WSJ Interviews Robin Arzon & Gwen Bethel Riley (Head of Music) about the Future of Fitness

The Wall Street Journal is hosting a digital “Future of Everything” festival/conference.

As we navigate and report on a new normal around the world, we’re also thinking about what will change forever, and what comes next. It’s that curiosity our Future Of Everything Festival and Series tap into, exploring all the ways our world is evolving, from how we address a warming planet to how we’re entertained.

As part of that, the WSJ is bringing in various leaders and creators from many industries to discuss the trends they are seeing, and what they think will happen in the future:

Our vibrant new series is full of discussions, debates and performances—all streamed live to your living room—and our flagship festival puts the most revolutionary, business-changing ideas on stage and in your hands. You’ll be in the room with leaders representing a range of industries and viewpoints who are breaking new ground—and old rules.

One panel of the series featured Robin Arzon (who is both an instructor and VP of fitness programming at Peloton), along with Gwen Bethel Riley, who was promoted to head of music at Peloton this summer. In the video, they discuss “what the long-lasting effect of the pandemic will be on the workout industry, as well as how the company is fusing entertainment and fitness.”

We’ll summarize what was discussed below, or you can find the original video here

Robin was asked that if thanks to the vast reach she has as a Peloton instructor, if she feels any pressure to set an example for people about taking maternity leave and eventually becoming a working parent. Her short answer was “Yes”, and more specifically, “Yes, I believe my life is a message.” – both on and off the bike. She further explained that everyone’s life is their message – it’s just a matter of how many people your message gets amplified to, but the amplification doesn’t diminish or change the value of your personal message. Robin believes in anchoring herself in values & integrity and grit.

Next was a discussion on artists, and how involved they are in Peloton’s featured artist series, given that many artists who are featured are actually members themselves, like JLO & Madonna. Gwen said that they focused around figuring out how to bring the community together, knowing that instructors end up being the face of the music brand. However, Gwen said that they are only able to work with artists who one of their instructors feels a connection with and wants to lead the workout for, otherwise it’s not an authentic experience. Many artists will come in and work directly with Peloton, and it ends up being a mutual experience. More and more artists are starting the conversation with Peloton, and sometimes it comes from management, sometimes from the label, and sometimes from the artist themselves. It’s not only a matter of figuring out how to share and celebrate and elevate an artists’ catalog, but looking at deeper ways the artists can engage with the community and keep an ongoing conversation. For example, Madonna had a charity she was working with, so they were able to do rides for the charity itself as part of pride month ($1 for each workout taken ended up being donated to “The Center”).

Robin was then asked how the instructors managed to keep their energy up during workouts given that Peloton’s studios are still closed to the public, having been that way since mid-March. Her reply was that she felt, in a way, a greater intimacy with the community after the “Live from home” series. She went on to way that there are a number of ways instructors can try to keep that same energy without having studio riders to feed off of. That includes confidence in the entertainment of what they are doing, relying on the relationship with their members, knowing the credibility and secret sauce of the instructor’s training methodology, and utilizing the UX and hardware of the Peloton equipment to know they are creating an immersive experience. Robin believes that Peloton is “a memory factory.”

The conversation then turned into how the world is changing with more and more interactions taking place online, and how to deal with that. Robin had some simple advice: “Lead with who you are.” She stated that everyone is now an expert in authenticity. “What makes you different is your superpower.” Find a few people who believe in you. That’s the start of your crew.

Gwen then was asked about music licensing, and how it’s changed after Peloton settled their the lawsuit with the NMPA and entered into a joint collaboration agreement. Gwen said it’s now “Music Version 2”. Peloton is now partnering very closely with many of those same publishers who were in the lawsuit. It’s still a complicated system, but Peloton is working to address it both in terms of technology and deal making. Their technology platform now allows them to create reports for licensing, systems for acquiring music, and an engine for instructors to create playlists. Gwen said now that the lawsuits are in the past they can instead simply focus on developing a robust music program.

Gwen was specifically asked about a Peloton Beyonce Ride, or Peloton Taylor Swift Ride. All Gwen would reveal is that Peloton listens to the community, they hear the community, and they are working on some exciting things for the next year.

Robin then discussed how Peloton’s Black Lives Matter initiative (which began with a $500,000 donation to the NAACP) was started, and she shared that the company itself led from the front and announced their support. Thanks to that, there was never really a debate or confusion around the values of what the company would support. Robin stated that the company’s mantra of “Together We Go Far” meant nothing if they weren’t in support of their black community members, artists, team members, and other instructors. Instead, the debate was around how best to honor that conversation from authentic places. Tunde Oyeneyin and Chelsea Jackson Roberts ended up being the first instructors to raise their hands and publicly start the conversation.

The interview then pivoted back to how people can feel isolated, or stressed, or overwhelmed right now, and Robin’s advice was to just remember that they aren’t alone. Everyone is going through something. She has a 10 minute rule for herself – in that 10 minutes is all you need to commit to. Robin found that if she makes it through 10 minutes, she usually finishes what she starts. Once you get in a groove, you “get out of your head and into your body.” Robin also said to “Start small, and celebrate the tiny victories” – even if the tiny victory was just doing a 10 minute ride, and that’s ok. But on days you feel that extra energy, leverage it and slay it – and remember that feeling on days you don’t have it. Gwen also said that turning up the music could help you as well.

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Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis is the creator & founder of Pelo Buddy. He purchased his Peloton in 2018, and uses all the different devices: Peloton Bike, Tread, Row, and Guide. He has been involved in the fitness industry for more than a decade - previously co-founding the websites Mud Run Guide & Ninja Guide. You can find him on the leaderboard at #PeloBuddy.

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