Whether you know it or not, Jason DeMarco probably played a formative role in your upbringing.
Now a vice president and creative director for Adult Swim, DeMarco is responsible for some of the most off-kilter programming and marketing seen on television: he began his career at Cartoon Network by creating the anime-centric Toonami block; in the meantime, DeMarco started buying loads of beats from up-and-coming producers like Danger Mouse to use as on-air ‘bumps.’ In 2008, DeMarco helped found Williams Street Records as Adult Swim’s in-house record label, where he served as head of A&R. It was with Williams Street in 2010 that DeMarco launched the Adult Swim Singles Program, wherein the network paid artists like Flying Lotus, Danger Mouse and DOOM for never-before-heard songs that would then be released to the station’s audience, free of charge.
Seven years on, DeMarco has seen projects live and die: Williams Street Records folded, Run The Jewels formed, but the Singles Program has remained steadfast. DeMarco’s latest Singles Program initiative may be his most ambitious yet — this year, the network hopes to debut a brand new song every week for fifty-two straight weeks. An entire year of music may seem daunting to some, but for DeMarco it’s all in a day’s work.
HYPEBEAST caught up with DeMarco on the phone to discuss the Singles Program, how he helped put Run The Jewels together, his working relationship with DOOM and his favorite AS cartoon. Read on below.
You’re revamping the Adult Swim Singles program? How’d that come about?
Yeah, haha, I had this stupid idea to make a whole year’s worth of singles. We’ve been doing this since 2010 and it originally started as eight singles and every year it sort-of increased, as we get more and more people onboard with it. At this point, I think it’s got 17 million streams, so a lot of music folks know about it. And folks just haven’t been saying no, so… (laughs) we decided to try and see if we could build a whole year’s worth. So we’re gonna see if we can do 52 straight weeks for the first time.
Was it tough to get artists to agree to send you songs at the beginning? How has that process changed since then?
I wouldn’t say it was tough at the beginning, but it was definitely different because TV networks don’t really do this. And they still don’t! So it was more that stars were like, ‘What? A TV network wants to give away one of my songs?’ There was a bit of a disconnection for some of the artists.
We try to keep the deal terms really friendly: we don’t own any of this stuff and we make sure that we’re paying well and we’re not asking for a long exclusivity period. So for an artist, it’s literally a bag of money that fell out of the sky so that you can give us a song that you can then later put on your album or do whatever you want with it — you own it. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible, so that’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want free promotion, a bag of money, and you still own your song? That way, the label is happy because we’re not taking anything away from them.
Once we did it the first year, we had such a positive response. From then on, it was much easier. Musicians are one of the people that love Adult Swim because anyone who’s up late at night for their job — cabbies, security guards, strippers, musicians — they all love Adult Swim. So I have little trouble getting them to pick up their phone, luckily.
Is there anyone who jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the Program?
Honestly, it happens all the time now. DAWN, this’ll be her third year contributing, but she’s one of the people who was just sending me music and knocking down my door. Thelonious Martin was hitting me up all the time and sending me beats. It’s a mix between more established artists and artists that’re coming up. At this point, [the Singles Program] has been around for seven years, so there’s artists that’ve seen people like FlyLo come up and know that we help support them, plus Run The Jewels, obviously — both of those add a lot of legitimacy to what we’re doing in the artist space. We combine that with our good reputation of treating artists well and being straightforward with them. It’s not that it’s easy to get everyone that we want onboard now, but we don’t get told no very often, which is very refreshing.
You are popularly credited with help building Run The Jewels. How did that come together?
Run The Jewels happened because at the time Adult Swim had a record label called Williams Street Records and now that label largely exists as a marketing imprint and we put all of our music out on Williams Street Records. But for a while, it was a real record label that sold records in stores. Killer Mike, who I had worked with on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, came into my office and said, ‘I wanna make an album with you guys, because I wanna do something totally different from all of the other labels and I know you guys could help me get there. I trust your taste and your opinions.’
Once I put Mike and El together, they basically fell in love, haha. Originally, El was only supposed to produce a couple songs on the record, but then right after their first session Mike called me and said that we had to have El do the whole record. At the time, El was working on his own solo project and said he didn’t have time, but Mike and I agreed secretly to bug the shit out of El until he agreed to do the whole thing. He ended up doing Mike’s whole record and they toured together on it, and that’s when they decided they were having fun and they should keep doing it — that’s when they became a group.
Adult Swim is a channel of cult classics. Is that devotion to late-night curiosities intentional?
