In a world where digital and social media are at an all-time high, it’s important to recognize the movers and shakers in the field. Insert Steve Zilberman, the viral marketing engineer and creative director you undoubtedly want on your team when it comes to having a presence online.
Born in the Ukraine but spending most of his life in Chicago, Zilberman is the genius behind the content from some of your favorite artists to date, including famed producer Benny Blanco, the third biggest TikToker in the world Bella Poarch, and pop artist Oliver Tree, the latter of whom he played a detrimental role in launching his career from the underground into the mainstream.
Steve describes himself as a “viral engineer,” a term he made up to encompass the multitude of tasks he takes on at any given moment. From artist relations to artist development, Steve’s expertise lies in creating content, whether it’s filming, editing, then marketing that content. He states, “I can’t call myself a creative director because a lot of the time, I’m co-creative directing or maybe I’m not the main creative director.”
Remember the height of Tyga’s “Macarena” challenge on TikTok (currently at over 836 million videos and counting)? Yup, that was Steve also. His undisclosed sauce or formula has resulted in launching online accounts from zero to millions of followers in just months, a phenomenon people spend years and years attempting to achieve.
AllHipHop: When you were coming up as a kid, did you think you’d be here now working with all these amazing artists?
Steve Zilberman: Absolutely not. Until I was 22, I didn’t do anything. I stayed home, smoked weed. [laughs] I really I fell into it on accident. Ironically, I started off in music on the rock side. For a big part of my career, I moved away from music and strictly did cinematography and documentaries. I got back into it, with this dude Oliver Tree.
AllHipHop: How did you link with Oliver Tree?
Steve Zilberman: I was working with Youtubers at the time, this dude Cherdleys and this guy Andrew Hales, he goes by LAHWF on Youtube. Oliver reached out to collaborate. I didn’t know at the time what he was trying to do is get a fanbase and get his image and name out there, he thought doing it with us would be the best. At that time, my first 6 videos with Cherdleys hit a million in 24 hours, so we’re pretty popular at the time.
AllHipHop: Were you anticipating that much of a response?
Steve Zilberman: No, not at all. It was crazy, I felt like Floyd Mayweather, alright we’re 6 for 6. When Oliver reached out, I didn’t even know he signed a major label deal. I had no idea he made music. He may have mentioned it in passing once, but it went from zero to a hundred because next thing I know, he poached me from Cherdleys and put me on salary. The craziest experience because I got to experience the music industry the way a new major label artist would, it was super cool. Not only that, but a project that works.
Steve Zilberman: Going from the beginnings where nobody took us seriously, then towards playing sold out shows. The thing I take away most is all the politics I learned from that, I still use to this day: dealing with A&Rs or dealing with labels.
AllHipHop: What do you bring to these projects? What’s your sauce or secret?
Steve Zilberman: The only secret I have is intuition. [laughs] That’s a tough question to answer because it’s so different artist to artist. How you release the assets, what the assets are, or even what gets posted at what time is most crucial.
AllHipHop: This is strategic?
Steve Zilberman: Exactly, all the stuff is very planned. Especially nowadays, the smallest little thing goes a long way.
AllHipHop: Talk about your background in cinematography, and filming documentaries.
I fell into it accidentally. My best friends in high school had a metal band, they’re called For All I Am. Everyone had a part in it. My best friend was the bassist, my other good friend was the singer, guitarist, and drummer. Another one of my close friends was the tour manager, then there’s me. I was really into gaming at that time, programs and building computers. I thought “oh yeah, I can download editing software and figure out how to use it,” which I did. It did work. I really got a camera, started learning how to edit, and hopped right on tour. Tour’s the best because every single day is a new scenario or a new situation, that was my school.
I toured with them 2 to 3 years straight, I learned how to use a camera and edit through the tour. When you get pushed into a situation, you have no choice but to learn. From there, started doing music videos for local rappers and artists. It’s interesting because the whole Chief Keef drama with 300K, this guy Lil JoJo put me on to drill music. I remember I got a message from him sending me a Chief Keef video that had 60K views. He’s freaking out like “bro check this out, 60K views! This thing’s going to be big.” He got me shooting with guys like Billionaire Black and P. Rico, they’re not huge huge artists but I’d do so many of those rap music videos.
I stopped doing it because it’s a little dangerous working in the Southside of Chicago. No one ever messed with me but there’s been a few instances where “okay, this might not be it.” I started exploring different avenues. Started on Craigslist, got random jobs for commercials. Eventually I started getting a lot better, my name started growing in Chicago. I peaked in Chicago when I did a DPed a documentary for McDonalds at McDonald’s headquarters. The director was Stephen Kesler, an Award-winning director. Mcdonald’s was doing a 24-country event where every country, they’d break a record. It was cool, but I reached a ceiling in Chicago. I was stagnant for year.
AllHipHop: That’s when you moved to Los Angeles, right?
