“It’s a dream job to come to every day.” ~Rob Souriall
Recently, DisneyMusicBlog.com was at the world-renowned Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA where DMB had the chance to sit down with Rob Souriall, VP of Global Marketing for Walt Disney Records. His pulse on and passion about all things Disney music was both invigorating to hear and experience first hand. Within the blog below you will find a few pictures taken directly on the Walt Disney Studios lot. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Rob leads the global marketing strategy, and a team of 10 to execute, for all Disney branded music products. This includes all soundtracks for the studio films, soundtracks/compilations attached to Disney Channel original series and movies, the legendary Disney music catalog!
As the head of marketing for Walt Disney Records and the strategic marketing and promotion department, Rob is responsible for the release of music/soundtracks that are tied to anything branded from the studio, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Star Wars, etc. He’s currently working on the releases of Into The Woods, Big Hero 6, Teen Beach Music 2, Descendants and The Legacy Collection. He is also the creator of the Disney Music Emporium website.
DisneyMusicBlog: In a nutshell, describe what you do for Walt Disney Records.
Rob Souriall: I lead a team of 10 people here in Burbank (California)–seven of which are focused on our domestic business and three of which are on my international team. The scope and purview of my job is now global marketing–aside from spearheading the release schedule strategy on everything Walt Disney Records, which encompasses any soundtracks to our studio. So, Big Hero 6, Into the Woods, Frozen, all of our big animation/live action films from Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar to all of our television business, which includes Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, to our catalog. The catalog includes managing all of our legendary songs dating back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and how do we reinvent them and make them cool and relevant and interesting to new generations. In addition, we have a team of people in London, Japan and other places across the globe strategizing how to best service it all (music, television, film, etc). So, there’s never any shortage of things to do. There are more than enough projects and you can’t get to all of the passion projects that you want to. And, this is all just keeping up with all of the frontline product flow. Many of our products are predicated upon a film opening at a certain time; so, our timeline is based around that.
From the catalog side of things, we just launched a new initiative, which is my new baby that I am super passionate about, called DisneyMusicEmporium.com. There is that very passionate group of fans out there who are Disney fans, number one, then they are music fans, number two. Something we haven’t done very well in the past 20 years is to super-serve a core of people who are just super passionate about our catalog and our music. So, instead of looking at that model of 100,000 units at $7.00, I want to focus in on selling 20,000 units; but, I can sell it at $50-60 because someone is really passionate and they want a quality, high end, collectable product that, unfortunately, not many retailers will take in anymore. The people are out there, so this is our team’s “field of dreams,” if you will, that we’re building of not only being an e-commerce platform, but also a fan engagement platform where there will be a two-way dialog with them on what do they think of “this” or what are they products that you would like to see us put out.
DMB: Who were your musical influences as a young man? And are you a musician/singer yourself?
Rob: I am a musician, but I wouldn’t consider myself a singer. Actually, my whole passion and the way how I ended up where I am today, is because really I’m a songwriter. It’s how I started my career. I went to a two-year vocational school called the Grove School of Music here in Studio City back in the 80s. I was the kid who played in all of the school bands at parties, got a booking agent, was in a cover band, then realized I really didn’t love living out of a suitcase. It’s not really a good way to live when you’re playing 6 nights a week and you’re packing up the bus and driving to the next town. I was 18-19 yrs old and it was a good perspective. I realized what I really loved was writing and producing. My first instrument was guitar and then I picked up playing the keys out of the need in our band. In hopes of being about to provide for my family one day, as life worked out I managed to find ways of working on the business side; which, I love and consider it a privilege and an honor. It’s a dream job to come to every day. The writing and musician side of me is still my hobby and I find time to do some work out of the project studio I have at my home.
DMB: What music product releases have excited you and your team the most over the past year or so? Any products in particular stick out and why?
Rob: Frozen, obviously, was the game changer for the whole industry this year. The vinyl [records] was just starting to percolate and happen, so we did a really cool 3-disc Frozen vinyl piece this past year that was picture discs, double-gate fold, just beautiful package, and foiled. We only manufactured 3,000 of these and they’re numbered on the back.
This year we are also doing a thing called The Legacy Collection. This was created response to us realizing we had 12 films that were celebrating milestone anniversaries. It started in June with The Lion King 20th anniversary, then we had the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins, then we had the 55th anniversary of Sleeping Beauty, the 25th of The Little Mermaid, 75th of Fantasia, 75th of Pinocchio, 20th of Toy Story, and it goes on. We were like, wow, we have all of these anniversaries – maybe there’s an opportunity to create an anniversary line to celebrate them. So, we commissioned an artist in taking inspiration from the original and classic albums covers, but doing it in their style. This would bring a continuity to the whole set when released. We found this very young, Spanish artist who works for our animation studio did these for us – very reminiscent of Mary Blair. The whole box set will culminate in August  at D23 here in Anaheim.
DMB: Will these be, or are they now available, at places like Amazon.com?
Rob: Yes, they are at Amazon, among other online retailers. You can also find them at Barnes and Noble.
DMB: I’m guessing you’ve come across and have chatted with many of the Disney purists out there. Have you experienced or found any challenges in developing or marketing Disney branded music products for the next generation that might appear somewhat progressive for the 1955 Disneyland and “Walt Disney”-loving crowd?
Rob: You quickly realize you can’t please everyone all of the time. But, you have to strike a balance that you feel is realistic and you feel is appropriate.
DMB: I’m supposing the soundtrack to Frozen probably did pretty well for you guys. What are the other soundtracks that have stuck out in looking at release in Q1, Q2 and Q3 of this year?
Rob: The one that’s really jumped out is Guardians of the Galaxy. If you recall, that soundtrack is full of songs from the late 70s and 80s. It was full of these songs that had been out since the 70s and we really didn’t see this one coming at all. It looks like we’re going to sell cost to a million units by this Christmas (2015) and the reason being due to the mix tape idea within the story line of the film. The music was curated very well and the young boys who saw the movie are finding the audio by simply searching the title of the movie, since they don’t know any of the artist names from the 70s. So, this has gone on to be a surprise hit for us.
DMB: If you were lost on a desert isle and could only have 3 of your Disney Music recordings/soundtracks on your iPhone (or however you could play them) what would these three projects be?
Rob: Tron Legacy was a personal favorite of mine. I’m a big fan of Daft Punk. I’m also a sucker for Alan Menken and love all of his movies. I would probably choose Aladdin, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.
DMB: When not listening to the Disney music products you are responsible for, what other favorite music could one possibly find Rob Souriall listening to on a jog or in his car?
Rob: Well, interestingly enough, I guess at my deepest core musical roots is classic rock. I’m a Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, that era type of fan. But, I’m find a new fond appreciation for old country like Johnny Cash and Glenn Campbell, as well as even some of the newer stuff.
DMB: Well, I know you have other appointments to get to, but we have greatly appreciated your time.
Rob: Well, I wish I had more time, but it was great to spend a few moments with you and wish you the best with DisneyMusicBlog.