The CD-peddling, gatekeeper-guarded record industry is dead. But the meme-crafting, data-mining, spon-con-placing, royalty-chasing, wearable-designing, Chipotle-playlist-making industry is thriving, and to get a piece of the action, you’ll need a very particular set of skills — and some clue where to start. That’s what you’ll find below: dozens of dream jobs in five categories, with the people who scored them explaining how they got there (and just what it is they do all day).
Nashville United Talent agent Nick Barnes uses “digitals” to help grow fan bases
As a kid, Barnes loved coding and hacking for fun. In college at Samford University, the sixth-generation Nashvillian studied vocal performance. Now 34, he has found a career that marries his two passions, working primarily for country and rock artists on the digital strategy team at UTA IQ, the talent agency’s data analysis-focused division. “Digital data is the tip of the spear of everything we do with a client’s life — brand sponsorship, touring, billing on a festival,” says Barnes. “We play the role of interpreter so [artists] can figure out how they’re really doing and what it all means.” Barnes joined UTA a year ago after working with Eric Church at Q Prime. Prior to that, he designed digital systems for Sony and managed digital marketing at Arista. Now, he spends his days in meetings, either speaking to prospective clients or “doing a deep dive on their digitals, showing them what they’re doing right and wrong. As companies like Facebook charge more and more to reach out to fans, bands want to do it on their own terms and pocket that cash.” He’s using social data to scout new business, too. “ was the first year we signed a client specifically off of data,” he says. “I hope to see more of that.”
DJ Khaled’s sidekick, Ivan Berrios, records his boss’ most ’grammable moments
In 2013, then-21-year-old Berrios was working days at a Miami shoe store and spending nights photographing the local club scene when an emissary of DJ Khaled approached him about documenting the production of a music video. “He was looking for someone young and hungry,” recalls Berrios, who took the gig and found himself in a room with Drake, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Khaled capturing behind-the-scenes footage at the video shoot for “No New Friends.” Khaled liked the results so much that he invited Berrios on the road. Five years later, he’s the official photographer for Khaled’s We the Best Music Group. Documenting the extravagant lifestyle of one of hip-hop’s biggest DJs — while living at his home (Berrios resides in Miami when he’s off the clock) — is as glamorous and impactful, given Khaled’s 10.7 million Instagram followers, as it sounds. As a child, Berrios admired the James Bond and Star Wars franchises, and he began experimenting with videography in college. He learned early on that meticulous editing could make his images look expensive. “Khaled is all about motivation,” says Berrios. “He tells me, ‘You’re not like the other guys! You’re the next Steven Spielberg!’ But it works. He’s going hard for me, so I never want to let him down.”
POOL Track Trends principal Jeff Diones knows what’s really playing in the clubs
A decade ago, Diones was helping Serato, the New Zealand-based DJ-software maker, grow its client base in the United States by showing club DJs how to use the program to keep better track of what they’re playing. Then he realized that labels, radio programmers and songwriters would covet that information, too. “There is a hole in club data,” says Diones, 40, who went on to convince a group of top strip-club DJs in Atlanta to begin reporting their spins to him, creating a closely watched chart from their reports that helped many of their top-played acts land record deals and radio play. Now Diones is expanding the model. He charges labels a one-time fee to monitor a track’s club play in perpetuity — key street-level intel that doesn’t necessarily show up in today’s streaming numbers. The data, along with DJ gatherings that he organizes, helps his major-label clients sign new artists and decide which ones to prioritize when it comes to radio promotion — an increasingly tricky decision as playlists continue to narrow.
