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“At my core, I’m punk rock. I don’t like rules”: Sam Juneman—Alumni Spotlight

Sam Juneman (Cohort 11, MCDM) is a pioneer. Throughout her career, she has always worked on the next cool thing. Recently, she was named to Billboard’s 2019 roster of young executives (40 under 40) shaking up the music business. In 2009, while still in college, she interned at the Universal Music Group in the NetReach department, which laid the foundation of digital marketing at the company. This was before social media strategy was even coined as a term. Sam worked on a team that found and developed digital communities for Universal’s artists. “I was seeing the crosshairs at the intersection of the rise of the downloads business, and what would end up becoming social media strategy and digital marketing,” says Juneman.

While in the Communication Leadership program, Juneman worked at Spring Creek Group, one of the first social media agencies based in Seattle. There, she learned how social media strategy, content creation, community management, and data analysis, all worked from a fundamental perspective across verticals like CPG, food and hospitality, banking, etc. This was followed by a stint at another social media startup called Socialtyze, where Juneman gained experience in building social listening tools, integrated fan experiences, and working with digital audiences in the entertainment and CPG verticals, while continuing to shape the future of social media.

Juneman brought this wealth of experience in emerging digital technologies back to the Universal Music Group in 2013, to embark upon her dream career. “At my core, I’m punk rock. I don’t like rules,” says Juneman. Her career so far has given her many opportunities to venture into uncharted territory and then build the structure that it takes to be effective. Juneman thrives on that challenge, and currently, she is the Vice President of Commercial Partnerships for the global UMG entity. Read her interview below for more on how she carved this career path, and how the Comm Lead program helped in her journey.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

How would you describe your current job in one or two sentences?

It’s my job to make sure that we help our artists be able to share their music with whoever they need to!

 

How did your time in the Communication Leadership program influence your career?

There are three people who really resonated with me. One of them was Anita Verna Crofts. I was in her digital leadership class. She focused on brand building, shaping the future, what leadership meant in the digital age, and how that would look different from current leadership—from a business perspective of bringing people into a new uncomfortable, unknown environment with no rules. Little did I know that was kind of going to be my brand, especially in the music industry! I learned so much from her about how you relate to people, connect and build bridges, so that people can truly understand where they’re going, and how you communicate that from a leadership perspective.

I was one of the youngest members they’d ever had in the program. However, Hanson Hosein really didn’t look at that as a challenge, but as an opportunity for our cohort to be really plugged in with youth culture and emerging technology. He was such a great mentor, in connecting me with people, and helping me think outside of the box in terms of career options, and the perspective that I could bring to antiquated systems and company cultures.

Angee Linsey, a consultant brought in for career mentorship and branding, understood the challenge that I had as a 21-year-old in the program, and helped me navigate that in a productive way. She helped me understand what my brand was, and how to organize my vision to make it easy to perceive from an outside perspective. I didn’t sign up specifically for these soft skills, but they all ended up being some of the most lasting pieces of knowledge that came from that program for me.

 

How did you break into the music and entertainment industry?

I started off pretty early. I started playing the violin when I was five. I got into a music program in college with full intentions to be a performance major. I was lucky enough to be at a college—University of the Pacific—that also had a budding music management program. It gave me a different perspective on music. I wanted to do something related to music but wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be in a practice room for eight hours a day. After the internship at Universal Music Group’s NetReach, I went back to school, planning to go into the record business. Towards the end of my bachelor program, I realized that I was really getting into the digital space, and into this thing called social media. I also realized I wasn’t done learning. I was so fortunate that this was perfectly timed with the creation of the MCDM program. It was the perfect place for me.

[After working at two social media agencies], I eventually got the opportunity to go back to Universal. A former colleague of mine from the internship program told me they were looking for somebody who understands social media from a brand management perspective to not only broaden Universal’s social presence, but also be an internal advocate for it. My job was in social media, but I also worked on a fun pet project. There was an internal brand called Digster, which was the early days of streaming and playlisting. I worked with our early partners, with whom we have commercial deals now, six years later. So while I was connecting the dots between streaming and playlisting and audience building in the digital space, I was learning the streaming environment, working with Spotify, Apple, Deezer, Pandora, building playlists and a playlisting curation brand. I guide both our internal stakeholders, and our major labels and artists in how to work with partners, how to best optimize revenue, and create a holistic look on how people are listening to our music in relation to our digital partners, like Apple and Spotify.

