An Interview with Metalocalypse Now! Mastermind Nikhil Potdar
Behind the scenes of metal exists a business world that consists of hundreds of professionals working tirelessly to bring you, the fan, all the metals you know and love. We’ve highlighted some of these people from time to time on MetalSucks to give our readers a glimpse into what goes into bringing the music out into the world.
In light of last month’s Metalocalypse Now! campaign to bring the heralded TV show back on the air, you may have found yourself wondering just how such a campaign came to be. While it’d be easy to assume that Brendon Small himself sat behind a computer day and night orchestrating the entire thing tirelessly, in reality there was a whole team of people working on it, and Nikhil Potdar of Outerloop Management was leading the charge. What follows is a brief interview with Potdar about Metalocalypse Now!: how it began, the biggest challenges it faced, how realistic it is that its ultimate goal is achieved, and the future of Dethklok.
What inspired you to launch the Metalocalypse Now campaign? How did you first hook up with Brendon Small?
What inspired me to put together Metalocalypse Now was the interview Brendon (Small) did on UltimateGuitar.com where he made an off-hand suggestion that fans speak up on social media to persuade the powers that be to finish the show. Having experience using social media in digital marketing, I know how to get people to do things — click, share, buy, etc — so I made my case to Brendon that a serious approach to this would get a serious response.
Outerloop Management represented Devin Townsend, who had done voice acting in an early season. I kept in loose contact with Brendon and [Metalocalypse animation studio] Titmouse in case there was room to bring one of our bands onto the show somehow. Animation and comic books were influential to me before music was so I always kept an eye on the show, including when it didn’t go into production for season five.
Who’s financing this push to get Metalocalypse back on the air?
Ubisoft’s Rocksmith, Razer, Toontrack and Avid are the official sponsors. These companies know the value of the demographic — it’s an extremely traditional dynamic between brands and creative content — knowing where the audience is and finding strategic avenues to reach them.
What’s it been like working with Brendon?
I’m thankful that the working experience with Brendon has been unique. There’s no shortage of musicians, actors or comedians who could answer this question as a testament to Brendon’s creative talent, but my experience, albeit brief, was different. Our discussions were mostly about strategy, reactions to the realtime support of the metal community and creative ways to also have fun with a very finite movement. I’m a “married to the sea” creative director and I tend to live inside of a campaign until it’s over, so I’d honestly get surprised by Brendon’s clever humor or unbelievable guitar chops. It was also unique seeing creative talent lend their attention to detail. I work with a lot of very young talent who has no concept of how the soup is made, or even a desire to be in the kitchen. Young talent overlooks the notion that you can become prolific if you just pay attention.
How did you go about assembling the coalition of organizations that would eventually get behind this effort?
The first step before considering partners is analyzing what you’re offering. The perks for a brand aren’t automatically congruent to what audiences can and will tolerate. Thankfully with this campaign, the DNA of Metalocalypse appeals to a variety of interests and audiences. I organically landed on ideas for a fun campaign for fans, and only asked a select group within my network whose marketing strategies aligned with what was offered.
How did your experience in the music industry help you form your approach for Metalocalypse Now?
I credit Mike Mowery and the Outerloop Management partners for the knowledge-base I leaned on. In music, there are lots of challenges to campaigning because of the budgets that are available. It isn’t a secret that there’s less revenue being invested in marketing a tour or an album these days. Outerloop both challenged me to find creative ideas that would bypass the limited budget as well as doing so against the clock. Metalocalypse Now was put into action very suddenly. More often than not, music industry folks don’t have a ton of formal training; they’re persistent people with smartphones (myself included). The trend is that music campaigns rarely have enough lead time. So there’s a challenge to build the store brick-by-brick as the customers are heading your way.
How has this experience differed from any similar campaigns you’ve worked on in the music industry?
Aside from the increased audience size, there was a challenge to stay on-brand within the show’s universe. Doing a campaign where you’re drilling a call-to-action for a band — let’s say a Crowdfunding campaign — requires a quick, persuasive narrative that’s often crafted on the spot (with an awkward video). Campaigns for bands don’t need to stay true to lyrical tone and visual themes from the band’s catalog; a tv show has a lexicon of vocabulary, attitudes and values that the audience covets. The challenge is that the audience will smell bullshit if the pedigree of the art/copy isn’t there. With Metalocalypse Now, thankfully the call-to-action wasn’t forced, because the show did stop on a cliffhanger and fans were already clamoring. I set up the campaign and stepped out of their way while the mob lit their torches.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Time and team. I was literally writing taglines on bar napkins and treatments for content on airplanes. Thankfully we had a coffee sponsor (Dark Matter) because I was caffeinated like crazy the entire month. The other part was that our day-to-day team was primarily compromised of volunteers. They did incredible, fantastic work, but I probably would have slept more AND broken more of the Internet with full time staff. That’s the perfectionist in me talking, though; we got a cartoon show about death metal trending at #6 on Twitter, so I’m not complaining!
Have you been able to successfully attract the attention of and engage with the folks at Hulu in charge of making decisions related to Metalocalypse?
Yes: our fan rally outside of Hulu was shut down by building security and many employees relayed the sheer volume of letters from fans that they received (containing guitar picks). They had so many packages that they failed to notice that METALLICA sent a package too. Behind the scenes, conversations had actually been happening quite early on: two days after our announcement at New York Comic Con, one of the networks called for a meeting. That’s all I can say, aside from the fact that we attracted unexpected attention from very interested parties.
Is this thing gonna happen?? What’s next for Metalocalypse and Metalocalypse Now?
Metalocalypse itself is buzzing around the water cooler at the right places. That’s all I’ll say. The campaign has a little more press and content to see the light of day, and as Brendon pointed out, this was also an excuse to celebrate the show. Whether there’s news immediately or at the 11th hour that the show comes back, Metalocalypse Now threw a party around the world. Our guest list was unparalleled, our amenities were provided by rad sponsors and the fans in attendance rallied hard. The impressions we captured were huge — I’m talking network-TV-numbers-huge — so I’m optimistic that the right people were impressed. On a personal level, having Marvel Comics, Metallica and Mark Hamill help out is something my inner 13-year-old is still geeking out about.
Any plans to bring Dethklok back, either for a new album or tour?
As Brendon said, he’s always writing. Whether it’s called Dethklok or not, he’s writing guitar-driven, melodic metal that sounds (to me) like John Gallagher of Dying Fetus and Olavi Mikkonen from Amon Amarth got into an epic sword duel atop an active volcano, so stay tuned.
Another tour would be a blast and would probably sell out across the board! Potential tour sponsors should get on Twitter and tell @Nerpal how much they’d love to sponsor a Dethklok tour… and who knows what’ll happen?