If you’re trying to combine creative work with “pay the bills” work, look at IHEARTCOMIX, a creative agency that integrates its client work (recent projects include marketing for Black Panther and Mary Poppins Returns) with in-house projects like the music label IHC 1NFINITY, which sets all its music videos in a shared universe.
We talked to IHC founder Franki Chan about taking a brand that started as a party series, and developing it into a full business while staying fun and creative.
Franki went in-depth about the IHC team, explaining how each member contributes creatively and practically. If you like learning about more than the person at the top of an organisation, this is the How I Work for you.
Location: Los Angeles, CA Current Gig: IHEARTCOMIX, Founder & Creative Director Current mobile device: iPhone XS Current computer: MacBook Pro (latest model) One word that best describes how you work: Continuity. It’s very important to me that IHC is telling a narrative at all times and that everything makes sense in the whole. This doesn’t just apply to our public face, but especially internally when we are making business decisions.
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
My professional life started by playing in bands and organising concerts. Illustration, nerd culture and music have always been a huge part of my life, as well as creating a sense of community, curating shows was the first, natural expression of combining those passions.
In late 2003 I moved to Los Angeles. Shortly after I started IHEARTCOMIX as a name to throw parties under with my then DJ partner Steve Aoki (he had a thing called Dim Mak). Over time those parties grew into a brand all their own and I started a record label and blog to go along with it.
Around 2014 the original impulses of IHC began to wear thin for me. I wanted something more. We had played a large role in the music scene for a decade and through that developed a lot of contacts in the entertainment and brand worlds. I thought there must be a better way of staying true to who we are, but allowing ourselves to grow and utilise those relationships in new ways.
We thought the best way to do this at the time was to shoot our own TV show pilot (long story). From there we started working with Sundance and Adult Swim producing events and marketing for them. And so, we began our transition to what IHEARTCOMIX is now.
Today IHC exists primarily as a creative agency with a specialty in connecting music and geek culture. More often than not people come to us for first-to-market ideas, weirder thinking or solving problems that haven’t been figured out yet, usually helping develop a project that exists in between or combines several mediums.
We work with tentpole movie studios and independent films to popular musicians and world-class brands. The type of work varies greatly depending on the project, but can range from content creation to experiential productions to full-on marketing campaigns.
True to form, we never stopped creating ourselves. We launched the first record label with a shared music video universe, have created our own world of cartoon characters, share weekly curated playlists and are developing several TV and film projects. We feel this is the key ingredient that sets us apart from other agencies and keeps us connected to culture around us (as well as scratching that creative itch).
Take us through a recent workday.
Recent work day in late 2018 included:
Wake up, shower, coffee/breakfast and small morning workout.
Phone call with Walt Disney Studios concerning Mary Poppins Returns. We were recently hired to produce a creative marketing project for the film. We discussed next steps. Post call we assembled the team and delegated duties.
Met with Adult Swim at their Burbank office to discuss next steps. We had a busy 2018 with them producing several event and marketing projects. This meeting was about setting the stage for 2019.
Finalising assets for the release of a new IHC 1NFINITY music video, a Halloween themed short film featuring music from Lil Gnar and directed by Jesus Antonio Rivera, my creative partner at IHC. The video was released on 11/2/18.
Leading up to the release of the video we organised a screening of all the IHC 1NFINITY music videos, including the debut of the new one. This preview happened as the opening of my monthly DJ night called HITS! at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles.
IHC 1NFINITY A&R outreach to music artists we are interested in signing.
Casting for a new photo shoot collaboration by the mega-talented Parker Day. She is creating photos starring human versions of our cartoon characters called Lost Daze. This is part of our preparation for our 15th anniversary in 2019.
Check-in on current in-production Pabst Road Show, a 13-city experiential distributor presentation we developed and produced for Pabst. The project took several months to imagine and build and required two separate production teams to execute within the timeframe allotted. At this point we only had 3-4 shows left.
Wrapping up our Tenacious D Post-Apocalypto Zone at LA Comic Con activation with a recap deck.
Organising a LA screening of the documentary MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A at the Regent Theatre.
