Giant Step is a media, events and marketing company headquartered in New York City. The company formerly released music through its record label, Giant Step Records. Giant Step is divided into two entities - the Giant Step brand, which promotes music and the creative agency, Giant Step Marketing, which provides marketing services to corporate brands. The Giant Step brand aims to introduce quality music and talent to its community. The slogan of the creative agency, Giant Step Marketing is that of, "Elevating brands through music and culture."
The Groove Academy and early years
Groove Academy began in 1990 as party in New York City. The party was a weekly production of British promoter, Maurice Bernstein, and his South African partner, Jonathan Rudnick. Initially unable to secure a loan from the bank, the pair borrowed money and used it to book acts and venues. “The stars of the 70’s, although they were highly sampled, were not getting recognition and were not being presented in a live forum,” recalls Rudnick. The two called their events, Groove Academy with its slogan, “Dedicated to the preservation of Funk.”
The events were extended onto the dance floor under the new name Giant Step, after the fabled John Coltrane album Giant Steps. The Giant Step party differentiated itself from Groove Academy with its emphasis on mixing Jazz and Hip Hop. Giant Step would soon go on tour around the States, Europe and Japan.
As the events continued to expand in the mid 90s, Giant Step moved into management, signing Dana Bryant, Repercussions, and Groove Collective, securing record deals for the three on Warner Brothers. Other artists managed include Raw Stylus, whom Giant Step signed to Geffen Records. During this time Giant Step worked with Gary Katz, best known for his work with Steely Dan, to help produce the albums for Groove Collective, Repercussions and Raw Stylus. In 1995, record producer Tommy Lipuma took over GRP Records at MCA Records and invited Giant Step to set up there as an imprint label. The first act to be signed to the label was the jazz group, Groove Collective.
In early 1997, Giant Step achieved acclaim for their work with Nuyorican Soul and a partnership with Gilles Peterson’s label, Talkin Loud. The group was a collaboration between Latin house DJs, “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzales, who were also commonly known as Masters at Work. Nuyorican Soul featured many real musicians as opposed to sampled or synthesized sounds. Musicians who took part in the project included George Benson, Tito Puente, Roy Ayers, Jazzy Jeff, Jocelyn Brown, and salsa queen, India. Three singles from the first Nuyorican Soul album made it to the top of the Billboard Charts; “Runaway”, “You Can Do It (Baby)” and “I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun.” The album, released in March 2007, sold over 50,000 units by the end of July the same year. Epic Records soon approached Bernstein and Rudnick with an offer. Although Giant Step was a music label, Epic Records was primarily interested in Giant Step’s marketing capabilities and offered the company a retainer contract where their record label was a secondary priority.
Music marketing and label discontinuation
For their first project with Epic Records, Giant Step helped launch the career of Macy Gray, followed by Jill Scott and the re-launch of Sade. The company promoted Macy Gray by getting her music played in cafés, clubs, and restaurants. According to Rose Noone, VP of A&R at Epic Records, the music was “heard everywhere.” Giant Step went on to help Def Jam Records artist Musiq Soulchild by pushing his music in untapped markets. The previously unknown singer sold 55,000 copies of his debut album in its first week.
Although, Giant Step Records released a Gilles Peterson compilation with Epic Records, Bernstein and Rudnick eventually grew frustrated with having an imprint deal. Corporate management denied their requests to sign artists like India Arie and Donnie, and so in 2000, Giant Step decided to start their own label. However the following year, Rudnick would leave company to pursue other interests. With money received from Epic, Bernstein started work on a series of tracks with singer, Donnie, that would eventually become the album, Welcome to the Colored Section. Steve “The Scotman” Harvey was enlisted as the producer. Singles from this album include, “Do You Know” and “Cloud9”. Welcome to the Colored Section was called “the best soul record since Stevie Wonder's masterpieces of the 1970s," by the Boston Globe. The independent success of Welcome to the Colored Section, brought a joint venture with Motown Records and private investment into the label. Giant Step has also released albums for Carl Hancock, Gilles Peterson, Turntables on the Hudson, Ultra Nate, Zero 7, Jody Watley, Donnie, Sara Devine, Jiva and Zap Mama.
However the venture had many operating issues. Its financial troubles threatened Giant Step’s marketing business and the company nearly shut down. After an expected second round of investment didn't come through, the label ground to a halt in 2005. With the record label closed, Giant Step focused its efforts on developing their marketing business. Giant Step soon entered a collaboration with Sade, and helped the artist sell 400,000 copies of her album during its first week in stores.
Creative agency era
After an initial foray with Levi's Miles Ahead Music Series and LG, Giant Step expanded into brand marketing with their creative agency, Giant Step Marketing. The company’s work with the Levi’s Miles Ahead Series debuted Jill Scott, Air and Massive Attack. The series also featured bands such as Femi Kuti, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Fatboy Slim, Morcheeba, Bebel Gilberto and Terry Callier. For LG, the agency coordinated press outreach, online promotions, and venue negotiations to help launch LG’s new mobile phone line. Events included performances by Jurassic 5, Thievery Corporation, The Pharcyde, Zero 7, Van Hunt, Miss Kittin, Raphael Saadiq and Everything But The Girl. Giant Step Marketing is divided into six departments: Live Experiences & Cultural Programs, Event Design & Production, Talent Matching & Strategic Alliances, Public Relations, Digital Content & Strategy, and Music Marketing & Promotion.
