It is extremely rare in this day and time for a company to fully embody the old saying “actions speak louder than words.”

In an age where many places are all talk — whether it be limited to 140 characters or unceremoniously smashed together behind a hashtag — you’d be hard pressed to find a company that relies mostly on the execution of their services to sell themselves to clients. So much time and money is spent on marketing, branding and buzzwords these days that it becomes easy to forget about what a company does and instead focus completely on who they want the public to think they are.

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The minds behind VL Group don’t seem to have this problem. With what is perhaps a mix of luck, irony and a natural savoir fare, the 10-year-old company has been highly successful in carving out a place for itself in the music tech industry in the quietest way possible. Since getting its start in 2006, VL Group has partnered with nationally lauded clients to provide integrated music-driven solutions for various companies like Mamba and Shazaam. With access to an extensive music library, a licensing team and cutting-edge digital technology, VL Group is a one-stop shop for clients that wish to use popular music in their marketing and advertising. However, when I sat down with VL Group’s director of client operations, Melinda Michaud, a few weeks back, there was almost a note of pride in her voice when she informed me that, “our goal is to make our clients the hero in our story,” when referring to the multiple projects undertaken by the company. VL Group is an entity self-assured and secure in their business identity; they have no need for the very thing in which they specialize.
CUSP Magazine sat down with Melinda Michaud at 2112 — the new home for VL Group as of 2015 — for an extensive rundown of everything VL Group has in store for the new year.

Q&A – CUSP Magazine & VL Group

CUSP Magazine: What is VL Group?

Melinda Michaud: VL Group is a music technology company delivering unique music experiences. We empower brands, labels, platforms and artists. That means we drive sales, awareness and engagement. At the heart of what we do is create music experiences that bring artists and fans together using our technology and cross-industry expertise.

CM: Who is your client base?

MM: We work with music providers, partners, brands [and] creators behind the scenes to power fan-facing music solutions. Let’s make up a scenario: someone in the 2112 community is launching a music discovery app, and they need a partner to license, curate and provide content for the app. We would be that go-to resource to secure all licenses, curate playlists using our 16 million plus pre-cleared catalog and leverage our proprietary API to deliver music to the end-user: the fan. We’ve provided that technology and expertise to startups, ticketing agencies, major brands and artist fan pages. This is just one example of how we apply our technology and services.

CM: Can you talk about how VL Group got its start?

MM: We started here in Chicago over 10 years ago built by music and technology lovers with an entrepreneurial spirit. … We [were] founded with a mission of building music experiences that bring artists and fans together.

CM: How has VL group evolved into the brand it is today?

MM: We have evolved over time to adapt to the changing music business model [and] music consumption trends. That includes how fans are listening to music, experiencing music and interacting with music. We have built a platform of cutting-edge technology solutions when it comes to music products. This is a really exciting year for us. We’re rolling out innovative products and recently launched a newly-patented product called SmartStream™.

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CM: Can you talk a little bit more about SmartStream™?

MM: SmartStream™ is a dynamic and cost effective solution that empowers creators, brands and services to deliver a seamless listening experience direct to fans. The patented technology is a secure, browser-based platform that removes the need for an app and is optimized for any device. One of the differentiators about our company and our technology is that it just isn’t for big, established brands and services. It’s accessible to everyone and allows creators to control how their content is delivered. If an artist out of Fort Knox, for example, wants to deliver their content direct to fans on their fan page, social channels, etc. without going through the “big boys.” SmartStream™ empowers them to do so.

CM: What makes VL Group different from other companies like it?

MM: Our expertise across all components of music and technology industries, which brings about real world connections between brands, services, labels, publishers, creators and fans. In short, powerhouse technology backed by allstar service.

CM: So it’s very customized and tailored to the client?

MM: Yes. What’s cool is that we’ve got turnkey products. We’re able to deliver them in a short turnaround time for clients, but they’re scalable. So if a client says, “We want this, we want to reflect this user experience and drive these objectives,” … we work to tailor it based on their needs.

Melinda –  “There are many things that we love about Chicago. It’s industrious, it’s creative, it’s accessible. This is where we got our start. … Our city has moved beyond an emerging technology scene to an established industry. I think that makes Chicago unique, and I think that makes us unique. “

CM: How does being in a city like Chicago benefit VL Group?

MM: There are many things that we love about Chicago. It’s industrious, it’s creative, it’s accessible. This is where we got our start. … Our city has moved beyond an emerging technology scene to an established industry. I think that makes Chicago unique, and I think that makes us unique.

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CM: What else does VL Group have in the works?

MM: One of our partners is Shazaam. We work with them to power downloads and streaming as part of their promotional campaigns. We work with major ticket outlets, major artists and major national tours using our Digital Premium product, which is leveraged to drive ticket sales by delivering content along with ticket purchase. We just partnered with a top tier artist who is about to embark on a national tour. I won’t mention the artist by name, but our Digital Premium integration was a factor in driving over 300,000 in ticket sales. On the branding side, we’ve been a partner of Mamba Fruit Chew since 2012. Our upcoming summer campaign will build upon the success of the two previous summer campaigns, which have been anchored in music and amplified through artist and festival partnerships, social and media integrations and retail displays. Aside from providing marketing expertise and artist relations, we’ve dug into our toolbox and integrated SmartStream™ players to push out Mamba curated playlists and included a campaign hub, which is a curated aggregate of campaign activity.


CM: You mentioned the state of the art technology that VL Group uses. Can you expand on that a little more?

MM:. Technology is constantly changing — the way people use technology, the devices they use, what they are using them for — and we try to figure out how to continually enhance and evolve our existing products to adapt with changes and in many cases … be the change.

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CM: What is your role in VL Group?

MM: I’ve spent the past four years at VL Group as the director of client operations. I support all facets of the business, but my main objective is to work across the team to deliver a flawless experience from our kickoff, launch and all the way to the project completion. I’m on the frontlines working alongside clients, partners and our team to map out objectives, success, milestones and in the end, results. It’s a very collaborative process for all parties involved. I give serious props to my team for making it all happen everyday. They make me look like a rockstar. … I just happen to be the connector that brings it all together.

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CM: Is there anyone you think CUSP should reach out to?

MM: A Chicago-based company that I would want to give a shout out to is Dark Matter Coffee. I’m a huge coffee aficionado, and they are one of my favorites. They do a lot of collaborations with Chicago artists — whether it’s a street artist you might be familiar with who does a limited edition offering with Dark Matter or maybe a band. They do a lot of limited edition releases that are artist centric. Their coffee definitely fuels me, and I think music definitely fuels them. Not to make it super obvious, but I’d love to do a collaboration with them where we do a digital mixtape or some sort of curated playlist to create a multi-sensory experience. Dark Matter. Call me.
To stay up to date with VL Group and all that they’re doing, make sure to visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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