Biz3’s Kathryn Frazier helps musicians stay healthy and well-adjusted
Through her PR agency, Biz3, Frazier has helped acts including Skrillex, Migos and Run the Jewels achieve fame and prosperity. But she was disturbed to find that for other artists, success often came with addiction, mental illness and depression. “I saw a lot of millionaires that were really unhappy,” she says. “I also saw that there wasn’t an obvious person to help them out.” And so, two years ago, Frazier became a life coach — a term she admits she used to laugh at, despite her own “deep dive” into therapy 20 years ago. In late June, she was certified by the International Coach Federation, the world’s largest such organization, and is working toward her MCC (Master Certified Coach), the highest level of accreditation. Frazier, 48, works with roughly 30 clients, including artists and managers. “Kathryn’s coaching has been positively transformative in my life,” says hip-hop artist Vic Mensa. “It has helped me hold myself accountable to my values and growth that I want to see for myself.” The Los Angeles-based Frazier devotes about 15 hours a week, mostly nights and weekends, to coaching sessions that typically last 45 minutes, and says expanding her professional repertoire has given Biz3 an advantage over other PR firms. “I have artists where, once [I help them] get unstuck, we have such a bond,” she says. “They make it easier to do their press work. They don’t want to disappoint me.”
110 survivors of the Route 91 shooting sought help from Tatum Hauck Allsep’s nonprofit
After working at MCA Records for six years, Hauck Allsep left in 2001 to start an artist-management company — and then a six-figure medical bill helped her realize that yet another career change was in order. She studied health-care navigation and advocacy at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, cashed in her 401K and, in 2013, founded the Music Health Alliance in Nashville, a nonprofit that has helped over 8,200 music professionals negotiate the murky channels of health care. MHA became indispensable in October 2017 following the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, where scores of Nashvillians — many of whom were working the country-music event — witnessed the bloodshed. “In our history, we’d had, maybe, two gunshot cases,” says Hauck Allsep, 43, who mobilized her team on the fly, co-organizing a town hall for survivors that drew over 150, connecting artists’ teams with touring trauma counselors and ensuring plans for longer-term treatment. In total, MHA worked directly with 110 Route 91 survivors, including crew members, lighting directors and bus drivers. “We have a pretty good support system in place now,” says Hauck Allsep. “I hope we’ll never use it again.”
Artists work through anxiety and band tensions with Dr. Ted Klontz
Country music is often the sound of the simple life, where hard work is praised and a connection to the day-to-day grind is a lyrical pillar. But when struggling country artists make the leap from small-town dreamer to commercial success, how do they square their newly acquired wealth with their roots? “It’s an underserved population,” says Klontz, who specializes in this subject as a consultant for one of Nashville’s most prominent business management firms, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy. He also helps bands that — not unlike romantic partners — can always benefit from better communication. “I had a group that said, ‘Our goal is to become the next U2 in terms of permanence,’ but they were about ready to break up,” recalls Klontz. “Shortly after that, they hit it big. All we did was [work on] some communication skills, practice how to listen and how to speak to what their needs are.” The psychologist works specifically with FBMM’s country clients to make the always-difficult subjects of finances and class more palatable and to often uncover the issues at the core of any fiscal mismanagement. “It has never been about the money,” he says. “If people say it’s about the money, it’s always really about something else.”
Dreamville director of video production Scott Lazer makes J. Cole’s music visual
Lazer, 29, studied journalism at Rutgers University before taking an interest in film editing. “I had this plan that I would be able to walk in the back door of directing if I led as an editor,” he says. He landed a job within four days of moving to Los Angeles in 2014 (and thus advises aspiring filmmakers to start out editing, too). That summer, while working at a Silver Lake post-production house, he was assigned a project with J. Cole. It was ultimately shelved, but “we had a really good chemistry and vibed well. After we finished, he and his team invited me out on the road to shoot with them. The rest is history.” As in-house videographer at Dreamville since the summer of 2015, he directs music videos, short films and documentaries (including 2016 doc J. Cole Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming) for the label’s whole roster, including Ari Lennox, Bas and Cozz, while doing personal video projects on the side. Now Brooklyn-based, he collaborates with Cole on all of the artist’s own videos (recently, “ATM”); otherwise, he mainly works only with a recently hired assistant, spending days “writing, on lots of phone calls, lots of emails and then as much as I can having time to be creative, whether it’s treatments or editing.”