Between 2007 and 2011 Giant Step Marketing put on music programs for Morgans Hotel Group. This series included two years of Grammy and Fashion week events and featured artists such as The Roots, Common, Grace Jones, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Estelle, De La Soul and The Kills. In 2009, Svedka was brought in as a sponsor and the programs were expanded into the Svedka Future Music Series. Notable musicians featured in the series include Robyn, Wale, Mark Ronson, Nerd, Fitz & the Tantrums, Janelle Monae and Daft Punk.
In 2011, Giant Step worked with music producer David Guetta to create awareness for Cocacola’s energy drink, Burn. Later in 2011 Giant Step Marketing promoted the launch of Barneys New York’s “Gaga’s Workshop,” a holiday collaboration with Lady Gaga. The company provided PR and social media publicity that included a digital contest. Giant Step also created and managed urban activations for the project including three large inflatables, branded taxis and circus teams.
From 2008-2011 Giant Step Marketing helped launch Steve Madden Music. The company created branded content for the Steve Madden Music website, executed social media and online publicity campaigns and produced ten experiential marketing events that aligned the brand with artists such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, K’Naan, Katy B and Melanie Fiona.
In 2012 Giant Step Marketing launched Absolut X for Absolut Vodka, an events series aimed at pairing music, art, & cocktails together. The series included 6 events in major markets in the form of a masquerade ball, video coverage, an interactive site and contests. The series featured musicians, creatives and mixologist including Nick Cave, Holy Ghost, Grimes, Bert Rodriguez, Bloc Party, Augustina Woodgate, Klip Collective, Santigold and others. The experiential program won a gold medal at the EX Awards in 2013 for Best Production of An Event and garnered media coverage from outlets such as Bizbash.
Giant Step Marketing worked with HBO and Sony Music Entertainment to help launch Sounds of the Onyx, a promotional album to celebrate the 4th Season of television series Boardwalk Empire. Producers featured on the promo project include Pete Rock, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Om’Mas Keith, Shafiq Husayn, JayCeeoh & B-Sides and Tall Black Guy. These remixers worked off of original works by Eva Taylor, Clarence Williams, Ethel Waters, Lloyd Scott, Jim Jackson and Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten Orchestra.
Recently, Giant Step produced a national concert series for Intel and the MTV Iggy Music Experiment 2.0. The series featured artists such as Arcade Fire, Empire of the Sun and Disclosure. Diehard fans came out to the concert, which took place on October 29, 2013, wearing reflective costumes to celebrate the band’s new album.
Giant Step produces shows in select markets including Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Chicago and Washington DC. Giant Step also puts on an annual concert as a part of the Central Park Summer Stage series.
Upon arriving in New York to discover that their American jazz, funk and soul heroes were more or less musically unemployed, Bernstein and Rudnick created The Groove Academy, with its slogan “Dedicated to the Preservation of Funk,” and began rediscovering musicians whose records they had collected as teenagers. Bernstein recalled, “The first Groove Academy shows were put on by literally looking up artists in the telephone book … None of them had agents then, we’d just call them up at home and say ‘are you interested in doing a show with us?’ While The Groove Academy staged concerts with Maceo Parker, Isaac Hayes, The Ohio Players and George Clinton, Bernstein and Rudnick extended onto the dance floor with their Giant Step party.
Giant Step Party
The Giant Step party started off as a weekly event that mixed live jazz and hiphop. While The Groove Academy staged concerts with Maceo Parker, Isaac Hayes, The Ohio Players and George Clinton, Bernstein and Rudnick extended onto the dancefloor with their Giant Step party. Greatly influenced by the acid jazz club-nights in England, like Gilles Peterson’s Talkin' Loud And Sayin' Something. Giant Step offered a stage where visiting rappers and jazz musicians, along with the regular Giant Step band, improvised to prerecorded hip-hop and funk. Giant Step hold as emerging acid jazz artists, like the Digable Planets, The Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai, launched their stateside careers here. Many other notable artists debuted at Giant Step shows as well including The Fugees and Massive Attack. The party originally took place at S.O.B. but later moved to other venues such as Metropolis Café, Supper Club, Shine, New Music Café and the Village Gate. In 2002 the weekly party was discontinued. Later the Giant Step party would be re-launched at the Hudson Hotel. Today, Giant Step is a monthly party at Le Bain and features regular DJs such as Rich Medina. Other acts for the party have included FaltyDL, Onra, Ron Trent, Danny Krivit and King Britt.
Giant Step works with Q-Tip to produce his weekly Offline Party at Brooklyn’s Output. “The concept of Offline is a party that brings all elements of New York club culture together with great music, diverse people and no bottle service,” states Q-Tip.
The Giant Step community refers to the following that the company has across its various web properties. This community consists of young cosmopolitan residents who participate in conversations on the web and at live events. The company has over 30,000 followers across its social media channels.
After seeing an ad in the newspaper in 1992, Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Kevin Lyons knocked on the door of Giant Step's offices. There he met Bernstein and Rudnick who were impressed with his sketchbook and gave him a shot at designing Giant Step’s logo. Along with the Coltrane reference, the name of Giant Step was a statement of intent and the founders wanted their logo to reflect that. “We wanted to take a musical leap from what was going on in the city at that time,” recalls Bernstein. Lyons had been inspired by the lively hand drawn logo of the 1960s TV series, My Three Sons. “I thought ‘what if the word giant was a trumpet, with the wood-type-style letters kind of bouncing up and down?” recalls Lyons. After working on the logo all night, the artist came up with a version that would greatly please the Giant Step founders. “He nailed it. It basically said everything about who we are,“ recalls a pleased Bernstein. The iconic logo is still used today.
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