It’s a few minutes after seven am in a Williamsburg basement, and a group of about twenty women are starting their yoga practice. Those on the mats include a reporter for a major newspaper with a huge Twitter following, another writer for national magazines, and several startup employees, along with other influencers, tastemakers, and consumers. The music begins to play, but it’s not the plinky, sitar-driven new age music you expect at most studios — downward-facing dog is being soundtracked today by Kendrick Lamar and Sia.
Y7, which has three branches in New York and hosted a pop-up in LA recently, might not seem like a place where an artist can break out. But considering the heavy-hitting clientele, getting a track on the playlist there might be a bigger opportunity than a mention in a traditional outlet. And Y7 is only one of a huge number of music-centric boutique fitness brands that are springing up — the grandaddy of these being Soulcycle, where people who can afford to pay $35 a class spin for an hour to high energy hip-hop, pop, and EDM tracks. Rapidly expanding interval training gym Orange Theory builds workouts around tracks that fall between 120 and 160 BPM. Soundtracks at crossfit gyms vary from box to box, although many of them seem to really, really like Disturbed, for some reason. Aside from all the gyms, there are plenty of apps directed at athletes — Spotify has a running section, and Spring encourages runners to match their footsteps to the beats of each track.
Despite all the opportunities, not many artists have taken advantage of this trend. Flo Rida launched a song with Soulcycle a few years ago, and invited journalists to gamely snap pics of the giant man atop the spin bike as his track played. There are a few artists who’ve publicly associated with workout — Rossfit, anyone? — but very few who are creating exclusive tracks for gyms or partnering with them to spread mutual brand awareness.
It’s a shame, because the clientele many of those gyms attract are just the people artists need to connect with. They are mostly young, affluent, and urban — the ideal target demo to spend money on concert tickets, vinyl, and cool t-shirts. And they’re totally captive — unless traditional big gyms where everyone seems to have headphones all, folks taking a Crossfit class or doing yoga are all vibing to the same track.
What can artists do to take advantage of this boom in music-focused fitness? The first thing is to figure out where their tracks could live. A raging rock track, for example, probably isn’t the best for yoga, but would kill in a Crossfit box. A high-energy track works better for Soulcycle. A chill hip-hop song is best for a studio like Y7. Once you’ve figured out your home, start pitching gyms and offer exclusive first listens and remixes — if you can strike relationships with certain instructors known for their great playlists, double win. Then offer to come to a class — most gyms probably aren’t equipped for you to perform, but they’ll likely be happy to let you take a class and give a quick pitch. If you’re on tour and happen to be passionate about a certain workout, try to drag yourself out early each morning and drop in at the local gym with some guest list spots and swag — the reception will probably be positive.
There are also plenty of opportunities to engage with athletes outside the gym. You can’t walk around New York City right now without running into someone training for the marathon, and more people are choosing to try to run 26.2 now than ever before. There are bands along the route, and plenty of opportunities to play live along marathon courses in many towns if that’s of interest, but again, most of the people running by will have their earbuds in place. Instead of that, maybe partner with the organizers to distribute an exclusive track or remix to all the runners? Or create a cool viral stunt where a certain number of runners wear your shirt? You could partner with an indie running brand like Only Atoms to come up with some cool, athlete appropriate swag.
Ever since the rise of the Sony Walkman, music has been moving from something we listened to actively to something that always seems to run in the background. Many people want great workout music delivered to them — I interviewed one woman a while back who said her dream music experience was to just be able to put on her headphones, hit a button, and be served great music for her entire run. Artists need to think outside the traditional channels and accept the idea that much of the time, their music will be consumed with people are doing something else. If you can create music that enables that something else to be better, and distribute it via channels that get it to people doing that thing, that’s a formula for success.
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