I think part of the appeal of Adult Swim is that we’ve never been worried about appealing to everyone on the planet. We’re trying to appeal to our own taste, but beyond that we’re working on making things that we find interesting and hope that other people find them interesting, too. That’s the beauty of not being NBC where you have to be everything to everyone, all the time. We know that not everyone is going to like Adult Swim, but the people that do like it might really fall in love with it and be on our wavelength. So that’s how you get shows like Aqua Teen that run for a decade, because even though it’s a weird, nonsensical, ridiculous show, it makes sense to enough of a group of people that we end up being successful. It feels like nothing else on TV. Nowadays, the only way you can stand out at all is to do something that feels like nothing else—whether that be our music stuff or the shows. That’s core to Adult Swim’s identity and it’s one of the reasons I love working there.
How do you think Adult Swim has adapted and reacted to all of these changes, both in music and in television?
On the music front, I think giving away music for free on streaming services is how everyone does things now, so I think we’re on a good track there. We’re not in the music monetization business; we’re in the culture business. So, for us, it’s more important to work with cool artists and develop deeper relationships that can last for a long time and benefit both us and them — think FlyLo, Run The Jewels, Thelo, Dawn, or any of those artists.
Show-wise, I think us putting our shows on streaming and doing the Hulu deal, we’re allowing people to see our shows digitally. That’s just a part of what you have to do now, as a cable company. I think, hopefully, as the years go by we’ll get smarter and better about that. We’re still part of a huuuge multi-national conglomerate, so we have to do what they tell us to do, but I think some cable networks are getting smarter about the fact that you have to provide people a place to watch your stuff anywhere they wanna watch it—that’s obviously the way things are going, and I think the writing’s been on the wall for a long time. But in the next five to ten years, I think you’re gonna see a lot of cable companies making digital-only versions of themselves available anywhere you wanna watch them. ‘Cos that’s what they’re gonna have to do.
Adult Swim might be the only conglomerate that has a working relationship with DOOM. How did that come about and what’s the current situation with DOOM?
That came about because I had been working with Danger Mouse on Toonami; he was giving us beats and when he moved to London at one point, he signed to Lex [Records] and he put out his project [Ghetto Pop Life] with Jemini. Before he moved, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, man, I’m thinking about making a big move to London and I need to know if I can still sell you beats for a while, because that might be my only income.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course!’ So he was sending me tons and tons of beats. While he was out there, he met DOOM. When he came back to me to visit, he had a first draft of the Grey Album. I remember him playing it and being like, ‘Yeah, so I think this could be something.’ Then he said he had another idea: ‘DOOM and I were talking and we think we wanna do a Toonami album.’ So I said that I didn’t think anybody wanted a Toonami album, but an Adult Swim album would be cool — sampling old cartoons, using Aqua Teen characters and stuff like that. They loved that, so I convinced my boss to give us the money — he knew who DOOM was, really. So I A&R’d and executive produced that record and it did really well, so from that point on DOOM has just stayed in touch with me. We’ve premiered the past two Madvillain songs. DOOM is working, but he’s not working as much as he used to, but he’s somebody that became a friend. I’ve got paintings that DOOM made for me at my desk. Like I said, I wanna build these relationships and have them be fruitful and continuous. It’s a refreshing change for someone like DOOM, who’s so used to people trying to steal their money all the time. As far as now, DOOM is working. I can’t say much more, but I’m definitely doing more with them.
Final question might be the simplest: what’s your favorite cartoon on the network?
It’s kinda like picking your favorite child… I hate to be cliché, but I really love Rick & Morty, which is our hit show. I also love Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule. Then on the Toonami side, FLCL is my favorite anime show that we’ve run. Whether it’s anime or comedy, I get to do a lot of my work in animation, whether it’s shorts, shows or promos. You don’t get to love every show on your network, but I love a lot!
Listen to our exclusive Adult Swim Singles Program premieres — ghostmane and clams casino’s “Kali Yuga” and Mija’s “Time Stops,” and check out the list of artists who are featured on upcoming drops from the Singles Program below.
Adult Swim 2017 Singles Program
DOOM ft. Jay Electronica
Explosions in the Sky
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Low End Theory (Daddy Kev, Nobody, The Gaslamp Killer & D-Styles)
Nef the Pharaoh
Run The Jewels
SAD13 [Sadie Dupuis]
Spark Master Tape
The JuJu Exchange
Waka Flocka Flame
Wolves in the Throne Room
Your Old Droog
Zaytoven ft. Yung La, Bankroll Fresh, and Twista
Zeal & Ardor