Steve Zilberman: Yeah, that’s where my real journey started: competing in LA. The first thing I did when I moved to LA was make a Craigslist looking for videographers. I got hundreds of replies. I looked through hundreds of demo reels to see what my competition was, I formulated what I call “the ultimate demo reel” because I saw what I liked and didn’t like. With that demo reel, I got every job I applied for on in LA. One thing led to another, it kept growing. I got a content marketing job with the smart home company New Bright.
That’s the first time that I put cinematography and marketing together. I’d be working with the marketing team for what colors should I use, how long is this going to be, or what point of view am I shooting from? I learned a lot from marketing. Simultaneously, I was working with Youtubers like Cherdleys, Andrew Hales, this lesbian couple Bria and Crissy. I started realizing what I’m doing with these people is literally marketing. What Youtubers are, are marketers. When I jumped onto the Oliver project, we’re marketing a new artist by doing viral videos. Wow this is truly my calling. All these years, all the stuff I learned was for this.
AllHipHop: What’s the biggest thing you learned?
Steve Zilberman: How gullible people can be. [laughs] I learned to embrace mistakes. A lot of videos that went viral would be by mistake, or there’d be some mistake in it. For Oliver, one of the more viral videos was him getting a giant ice cream with his single “Alien Boy” playing. We posted that video as if we tricked the restaurant into thinking it was his birthday to get a free dessert, that video blew up and it keeps blowing up, I see it come up every now or then. That was a mistake. My mentor invited Oliver and I to this restaurant, we went there. His surprise was to play the song, then them bring dessert. I took out my phone, filmed it. Oliver and I were on the same wavelength at the time. He saw as soon as I took my phone out, “alright it’s time to play into the camera. It was not a planned video whatsoever.
AllHipHop: What advice do you have for Youtubers? The algorithm is impossible nowadays!
Steve Zilberman: Right now because of the oversaturation of content and shows, you have to do something wild that no one’s seen before. Say you’re upside down, something completely different. The most important thing is cosigns, cosigns are the most important thing, if you could get really big people on your show, you’re now getting their fanbase. Unfortunately there’s no secret besides keep going. It could take a year for something to take off, it could take 5 years or it could take a few months.
AllHipHop: What are you most excited for now?
Steve Zilberman: I’ve worked with Marshmello a couple times, he’s a cool guy. I do Benny Blanco, started his TikTok from scratch. It’s at 3 million followers. We have some of the craziest engagements, like 40 or 50 million views. We’re posting d#####. Here’s the thing: before we even started, we told TikTok what we’re doing. They said “yeah, this is okay to do.” Last week, they said “hate to say this, but you can’t do this anymore.” They took everything down, everything. So we’re starting from scratch. So funny, Benny was telling me everyday if he’s in public, people would come up to him saying “you’re the d#### guy!” Or “you’re the TikTok guy!”
AllHipHop: Was that your idea to use d#####?
Steve Zilberman: We thought “what’s the most ridiculous thing we could do?” We landed on d#####. It was great because any trend that came on TikTok, all we had to do was add a d####. It’d always do well. No one else was able to do what we’re doing because the reason videos were taken down on TikTok is because of reports. If you get enough reports, the video gets taken down. We were fortunate because when we’d get a bunch of reports and the video gets taken down, it’d come back. It was always so shocking for people like “oh my gosh, there’s a d#### on here?” It sucks but we’ll see. He’s such a funny and creative guy, I’m not too concerned.
AllHipHop: How did you meet? Do you still run his social?
Steve Zilberman: Oliver’s ex-manager is the one of the guys who brought me on to the Oliver project. Benny got him into the music industry, but they’ve never worked together before. Benny saw what we’re doing with TikTok, we helped introduce Tyga to TikTok. We created the “Macarena” challenge in Nashville. If you go back to the roots and follow the breadcrumbs, it started with Mason Ramsey, who’s an artist project I was working on at the time. We got that gig and formulated the “Macarena” challenge in Nashville, it worked so well that we flew to LA to teach Tyga how to use tiktok essentially.
This was at the peak of the pandemic so Tyga wouldn’t touch us, he’s using his shoulder. This was before masks. We brought Justmaiko over there, this TikToker Javier, and others. We brought them into the studio, Tyga was a little kid having the greatest time. He didn’t understand the platform at all, didn’t know how to use it. Next thing you know, he’s making all these videos. Dancing with these kids and having a blast.
Interesting fact: Tyga’s son King, who must be 8 or 10 years old, feeds him trends that he does at this point. Tyga’s a very very smart guy, especially when it comes to marketing, not only music. He really took TikTok and ran with it. Next to Jason Derulo, he’s one of the most successful artists to transition TikToks into music streams because his streams flew up. Right now, he’s a very very relevant artist.
AllHipHop: What’re you excited for this year?
Steve Zilberman: I’m meeting with G-Eazy after this. He’s a tougher project because his image is just so cool. We’ve been exploring how to showcase his funny side without going too TikTok. I’m excited for all the challenges this year!