2019 strategy planning, which includes our 15th anniversary, new hires and new goals.
Assistant training. I recently hired my first one.
Post work day Crossfit class.
Attended a work related event.
Every workday includes several or all of these things:
Biz client outreach and check-ins
HR, fielding any employee issues
Accounting, reviewing current budgets and P/L with my biz manager or project managers
Prep for the weekly staff meeting where I set the agenda for that week
Staff projects / check ins, daily course corrections or priority adjustment based on whatever had changed in terms of importance. We spend a lot of time talking internally to make sure everyone is on the same page and minimising redundancy.
Press / Marketing strategy for IHC related projects
Social media strategy and posts
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
Google suite of apps: Slides, Docs, Sheets, Cal, Drive
What’s your workspace setup like?
The IHC office is in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles. We have a large open space with 12 desks, lounge/meeting area, work spaces, photo wall, DJ booth, several video games, a T-rex and a giant rainbow papier-mâché unicorn. The walls are mainly decorated with art from our various past projects or murals. We also have several handmade costumes lying around as well as an endless cascade of weird stuff. We like to keep it fun and creative.
My personal desk sits in the back of the room. I am surrounded by white boards as I like to keep ideas easily accessible at all times. If I was Batman I’d have his wall of screens, but that’s still on the bucket list (being Batman).
Besides that my desk is fairly simple. I have a clean work space and spend most of my day on my laptop, phone or drawing/jotting down random ideas. I keep all my toys and nerdy stuff at the office and don’t allow any of it in my home.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
I know A LOT of people from all kinds of industries and disciplines. A couple years ago I decided to make an intricate Google Sheet that categorizes every contact I have in a very detailed manner. Where conversations are with them, their specific job roles, etc. It’s broken up between music, entertainment and brands mostly and then split between creatives and industry.
It took a lot of work to set up, but saves me a ton of time day-to-day as the information is readily accessible and I never have to spend time trying to figure out that Director I met that one time.
HOWEVER I wish there was an even more efficient way, but I haven’t found it yet. Traditional address books just don’t cut it. HMU if you have the secret!
IHC 1NFINITY is famous for music videos that share a fictional universe. How does that shared universe affect the process of making music videos?
First off, we are essentially making mini-movies each time. The videos are narrative based (vs. just looking cool), so that creates a whole extra layer of script writing, coverage, special effects and post-production we have to consider.
Second, and probably most important, each video needs to be a collaboration with the artist. They are volunteering to play around in our universe, but the video still needs to promote them and work as a standalone piece. This is always the most difficult aspect to get right and usually the most complicated when finalising the product. The balance is tricky. This makes the process a little longer, but also a lot of fun when the artists really get into it.
Third, we are universe building. The continuity between the videos is very important and we are always expanding on the mythology of the story we are trying to tell. With each video and in the time between them, we are writing story, creating props or designing.
Fourth, funding. Because we treat these as films, the price tag comes in a little higher than a normal music video. So, I spend a lot of time pitching brands and getting additional support from partners to bring the idea to life.
Lastly, marketing. With each release we go beyond the traditional song and video release to adding a layer of the campaign specifically on the universe. This expresses itself as experiential and social campaigns around narrative elements, movie posters, merch and fan screenings.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Decks. While decks are standard in most industries, our decks take on a special place in our workflow. We go over-the-top in terms of design and the story we are trying to tell. We pride ourselves on their uniqueness. We have decks not just for projects, but for just about every aspect of IHC. They are created as a collaborative effort internally and no project officially begins until fleshed out in this format.
Image: Courtesy of IHEARTCOMIX
Image: Courtesy of IHEARTCOMIX
Image: Courtesy of IHEARTCOMIX
Image: Courtesy of IHEARTCOMIX
Image: Courtesy of IHEARTCOMIX
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Jesus Rivera | Creative & Video: Jesus has been with IHC the longest and has had a large influence on the look and culture of IHC. He’s the dependable freak in the room. We are creative partners on our characters, TV show projects and the IHC 1NFINITY storyline. The majority of video content from IHC has come through him.
