Say this for Adult Swim: They know their audience. The cable network has made a very comfortable niche for itself showing weird, funny, random, ridiculous things to people who are awake in the middle of the night, and they've leaned hard into building the brand around people with weird jobs who keep odd hours. And since that's a group that definitely includes musicians, the music world and Adult Swim have made cozy bedfellows for several years now. So when it was time for the network's creative director, Jason Demarco, to start recruiting artists for the 2016 Adult Swim Singles Program—an ongoing annual series that's grown each year featuring original, unreleased material from artists both with and without massive platforms—it was actually a pretty un-daunting task.
"Adult Swim is always popular with people who work jobs at night, or are in hotels late at night. Security guards, cabbies, cops, anyone who has a job where they work at night—Adult Swim is one of the only things that's on when they get home," Demarco says. "And musicians, of course, are the number one group of people who might be looking for adventurous, weird programming at 4 a.m. So I have a shockingly easy time getting to even the biggest artists, because they know our network and they know what we stand for, and they like what we do. They're just immediately a little more receptive to us than they would be if it was like, 'Hey, I'm a car company, and want to use your song to sell my new car.' They know we're not really selling anything in particular—we're just doing this music program."
That music program dates back to 2010, when the Adult Swim Singles Program started putting new music from a varied collection of artists into the world. What started as a nine-track test balloon quickly expanded as Adult Swim fans and the music world took notice—each year, the program grew in size, releasing a new song every week, and culminating in a 19-week season in 2015. The 2016 series, though, dwarfs that in scope, with 25 weeks of music set to drop a new song every Wednesday, from this week to November 9. And while the program started as a partnership opportunity with sponsors, it's evolved into something different.
"We had all these music things we did where we just gave away free music, and we had this idea, 'What if we gave away a song once a week, every week, for some period of time, and then advertisers could come on board and sponsor it and pay for it?' So we launched in 2010 with Kia as our sponsor—but it’s now to the point where we do it every year, with or without a sponsor," Demarco explains. "The reaction from Adult Swim fans has been so positive, and all the music press has been so great, that the value became obvious to us, just for Adult Swim’s own brand. It started as a revenue opportunity, and expanded into more of a marketing thing, because it was clear that fans liked it so much that we would have been stupid not to do it."
The 2016 edition of the Adult Swim Singles Program is flying without a sponsor, but it does have something else: 25 artists, ranging from the small-time—like experimental Norwegian singer/songwriter Jenny Hval and instrumental Brooklyn metal combo Sannhet—to rising stars—like Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt—to established superstars like Against Me!, Flying Lotus, Run the Jewels, and Rae Srummond.
Leveraging the ability to combine young artists with established acts and introduce them to Adult Swim's audience—which, according to Demarco, enjoys using the singles program as an engine of discovery—is one of the thrills of the project for Demarco, too.
"It’s always a balance, because you want to balance it out with a few recognizable names, because people will talk about those names more, and they'll drive interest in the overall program. They'll say, 'Oh man, there's a new Against Me! track from Adult Swim. Oh, it's part of a single program that they're doing!' So in a way, it’s using not just the television and what we bring to the table, but it’s using the artists with higher profiles to draw attention to other artists who don’t have as much clout," he says. "The average television viewer who is going to see one of these commercials with the song playing that says, 'Hey, download the new single this week from Jenny Hval,' 90% of the 2 million people who see that at any given moment are going to have never heard of Jenny Hval. Selfishly, I enjoy exposing audiences to music that might be new to them."
That's a compelling pitch, and it makes perfect sense why the Jenny Hvals of the world might be thrilled when Adult Swim comes a-calling. It doesn't explain what's in it for a Flying Lotus, or a Rae Srummond, or a Die Antwoord, though—but that's something that Demarco says he has a unique pitch for.
"When you have an artist who’s at a certain level, where they don’t need our exposure and they don’t really need our money—we do pay all of our artists, and we pay them well, and the way we structure the deals, we’re not owning anything. It’s basically like a glorified licensing agreement where it’s kind of like you’ve got a bag of money that fell out of the sky and into your lap, if you want to take it and let us premiere a song that you still own and can do whatever you want with. Even with all of that, I think with the bigger-name artists, we are approaching people that have an affinity for Adult Swim," he says—and not just Adult Swim's programming, but also Adult Swim as a music entity, with seven years of singles programs under their belt and even more time working on the projects that led up to that annual campaign.
"We’ve doing stuff with music for over a decade, and we have a reputation among a lot of musicians for treating people fairly. For not trying to own anything, for not trying to muddy up whatever they’re trying to say as an artist, for literally just being a conduit to expose their music to more people. Even if they don’t necessarily need that many more people, it never hurts," he laughs. "So, really, my approach with the bigger-name artists is: 'What’s it gonna hurt?'"
The full Adult Swim Singles Program 2016 lineup is below:
- DJ Paypal
- Blanck Mass
- Vince Staples
- Thelonius Martin ft. Joey Purp
- Ryan Hemsworth
- Metro Boomin'
- Elysia Crampton
- Jenny Hval
- Earl Sweatshirt/KNX
- Against Me!
- Run the Jewels
- Tim Hecker
- Mike-Will Made It
- Flying Lotus
- Rae Sremmurd
- Mica Levi
- Die Antwoord