On Saturday afternoon, hours before Kendrick Lamar’s sold-out second date at Paris’ Accor Arena, the darkened venue was buzzing with exponentially more activity than one usually sees even before a big show. Along with the usual tour personnel were dozens of camera operators and other technicians hunched over laptops, sound boards, lighting panels and a galaxy of other NASA-level technical equipment. Giant anvil cases of gear rolled past; people spoke calmly but purposefully into headsets and phones as they bustled around.
A sea of cables led outside to two giant trucks parked outside the arena, one for video production and another for audio, each containing state-of-the-art production studios to deliver the livestream.Some 19 cameras are placed in multiple positions in the venue, from one located in a step on the walkway extending from the stage to a sports-like “spidercam” that can follow the action from above it.
At the center of the floor, on a raised platform with multiple tables, computer screens and other gear, sat Lamar and longtime manager Dave Free, planning shots for the evening’s massive, 19-camera global Amazon Music livestream, which was aired over Prime Video and Twitch, and was immediately available for replay after the show ended.
This was the 50 th date of a world tour that began nearly four months earlier, back in June, and has played three or four nights in a row with a day or two off ever since. Lamar played a full, physically and vocally demanding two-hour concert the night before and would do it again that night — but instead of resting, he was spending the afternoon going over details of the livestream.
As anyone who has listened to his music or seen the show can attest, the man is nothing if not detail-oriented, and it also speaks to the level of involvement he and most artists have with their Amazon Music livestreams.
The company has broadcast many of them over the years, particularly since the pandemic began. And while that’s true of many companies, not many others can commit the resources that Amazon does, or have that level of artist involvement. Previous livestreams with Tyler, the Creator, Maluma (from Colombia), J. Cole, and last fall’s stadium concert in Los Angeles starring Kanye West and Drake have set a high standard.
At a time when streaming services have struggled to find a way to make themselves stand out, Amazon Music — the world’s third-largest DSP — has managed to do so with these events, which show a deep level of artistic control along with unique merch and other bonuses for subscribers.
Key to those livestreams — and this one in particular — is Tim Hinshaw, the company’s head of hip-hop and R&B, who grew up in Compton and has known Lamar since he was a teenager (Hinshaw’s older brother attended Compton High with Lamar and his longtime collaborator Sounwave). That night, he would get a “shout-out to my brother Tim!” from Lamar in the middle of the show — which, in Kendrick terms, is the equivalent of a champagne shower.
Amazon Music has partnered extensively with Lamar, with its Rotation platform acting as a presenter of the tour and offering exclusive merch and activations. It’s all part of a “larger arrangement going forward” with the artist (which they declined to provide further details on).
Hinshaw says the two have been working together on this particular livestream for some 18 months. While a U.S. date or Lamar’s four-night hometown stand might have seemed a more obvious show for the livestream, the parties finally decided on the Oct. 22 date because it was the 10 th anniversary of the release of the album that put Lamar on the map, “Good Kid M.A.A.D. City.”
Lamar and his pgLang company “have a very specific vision,” Hinshaw says, “so it was important for us to take our time collectively to figure out the right moment for this particular show. We went back and forth on dates, and we decided 10/22 feels really, really good,” both for the anniversary but also because it’s opening act (and Lamar’s nephew and protege) “Baby Keems’ birthday, too,” he laughs.
“So the stars aligned. But most of all, we said, ‘Let’s take some time to really look at what ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D. City’ means to hip-hop.”
Thousands and thousands of people can speak about what the album meant to them, but for Hinshaw it goes deeper.
“I was in Chicago at the time, and on the 21st a local kid named CJ, Charley Ford, who was an up-and-coming skater from Compton, had been murdered. So I flew home — and the next day, the album came out. So you’re listening to this album, and the foundation of it is, like … Damn, CJ was on ESPN and skating and doing everything he could to make it out. Everybody in Compton at the time was really distraught about what happened to this kid. And then to hear this body of work that sort of speaks to what we all just collectively went through, that captures the highs and lows of like growing up in a place like Compton — you know, “Promise that you will sing about me [when the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down,” from “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”]. So it’s like a special record for the for me and a lot of kids.
“Kendrick was always a kid around that was rapping,” he continues, “So everybody knew him, ‘Oh, that’s K-Dot.’ And to see him now — a global superstar, for me, it’s just like, damn, we grew up in the same neighborhood and now we’re in Paris, doing this.”
Kirdis Postelle, Amazon Music’s global head of artist marketing, also has a close connection to Lamar. She previously held senior roles at Warner Music, Hitco, and Capitol, but more pertinently spent 17 years as GM of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label (to which Lamar is signed), so she has a long history not only with him but with big shows — readers may remember the Tupac hologram during Dre’s headlining set at Coachella in 2012.
“These kinds of shows are in my DNA,” she says, “and I probably wouldn’t have left the label side except for Amazon. Here, we have the ability to help artists develop their broader brand beyond music — with the things that we can do with merch and retail, just so much more than you could possibly do on the on the label side.”
She had the dubious distinction of starting at Amazon Music on March 9, 2020 — “and three days later I was on my laptop in my dining room, and that’s where I was for the next two years,” she laughs. But as the team began exploring the possibilities of livestreaming during the pandemic, she quickly discovered an underutilized bonus.
“when I was working for labels, artists would always ask, ‘How can you get me in front of a Twitch audience?’ And we’d say, ‘That’s gaming, we can’t really do that.’ But right after the pandemic started, a woman on my team was like, ‘I started this Twitch channel in 2015,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what? You’ve got a Twitch channel?’ So over time, we were able to build that into a real audience that we could deliver for artists, and then we partnered with Prime Video and made it that much bigger.”
Amazon Music puts on multiple livestreams a year, but they’ve built up to this level gradually — along with the Tyler, the Creator and Kanye West/ Drake events, this is probably the largest in scale, although Hinshaw stresses, “I wouldn’t say any one was bigger. I think that they both serve different purposes for what we’re trying to build, for Rotation and Amazon Music, and just from a cultural standpoint. We kicked off livestreaming from a hip-hop standpoint with Tyler, and Kanye/ Drake was our home run — it came that came together really, really fast, too, we were able to pull that off with just three or four days’ notice.”
Sean McMullan, Amazon Music’s director of artist products and services, stresses, “But we’re built for that. We started working with Twitch well before that, so we had we knew how to produce the show. We have the pipes, we have Prime Video distribution, so it was really all hands on deck and pull it together.”
Alaina Bartels, head of talent synergy & specials for Amazon Studios, says, “We look for the most appealing artists to bring our global audiences together, and Kendrick is the perfect example, he’s an incredible artist and also a content creator, and we are always hoping to offer audiences an experience that nobody else can offer them.”
McMullan continues, “We’re in these relationships for the long term. Like with Tyler, we kind of helped him announce the album with an underplay show in L.A., then New York, and then we did the Seattle show through Prime Video with merch, we did the whole cycle. Amazon Music is really invested in deep, long term relationships — and we’re just getting started.”
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