Ashley Aguirre | Sales & Marketing: Ashley is a wizard, especially when it comes to decks. Most of our design and business materials go through her. She excels at handling clients, being creative and generally inspiring the team. She’s the glue that keeps us together.
Jasmine Peraza | Social Media & Editorial: Jasmine handles our public face. The majority of our socials, web posts, newsletters and playlists come through her. She started as an intern and worked her way up the ranks.
Esther Robinsun-Abrams | Executive Assistant: Esther is the newest member of our team and has quickly made a name for herself as an endless resource. She helps me directly with day-to-day management.
Carina Gutierrez | Social Media and Editorial Assistant: Carina is a great creative and good at anything we throw at her. She’s become a resource for anything from events to video productions. She spends her day-to-day in the office assisting with social media and editorial.
John Travis | Business Affairs: John started with IHC at the end of 2017. He runs a company called Hollywood Plumbing that helps get creative businesses in shape financially. He handles the majority of our business affairs now and has been our secret weapon.
Ophir Admony | Label Manager: Ophir just left IHC actually to join the team at Secretly Canadian, but I didn’t think it was fair to leave her out. Ophir has played a key role in getting the IHC 1NFINITY label in shape and set up for an exciting 2019. We’ve just filled the position and are excited for the next chapter.
Beny Ashburn | Accounts: Beny works with us freelance on agency projects. However, she’s so involved at this point it’s hard to deny the incredible influence she’s had. Her experience has brought a new level of professionalism we needed.
Dina Murietta | Event Production: Dina is one of our two main event producers. She can tackle any size project and is a great team player. We are lucky to have her on our side.
Robyn Baskins | Event Production: Robyn is our other main producer. She’s mainly NYC based, so comes on board mostly for projects outside of LA.
Edward Do | Event Production: Edward has worked with IHC both as a full-time employee, and more recently as freelance, for years. Mostly focused on event production and PA work, Eddie is our go-to as his dependability and attitude is that of champions.
Shannon Cornett | Event Production: Shannon excels at concert production. She’s my go-to when we have music or comedy related events. We come from a similar DIY background and speak a language not normally understood in the agency world.
Inge Colsen | PR: Inge has handled IHC’s PR off and on for years! Whether our early event days, our label or more recently our agency work, Inge is part of the family and always will be. She’s been with us through thick and thin.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Lots and lots of notes. Depending on importance, I have various note systems that would appear in a notebook, online (Apple Notes or Google Doc) or on random scraps of paper if there are important things I need to focus on right then.
Lately I’ve been moving towards making the list shared, so team members can contribute where they can.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I watch a lot of TV and movies or read comics to shut off. Drawing, writing or creating playlists if I’m feeling creative. Exercise or travel adventures do the trick too. Mostly, I just need to be alone and be in my own space away from the madness.
What’s your favourite side project?
I’ve been writing my first feature length screenplay the past year or so. I’m very excited about the idea and it’s been great to have a creative outlet outside of my everyday one.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I got in my head that I wanted to learn more about successful people who had juggled multiple disciplines and created something new out of them. All three also found their greatest achievements later in life, which I also find interesting.
Not to compare myself to their success in any way, but it’s helped me stay inspired to see the perspective of their lives. If anything, it fuels the fire and I’d recommend them to any creative/business person seeking some life lessons.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
The biggest challenge for IHC at the moment is a general understanding of who we are today: Perception. This issue breaks down two fold:
Business. 2019 will be our 15th year. For the first 11-12 years we were a very different business. When we decided to pivot, it took a couple years to dismantle the old and rebuild the new so it worked correctly. I’d say we’ve had two strong years now where we’ve been the business we want to be, with 2018 being our best year ever. BUT a lot of the world still thinks of IHC as who we were. Our new clients don’t, but the rest do. That’s been something we’ve been addressing more and more.
Fan culture. Because we create our own content and have large ambitions for where we want to take that in the future, it’s important we redefine what our fan culture is to build a fresh base of people who follow us for what we are providing now. Moving into 2019, a large part of our internal efforts will be on a revamped look, social media strategy and more original content to develop our core fan culture as we continue evolving into our latest era.