Network Under 40
Join Network Under 40 on June 21 at AJ’s Good Time Bar, country music star Alan Jackson’s restaurant and bar, located in the heart of downtown Nashville. With
When a recording artist like Steven Tyler launches a new album or begins to tease a global tour, it can be easy to forget that there’s an entire team of strategists involved, steering every digital move. And that’s exactly what Cassie Petrey, cofounder of Crowd Surf—an innovative digital marketing agency focusing on organic, fan-driven initiatives—wants the public to think: that the artist is speaking directly to them.
Petrey and Jade Driver were students at Middle Tennessee State University moonlighting as temps in Warner Music Nashville’s new media department when the idea to launch their own concept began to take shape.
“It was the ideal situation: To be able to study music business and work in it at the same time was incredible,” Petrey says. “They really complemented each other well. I consider my job at Warner part of my college education.”
The duo was doing a little of everything, from keeping calendars and taking meeting notes to overseeing website builds and running newsletters, and the labels didn’t have large, dedicated digital departments—yet. So they started their own business that capitalized on their strengths—forward-thinking digital media tactics and fan engagement—as well as artists’ growing need for a solid social media presence.
“We loved our jobs and what we were doing. We liked analyzing. We loved doing MySpace and interacting with fans. But there wasn’t anywhere to go at that point,” Petrey recalls. “There weren’t community manager roles, and there wasn’t anything to aspire to at the time in the label’s ecosystem.”
Crowd Surf launched in 2007 when Petrey was just 21 years old, and she and Driver had no investors or funding; it was just the pair of friends doing what they did best: connecting with artists’ fan bases through social media. At the time, they focused primarily on MySpace—accepting friend requests for clients, running promotions, creating a strategy for bulletins—as well as leveraging Facebook profiles in the days before celebrity pages existed. They also were tasked with locking down handles for artists like Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum.
Petrey and Driver hired their first employee a year later, and the company has been growing steadily ever since, now staffing 34 employees spread between their Marathon Village base and a satellite office in Los Angeles. And while social media platforms are ever-changing—Petrey notes that live-streaming through Meerkat and Periscope has become a major focus for her artists—Crowd Surf’s underlying goal has remained the same.
“One thing that’s always been important to us is: How do we help our clients communicate to people in the same way that people communicate with each other?” Petrey explains.
Today, the company’s clientele is a broad mix of artists—including Lucy Hale, Andy Grammer, Fifth Harmony, and Backstreet Boys—as well as labels like Warner and Sony and even the occasional event, such as September’s Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin. Crowd Surf also works with overseas artists who already have a team in Europe or Asia and need U.S. representation. And while the staff educates their clients on strategy, promotions, new platforms, and more, they leave the actual social media management—i.e., the posting of content—up to the artists.
“Really, we’re just connecting the dots to make sure that content is being optimized and delivered correctly and in other territories,” Petrey says.