What would you give to see your favorite musician in an intimate setting — for free? Through Steve Madden Music, the eponymous designer and his partner Steve Feinberg are doing just that, and as their 2017 concert series kicks off, we got the intel on the epic program.
Free tickets for MUNA, the next Steve Madden Music show (June 19) are now available here. This conversation with Steve Madden and Steve Feinberg has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How do you get to music from footwear? How did Steve Madden Music start?
Steve Madden: Outside of the obvious thing, which is that I’m a fan of music, it’s so impactful for my customer. We started a music division for gigs where we had Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and other great artists, so we did that and were doing great marketing and having fun and talking to our customer. Now it’s evolved.
What do you look for in an act?
Steve Feinberg: You have to look for a combination of things, but it’s the thing you can’t define. If it were obvious, everyone would know how to do it. Now that there’s a music platform for the brand, we’re looking for who we connect with. I like to play Steve music and have him react and say, “We should do that.”
The beauty is that I never have to convince someone, because 90% of the people I approach, Steve Madden was their first pair of heels. But we did have to work to get the program to a place where it was respected by artists.
Was there a turning point?
Steve F: In year 2, after we did a few shows, we did Santigold.
The acts so far have skewed indie pop, which is great. But do you want to start including other genres?
Steve F: We’re open to all of it! It’s not genre-specific at all.
Why make the shows free?
Steve F: It’s good to make it free because we are giving.
Steve M: The artists want to play — it’s a cool venue.
You just had Marian Hill, who is the most Shazam’d artist, and they’re playing a show at Brooklyn Steel soon.
Steve F: When you get to see a band that costs $50 to see next week and we can give their fans a free show, it’s an underplay, they’re playing 2000-seaters but they play a couple hundred for us, and at the end of show you hear people walking out saying how great it was, and they saw a free show. I want that to happen — I would want to be able to see that.
Steve M: It’s an intimate venue and you can see amazing acts.
Why host the shows in NYC?
Steve M: We live in New York! We could do it in any town but we live in New York. Seattle and Nashville and Los Angeles are great, but New York…
So then why Brooklyn, as opposed to Manhattan?
Steve M: Brooklyn is just like a youthquake! It’s the most amazing diaspora of the group that I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable.
The shows aren’t heavily advertised. Do you rely on word of mouth?
Steve M: If I thought I could buy it, I would! But it doesn’t work that way. Word of mouth is…
Steve F: You could advertise it, but if you heard people talking about it, you want to go and you feel more ownership.
After I saw the Metric show last fall, I told my friends about it and they didn’t know Steve Madden was doing anything like that.
Steve F: If that conversation happens, then we’ve won.
What’s the biggest challenge you find with the program?
Steve M: For me, it’s that my experiences and taste are not often what — Grimes was the cat’s meow, but at first I didn’t know what the f*ck I was listening to! So that’s my problem. But I’m going to check it out and say, there’s something here, people love this.
Steve F: If you only cater to straightforward pop or big artists, it’s too obvious. Brands try to tell you something’s cutting edge and that can come off as forced. We do have a certain sonic aesthetic but what resonates with me personally doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in the program, so you have to find that balance.
Do you have a favorite SM show?
Steve M: I liked Matt & Kim. I enjoyed that a lot.
Who’s on the lineup this year that you’re especially excited about?
Steve M: The next one — PVRIS.
Steve F: MUNA, who is later in the year. That wasn’t easy to get!
How far ahead do you book artists?
Steve F: Sometimes we work a year and a half ahead. That’s how long the Grimes show took. I can’t tell you who’s coming next year yet, but we do have a big surprise at the end of this year. I guarantee you’ll like it!
Why start 5Towns Records, your own label?
Steve F: After working on the program for 5 years, Steve said, “I would like to get closer to the process. These bands are coming through and we’re catching them on the brink of their success; how do we get them at the beginning? Let’s find them from day 1.”
Esther ‘Ezi’ Zynn, your signed artist who opened for Marian Hill, was the first time I’d ever seen someone admit it was her first show.
Steve M: That was a first for me too. I didn’t realize it. She was a big TV star from Nickelodeon.
How did you discover her?
Steve M: We both did at the same time, in a different way. She came into my SoHo store and I happened to be there and we chatted…
Steve F: She knew who he was, and his kids watched her show. They had a conversation, and what Steve didn’t know is that the same week, I had met her management company to hear her music. When we found out it was the same person — it doesn’t get more serendipitous than that!
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Can we expect an album from her soon?
Steve F: She’ll have new music out at the end of the month.
Do you want to sign more artists?
Steve M: I want to do it with a hundred more artists. I do. I recognize that it’s challenging but I like it.
Check out the Steve Madden Music lineup for 2017:
Hinds (May 22)
MUNA (June 19)