With a look and a logo, Moe Shalizi helped build Marshmello into a chart-topping international sensation
It took awhile for Shalizi’s mom to get a handle on her son’s job. “She thought I was managing birthday party DJs,” says the 28-year-old 2018 Billboard dance executive of the year, who is part of a new wave of young managers — among them, Andrew Gertler, 29 (Shawn Mendes) and Adam Mersel, 27 (Bebe Rexha) — following in the footsteps of Scooter Braun and Coran Capshaw through the entrepreneurial brand-building of their artists. Under Shalizi’s guidance, marquee client Marshmello has in just three years risen from cult artist to dance-music icon, selling out shows and topping Billboard’s dance charts with “Silence” (featuring Khalid) and “Wolves” (with Selena Gomez). “We created an unforgettable character; a logo, essentially,” Shalizi said in March of his white helmet-wearing star. Marshmello’s 8.7 million Instagram followers avidly track not only his dance moves, but his Shalizi-fueled expansion into gaming (Marshmello and Ninja won $1 million for charity after taking top honors at E3’s Fortnite Pro-Am tournament in June) and cooking (his wacky but sincere YouTube cooking channel has attracted 15 million subscribers since its October launch).
CHINESE MARKET GUIDES
Nikki Li and Bebe Zhang help international artists navigate their country
When Li started boutique events and marketing agency S.T.D. (it stands for Sonically Transmitted Disease) in 2007, the Shanghai club scene had, she says today, “nothing really going on — small clubs, small local artists.” Inspired by the international crossover success of electronic acts Justice and Soulwax, Li started throwing parties pairing artists with DJs “to give this sort of music more exposure. That kind of thing never happened in Shanghai before.” Now, S.T.D. has its own club, Arkham, in the city, along with an expanded mission: to demystify the Chinese market for international acts. Zhang, 28, joined Li, 32, in 2011 and is now partner/GM (it’s her first job; Li previously worked in PR/marketing for Converse). The two oversee a 12-person team at their office in Shanghai’s former French Concession. Zhang books talent like ZHU, Anderson .Paak, Baauer and Joey Bada$$ at Arkham and other Chinese venues; Li focuses more on business development and marketing deals — though Zhang adds that “we’re both on top of everything.” Day to day, that means connecting international artists with local brands, running Chinese social media for select acts, aiding visiting artists in securing crucial visas and permits, and mapping out tour routes. “We don’t have many competitors now, because what we do is quite unique,” says Li.
Create Music Group’s Richard Moreno searches the web for monetizable music
As a kid growing up in California’s Orange County, Moreno spent hours online every day looking at memes. After studying screenwriting at Emerson College, he moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and joined Create Music Group, which seeks out untapped monetization opportunities within the industry. There, in the summer of 2017, he established the company’s viral department, which he heads, transforming his meme obsession into serious revenue for musicians. Moreno scans the internet for viral content that incorporates music made by Create’s roster of acts or artists in whom Moreno sees earning potential. Song snippets in memes and other viral content are typically too short to be picked up by YouTube’s Content ID, which scans uploads for copyrighted material. When Moreno finds music that Content ID has missed, he claims it on behalf of Create clients. If the artist isn’t a client, he reaches out to sign him or her. He has claimed cash for underground act Denzel Curry, whose track “Ultimate” was used in the “bottle flip challenge” videos, and New Orleans hip-hop duo Suicideboys, which used the data mined by Moreno to tap into foreign fan bases the group didn’t even know it had. “We give artists this new revenue stream that can end up being thousands of dollars a month,” says Moreno. “The money we find for them keeps them in the game longer.”
