Byron Merritt Discusses How Amazon Music Is Creating Unique Spaces For Artists at Studio126

As the VP of Design at Amazon Music, the noted executive is one the leading experts on designing experiences that create stronger connections with creators and fans.

Amazon Musics’s Studio126, in Los Angeles, is a unique space where artists and their fans can build meaningful connections with each other. The 28,600-square-foot building features recording studios, green rooms, and a merch space where creators will collaborate on exciting new experiences for fans.

The space is a two-time Webby award-winning hip-hop video interview series “Bars and Nuggets” class home and has featured a collection of diverse artists like Offset, Tinashe, Terrace Martin, and Jharrel Jerome. 

Byron Merrit, VP of Design at Amazon Music, is leading the charge of curating the vision and experiences behind Studio126.  With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Merrit, along with his team of creatives, is excited to help artists cultivate their artistic endeavors in the space. spoke with Merritt about his vision for Studio126, hosting one of the hottest parties during Grammy week and working with the Recording Academy to establish scholarships for HBCU students. After working in different capabilities with companies such as Nike and Delta Airlines, what drew you to want to work with Amazon Music?

Byron Merritt: Good question. So one was the aspect of music and how it intersects with culture. But then within the context of a technology company that intersection of technology, music, and culture. Amazon wanted to connect with a younger, more diverse audience, and that challenge was the thing that drew me. Additionally, the context in which Amazon Music sits within broader Amazon. The potential to leverage other aspects of Amazon and create experiences through the lens of music for customers and artists alike. That was really intriguing to me as well. How did the idea of Studio126 come to be?

Byron Merritt: Some of that original ideation was before my time. I came here about two years ago but I can tell you a little bit about it. Sure. The real impetus was around creating spaces where we can support artists in a very direct way. We wanted to provide space and facilities to help artists evolve in their careers, expand their reach with the fans, and connect with them. So that was the inception was really about

We have locations in Brooklyn, Tokyo, and Berlin, as artists-facing spaces, spaces for us to kind of connect and collaborate with artists. It’s like their home within Amazon Music and that's the mindset which f created the spaces. The space here in Los Angeles is our flagship one and it's the largest one. It is about 28,000 square feet in Culver City and it’s kind of the home for Amazon entertainment in general. We've got teams and other locations but this has become the headquarters for Amazon Music. So we built this space something a bit more custom here and larger itself. Culver Studios is where there are so many TV shows and films. How was it to reimagine that space with all that entertainment history?

Byron Merritt: So our campus has two new buildings. One that houses Amazon Studios, video, and all that. Then the other building is for music. We also have other parts of Amazon entertainment in our building as well. Behind the two buildings are some of the original sound stages that were here as well. Anchoring the other end is an old mansion, and that's the original Culver Studios. So things like “Gone With The Wind” was filmed there. In addition to Studio126, Amazon has established a scholarship for HBCU students. Tell us about the importance of partnering with HBCUs.

Byron Merritt: Part of a broader HBCU program that we have just connecting and supporting young people of color, particularly those who are trying to make their way in the business of music and entertainment. So that particular program offers scholarships, mentoring sessions, and connections to executives and others in the music industry. They were just out here during Grammy week, and they had a tour of the space. There also was a mirror training session that happened in the space as well in partnership with the Recording Academy. The department is collective. So every year, I think this is the third year, there's a Black Music  Collective Award show doing Grammys week, and these students were part of that. So they came out on stage, it was pretty cool to see them in that context. And I had the opportunity to chat with some of them during the show. Since its official opening, what has the feedback been from artists and fans?

Byron Merritt: I think it's like some of the things that we've seen where we have artists coming in, and they may be doing a podcast in one of our listening lounges and they're able to bring fans in who could sit in real-time and watch the podcast on the screen there. Then we also have a screening room where other fans can sit and watch this all in real-time. And we had experiences like that where the artists would bring their fans into the podcast studio and interact with them. So it gave a great opportunity for the fans and for the artists to connect. We've configured these spaces to be flexible enough to do these types of things. It's funny that you asked about what we thought we would do with this. We approached it with the mindset of letting the creators we work with help define how we use that space.  We're in that process right now. We built it and we had some really good ideas around how we want to use it but it's the connection between us and our artists and creators to further as we look forward to defining how we use that space going forward. One of the hot tickets during Grammy week was visiting Studio126. How has it been to host one of the week's most popular parties?

Byron Merritt: So last year, when we had our party, the intent of our last party last year was to give people a sneak peek into the space because it wasn't even complete yet. It was still under construction. So we decided to host a party during Grammy week because a lot of the industry will be in town. We thought we would do it early in the week so it's not conflicting with things and it was really like a sneak peek into our spaces. We didn't realize how it's become, almost an expected kickoff to the week. When people came last year, they were blown away with what we're doing and it wasn't even complete yet. We had a great party, with Anderson.Paak as the DJ. So this year, there were a lot of expectations like, “Hey, you guys are gonna have your lot party again?” But it also coincided with the fact that the space is now complete so it's still relatively new and fresh. During Grammy week, we had a lot of parties and the reaction was tremendous from all sides of the industry. I think everyone's seen that potential, you know, even folks that are on the periphery of the music experience. We've been doing a lot of merge experiences with an artist you might have heard before named Beyoncé [Laughs]. When Studio126 comes to people’s minds, what do you want them to think of it?

Byron Merritt: I want people to think of Studio 126 as a place that supports and enables one's creativity. It was built to support and enable artists and creators to further their pursuits and to help them reach their goals and dreams.

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