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]