto.. but in this world.. no one cares..

  • Carl Hartman

    I hate to say this, you can put a ribbon on a turd...  ...they would have been better off from a marketing perspective by just starting new. My______ has too much baggage.

  • Scott Avery

    Interesting article. Who edited the writing? Grammar mistakes like this are pretty bad for a big magazine to make. "People ask all time what his role is,” .....

  • Rosemary

    I am never sure if I want MySpace to make a come back or not, what I do know is that I am not on FaceBook and it is frustrating beyond words when I want to enter a competition and find the only way to enter it is to "like" something on FaceBook.  I value my opinion and I value my name, if I put my name somewhere it adds value to it because my name is there, I may never use the product being promoted, I may never visit the website for the product, but becuase I wanted to enter a competition FaceBook has gained my name and another company has gained my "like" it would follow that my name has been de-valued.

    What I do want is a return of respect, not the continuos 30sec sound grab and "like" process of FaceBook.

  • Tyleckachillish

    I used to worry a lot about liking too many companies, now I only like the ones that I really really like. Then, I end up getting updates from them that I actually want to know about. So it's not all bad. Overall it seems like there is a great divide; people entirely leaving fb, and people embracing it wholeheartedly.

  • Mike Sparr

    you can always "Un-Like" immediately after if you choose.  The reason companies hold contests is to build up a mailing list, or generate demand and awareness for their services and brand.  This is always the price of admission, just like filling out a contest registration card on a table at the local mall.  With Facebook it puts more power in your hands because traditionally you cannot take back that contest sign up card after you turn it in, but with Facebook you can choose to un-like or un-follow whenever you desire.

  • Jon Flynn

    Curious to see how the new creative forces being the new myspace will handle artist Managment. Truly indie, or can we expect to see the first myspace.com record label artists soon?