Manhead Merch’s Karina Quiroz-Gilbert designs next-level gear for fans
“In the past, bands were willing to have their name on almost anything,” says Quiroz-Gilbert. “Now, artists are coming to us asking to brainstorm styles, trends and silhouettes.” Quiroz-Gilbert, 32, became creative director at Manhead Merch in 2017, but she has worked there since she joined as an intern in 2009. Since then, she has created lines for Panic! at the Disco, Sia, Weezer and Morrissey, and is at work on gear for Fall Out Boy’s homecoming show at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in September. That means days spent scouting color and cut trends, testing unexpected fabrics and pricing printing methods. “For big bands like Fall Out Boy, you’ve got to assume their fans have seen it all, so it’s our job to find the next level” — especially in an increasingly competitive merch landscape where big houses like Bravado and Sony’s Thread Shop regularly turn out coveted designer collaborations. Manhead’s business also includes pop-up shops selling exclusive threads that won’t be at shows, like the limited-edition jackets Quiroz-Gilbert made for two recent Fall Out Boy pop-ups in New York and Los Angeles. (They retailed for $150 and sold out in an hour.) On social media, Quiroz-Gilbert follows bands, magazines, graphic artists, kids’ brands and even wedding dress designers; she says aspiring designers need to be open-minded. “The best stuff is always a little out there,” she says. “We aren’t in the business of making things people already have.”
Educator Georgia Roberts schooled Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on race
A Bay Area native who grew up on rap music, Roberts, an English Ph.D., has lectured at the University of Washington since 2003, where her studies have focused on the intersection of literature, hip-hop culture and critical race theory. As a UW undergrad, Ryan Lewis took Roberts’ class on Tupac Shakur’s literary influences, and she later advised the future producer’s senior thesis. So when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat out Kendrick Lamar for rap album of the year at the 2014 Grammy Awards, the duo asked Roberts to help it understand the backlash. “I suggested that I could offer a kind of study group,” she says, and she met with the pair for nearly two years to discuss the privileges of whiteness and masculinity, along with readings from black thinkers like James Baldwin and Angela Davis. Those meetings helped inform Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2016 single “White Privilege II,” which credits Roberts as a songwriter. She is convinced a number of pop stars would benefit from her educational sessions, though she declines to name names. “I would love the music business to recognize that such a service is as necessary as, say, hiring a tour drummer,” she says.
BILINGUAL VOCAL COACH
Spanish-language artists sing in English, and vice versa, thanks to Jean Rodriguez
Rodriguez is a producer, engineer and member of the indie tropical-soul act COASTCITY and also works with Danny Flores to produce the music for tours by such acts as CNCO and Luis Fonsi, who is his brother. But since his first bilingual coaching gig in 2008 — with Trey Songz on the Spanish version of his “Can’t Help but Wait” — and as Spanish-language artists have crossed over to the pop charts and A-listers like Justin Bieber and Beyoncé have appeared on Spanish-language hits, demand for Rodriguez’s vocal coaching skills have grown dramatically. After helping J Balvin with his English for “Hey Ma,” Rodriguez got the call to work with Bey on her Spanish vocals for the remix to Balvin and Willy William’s 2017 hit, “Mi Gente.” Since then, he has worked with Karol G, Residente, Anitta and Nicky Jam (on the bilingual version of “X”). Rodriguez, a singer himself, will often lay down a track and have the artist record on top of it until he or she feels comfortable enough to go solo, focusing on pronunciation and articulation, and adding slang for authenticity. “I’m a vocalist, and I know how it feels to be in the booth,” says Rodriguez. “I just try to make [artists] sound as authentic as possible.”
Communications strategist Hilary Rosen lobbies for inclusion and understanding
Rosen has always fought for women and LGBTQ people. In the 1980s, she outed herself as a lesbian before members of Congress to win federal funding in the fight against AIDS. Today, she’s on the leadership team of the Time’s Up legal defense fund and serving clients in entertainment as a lobbyist at the Washington, D.C., political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, where she is a partner. “[The entertainment] industry has the same terrible ratio of senior women executives as the rest of corporate America,” says Rosen, who’s no stranger to that world. In the late 1990s, she ran the RIAA, where she fought to shut down Napster, and in 2008 led The Huffington Post’s political coverage. (She’s also a contributor to CNN.) Rosen says the number of female artists on the charts should be a signal to the music industry’s CEOs: “If your audience is more diverse and female than your own leadership, you need to catch up.” Part of Rosen’s job at SKDK, where she oversees 120 communications professionals, is helping victims of harassment and assault navigate the media and stand up for themselves through such initiatives as the #MuteRKelly protest. “I’m a fixer,” she says. “I help people put their best foot forward.”