It’s definitely a windy path. The connective tissue is that I was a pioneer. I was unafraid to navigate strategically in this space that had no rules. And the UW really prepped me to lead people into a new era that has no rules, doesn’t have a set structure of what works and what doesn’t, and be able to pull an unknown environment into a structured productive space.

Image of three people standing.

Sam Juneman with Andrew Bird at Carnegie Hall (2018)

How did you carve the path to this job?

I had to do a lot of self-teaching! I had to get really good at Excel and understand data. Knowing how to dive into any system, and pull and dissect data gave me the autonomy to answer my own questions. I would notice things unconsciously, and I was able to justify my hypotheses through data. I’ve been able to strike that balance between creativity and execution. It takes a lot of discipline to develop the skill set to have an idea and know how to actually bring it into fruition. I also ended up teaching myself Adobe Creative Suite, Photoshop, InDesign, as there were situations where I had a great idea about content we should be posting on a client’s page or channel, but we just didn’t have the resources to hire a designer or content team. These situations teach you how to pull something through from ideation to a finished product, and it’s so satisfying! The lessons you learn in the trenches are what pull you through to the end and give you a product that works.

 

What does a day in your life look like?

Communication with a lot of different time zones! We are the central resource for our entire company, and we work with the labels in our central team at Universal Santa Monica, but also need to understand what is going on the U.K., Sweden, Australia, and look at how our global strategy is being executed from a local perspective. I’m most efficient from an analytical perspective in the morning, so I do all of my hard organization work in the morning, and leave my face-to-face conversations for the afternoon. I have regular one-on-one meetings with everyone on my team, and make sure they’re supported. During the day, we spend time at the office; then at night, we’re at a show or with a partner, actually experiencing the music that we work so hard during the day to get across.

 

How have social media jobs changed, as audiences are using these platforms so differently from when you started in the field?

Today’s social media jobs are much more focused on content creation. Everybody is expected to always be on, and always be creating content. I think if I were to go back and do a similar job today, I would need to be much more aware of my content creation skills and my personal network. I would be a lot more focused on different platforms, and on video content. Back then, metadata wasn’t such a huge part of our strategy; but you know now, half of the battle to get audience reach is to make sure that your content is tagged correctly, and that it’s delivered through the supply chain correctly, or it’s getting positioned in the algorithm correctly. So a full understanding of metadata, especially on YouTube, is incredibly important.

The other part is being up to speed on social media platforms in developing markets. Obviously, TikTok has saturated the U.S. market, but are we paying attention to chat apps or other UGC platforms that are cropping up? Because it is becoming so much more of a global market. Back then, I was focused on the U.S. market, and that’s where everything was happening—it was Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.

Image of five women on a couch.

Sam Juneman with Michelle Branch at Spotify (2017)

What is your experience working with celebrities and connecting them with their audiences?

There is a constant need from artists to really understand where they should be spending time with their audience. Some artists are super plugged in, and they actually get their start from an audience that they developed themselves. We’re putting out more content than ever, not just in the music space, and you are constantly battling for attention. Our artists are always looking for ways to cut through the noise to connect with people who will engage and spend hours and hours consuming the content. I’m constantly hearing this in meetings with both management and artists: how do I connect with my fans at the places where they spend time and engage with the most?

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I think it’s okay to have a very niche vertical in mind for your career path. If you’re focused on something specific in terms of your dream job, it’s okay to take the windy path there. It’s okay to think of things as stepping stones. I really had to be okay with taking a step outside of the music industry for some time in my career, so that eventually I could bring that knowledge back in. I know how things work in other verticals, and I can bring that unique perspective to the table at Universal, with my understanding of the intersection of music and commerce. I think one of the most important things I learned at UW was not thinking about what your next move is, but maybe what your next-next-next move is, and if you are building the right stepping stones to get there.

Anu Hastings“At my core, I’m punk rock. I don’t like rules”: Sam Juneman—Alumni Spotlight
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