Slay Spotlight: Mark Nguyen - Slay Sonics

Slay Spotlight: Mark Nguyen

Mark Nguyen is the Founder of Planet LA Records a record label and marketing entity based in L.A. which aligns artists and brands through experiential event activations, digital media and creative campaigns. Partners and clients since 2010 have included Whole Foods Market and its micro-lending charity Whole Planet Foundation, Gibson Guitar, City National Bank, Health-Ade Kombucha.

Mark is also a songwriter and a Grammy voting member and has released four albums under the name When Planets Align with a co-writer in Colombia and featuring many diverse artists and genres.

Mark is currently an Adjunct lecturer and professor teaching international business and marketing classes at Cal State Los Angeles and Fullerton. He was previously Director of Marketing to Wessco International, a design and sourcing partner to the hospitality sector where he facilitated partnerships including between United Airlines and Soho House.

Mark is a certified yoga teacher and a practitioner of daily meditation. He has an MBA degree from UCLA Anderson and the National University of Singapore and has a BA from UCLA.

We got a chance to sit down with Mark to chat about his career, and tips for up and coming artists, industry folk, and song-writers!

What’s your favorite part of working with artists? And what are your fav parts of working with brands?

I’ve found a niche facilitating partnerships between artists and brands and enjoy working with both! I love the creative energy of artists and how their music and ideas have such a powerful emotion impact. Brands also try to tell stories through their products and engage emotionally with consumers. I try to find artists that connect with certain brands and help share their experiences in organic and authentic ways. Literally organic as we work with lots of natural brands like Whole Foods Market!

How many artists do you work with?

We have always been artist agnostic at Planet LA and are into all kinds of music. We have rarely signed artists like a traditional record label so that keeps our options open to work with a diverse range of artists. We still represent some artists like Indian icon Bappi Lahiri as his U.S. label since 2010 and release my own music collaborations with Juanlizh a Colombian co-writer through a project known as When Planets Align. Over the past decade, Planet LA has featured hundreds of different artists whether through live or virtual events, brand partnerships or other fun collaborations.

What’s a defining moment in your career thus far?

It’s been special to do good things and work with lots of non-profits including Whole Planet Foundation which is part of Whole Foods Market. It was a career highlight to produce showcases during SXSW and Grammy week in support of the Foundation and feature emerging artists that have gone on to great success like The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Yuna, Debi Nova and others.

What are the most important things you look at when signing an artist to your management team?

We mostly facilitate brand partnerships so it’s not as formal a process as signing a label or management deal. Usually we prefer artists that are passionate about the brands’ products whether they are instruments, clothes or kombucha.

Do you find that streams and numbers of followers are a big part of working with new artists or does it still come down to just the music for you?

Having lots of streams and followers can be helpful as brands pay attention to reach and metrics. But the music is important and the artists themselves as brands are important in how they can align with partners.

Do you have any networking tips for upcoming producers and song-writers?

The pandemic has postponed in-person meetings and conferences and we miss gatherings during NAMM, SXSW, Coachella and more! But there are plenty of online events and platforms like Clubhouse where you can still network with artists and industry types. It’s all about taking initiative!

Where do you find your artists? And how does an artist get your attention?

We usually find artists through referrals from other artists, managers, labels, publishers, publicists and the brands themselves. This helps when they have someone on their team that can pitch their music and propose them for projects.

How do you choose who to pitch to brands?

We usually propose different artists to brands. For the International Women’s Day concert in March 2021, we pitched a variety of global women artists to Whole Planet Foundation. For several Stop AAPI hate events this spring, we are reaching out to Asian artists, influencers and allies for events sponsored by brand partners like ALO Drink an Asian-owned beverage company.

How do you stay focused and productive?

Almost every day is different as I get involved with a lot of different projects. A lot of focus is learning to say yes or no depending on whether I think I can contribute to the project.

Where do you get inspiration?

As a songwriter myself and marketing professor, I am very inspired by other artists and anyone who is passionate about storytelling, which is the essence of music and marketing. I’m glad I get to connect the dots and do what I love.

Who are some of your biggest influences and why?

I admire people who pursue their dreams despite the challenges and without fear. This is how art and commerce are shaped and become memorable. Whether historical figures or the next unknown artist or leader, it’s really about their drive and energy.

What are you listening to right now?

I like music that has strong messages and lyrics. There are a lot of great songs coming out of the isolation of the pandemic and the continuing struggle for justice, tolerance and equality. Many congrats to powerful songs like H.E.R’s “I Can’t Breathe” to MILCK’s “I Can’t Keep Quiet” to War & Pierce’s “Amen”

How do you feel about the current state of music?

Most of the past year has been challenging for live music, but also a period of great creativity and reflection. I think music and the industry will continue to be resilient and adaptive, whether most people enjoy their music at festivals again, on TikTok and other apps or as collectible NFTs. It’s always evolving and there is so much more music than ever!

What’s a crazy experience you’ve had in the industry?

I used to travel with bands we worked with each year from LA to Austin en route to our SXSW showcases. I respect touring bands so much but probably won’t do that again!

Is there any artist you want to work with that you haven’t had an opportunity to yet?

Would love to collaborate with an artist like Lady Gaga who has such a strong and adaptable brand. Her music and personal style keeps evolving as an artist. Hope we can do something together in the future!