Charlie Walk is the music executive and entrepreneur who has always been ahead of his time. Relying on his innovative foresight and ability to create strategic partnerships, Walk has made a career of successfully taking risks in the music business. Back in 2006, in order to help the floundering sales of Shakira’s Oral Fixation Vol. 2 album, the ex-President of both Epic and Republic Records, made a decision that was both novel as well as ingenious.
For those that are unaware, most musicians attempt to pre-determine the best song on their album and release it early in order to gain publicity and drive sales for the album. Despite what one may think knowing the subsequent popularity of the song, “Hips Don’t Lie” was not even originally scheduled to be on the album. That was before Walk began to personally involve himself in the song selection of the album.
Walk realized there wasn’t a hit on Shakira’s album as handed-in, so instead of going into crisis mode, he went into solution mode. He called his friend Wyclef Jean, the legendary leader of The Fugees, whom Walk also helped break. Walk and Jean got together at Platinum Studios in New York with Pras, another legendary member of the Fugees and producer Jerry Wonda. Walk had a vision for this Shakira and Wyclef Jean collaboration so he asked to hear any uptempo tracks with Latin/Caribbean roots. Wyclef played him, “Dance like This” from the movie Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, which had been released two years prior with no commercial success. Interestingly enough, the song was originally intended to be on a Fugees reunion record. After hearing the song, Walk immediately saw the opportunity and understood what he needed to do. He asked Wyclef to flip the song and start the transformation into what is now called, “Hips Don’t Lie,” one of the biggest Latin crossover songs in the history of music.
As the President of Epic Records at the time, Walk realized the massive potential of the song to become an international hit. This is why he organized the re-release of the Oral Fixation Vol. 2 album with “Hips Don’t Lie” as the single. Beyond using his musical intuition to correctly identify the best song for the single, Walk used his business foresight to secure a strategic partnership for the song before they actually released it. Walk and Epic Records made a deal with Verizon and Yahoo in order to promote the new single on Yahoo Music and to exclusively release it to Verizon Wireless customers.
Epic and Walk awarded Verizon exclusive rights to sell the single over its V-Cast cellphone service as well as create ringtones and the official video. Even back in 2006, Walk understood the necessity to reach different audiences on different platforms. In addition to having Verizon promote the song across its various channels, he made a deal with Yahoo Music to creatively promote the single through its platforms. Not only did walk ask Yahoo Music to stream the song, he also captured the early power of social media by having yahoo invite fans to submit footage of themselves dancing to the single. After splicing together the best submissions, Yahoo released the ‘fan video,’ which subsequently went viral and was the number one video on Yahoo.
With the mix of Verizon’s exclusive deal and Yahoo’s viral video, Walk was simultaneously able to give the song a sense of virality as well as exclusivity. By the time ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ was released on iTunes, the hype was palpable. The song quickly set a record for the most digital downloads in one week after it was released May 27; the single was downloaded about 266,500 times in its first week on sale, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which broke the previous record of 175,000 copies of D4L’s “Laffy Taffy.”
These strategic partnerships were ahead of their time because they focused on multi-platform virality, a common tactic used today with the prevalence of multiple streaming services (Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal) and social media platforms (Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, Twitter). The success of Walk’s strategy was so innovative for the time it actually warranted a feature in the New York Times. Clearly, Walk is not only confident enough in his understanding of music to invest money in an album and a song despite their subpar numbers at the time, but he is also comfortable in his ability to take risks and be a pioneer on the business side as well. We are excited to see what Walk shakes up next.