Downtown Music Publishing’s Taeko Saito links songwriters and artists internationally
For three years, Saito worked with hitmakers like Diplo, Lorde and The Weeknd as an A&R executive at SONGS Music Publishing. But she also discovered that she could market unused songwriter demos to Japanese acts looking for American material. By 2011, Saito — who grew up both stateside and in Japan — had placed eight songs on a Japanese release from K-pop group Girls’ Generation and decided to make connecting American and Asian talent her focus. She arrived in late 2015 at Downtown Music Publishing, where, as vp international A&R, she splits her time between developing Downtown’s business in Asia — including running a three-person Tokyo office and managing Downtown’s partnership with leading K-pop label SM Entertainment — and connecting artists and songwriters, like R&B singer-songwriter Vedo with K-pop boy band EXO. “We’re constantly getting Vedo cuts in Asia while he writes for Chris Brown,” says Saito, 33. She sends Downtown creators to K-pop songwriting camps, and she’s working on creating her own camp for writers and Japanese acts — all as part of Downtown’s Songwriters Without Borders Initiative, a companywide effort to expand its pool of potential collaborators worldwide. “Music now is global,” says Saito. “We’re not far off from getting J-pop incorporated into pop music over here.”
LiveStyle’s Scott Dennison oversees safety for dozens of music events annually
A former U.S. air marshal and longtime security professional, Dennison has worked for LiveStyle (formerly SFX), where he’s now director of risk and crowd services, for four years. At festivals ranging from Chicago’s Spring Awakening to New York’s Electric Zoo, he’s usually found in a mobile command center on site, filtering calls, monitoring dark-web chatter and social media posts for potential threats, and staying up to date on traffic and weather reports. “We are constantly filtering information as it comes in,” he says. “We’re watching over these small cities, which we build in a week and use for a few days before taking them down.” In the wake of mass shootings like the one at the Route 91 Harvest festival in October 2017, Dennison’s preshow prep now involves greater emphasis on training all levels of staff for a potential attack — including 3D modeling to game out possible scenarios, coordinating K9 teams to sweep for bombs (and narcotics) and connecting with local police and fire departments. Dennison often has 60 paramedics on site, along with several ambulances, doctors and nurses; he says his team has a two-minute response time.
Beyoncé, Kanye West and U2 have turned to Es Devlin to create spectacular sets
Until 2003, Devlin worked primarily in theater; then, the British post-punk band Wire asked her to design one of its shows in London. A week later, after firing his stage designer, Kanye West saw a photo from that show on Devlin’s website. “As he has in so many instances, Kanye saw directly into the future of my practice and set it in motion,” recalls Devlin, 46. Now, her résumé includes multiple collaborations with West (including the Glow in the Dark and Yeezus tours) and both Beyoncé and Adele’s 2016 arena world treks; she also works closely with The Weeknd, developing the mask backdrop seen at his Coachella performance in April. Devlin begins each project at her studio in London’s Dulwich neighborhood, collaborating with seven associate designers. A typical day involves “as much time in my studio as possible, drawing, sketching, painting, modeling and discussing ideas with the team.” Once production begins, her focus shifts to technical rehearsals — which, for a stadium tour, can involve overseeing up to 300 people. “More and more, I see my sculptures as instruments, made to generate visual and aural amplification of the music,” says Devlin. She’s at work on “an augmented-reality performance project with ABBA” and the European leg of U2’s Experience + Innocence Tour.
Using 3D animation, Eyellusion’s Chad Finnerty resurrects rock icons
After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s computer animation program, Finnerty worked on films like 2006’s Happy Feet (in which he created the artificial intelligence that made crowds of penguins talk), then spent two years at Pixomondo as animation supervisor, working on everything from a theme park ride to Star Trek: Into Darkness. He joined Eyellusion in 2016 and, as director of creative development, Finnerty, 37, supervises seven different animation departments (tracking, modeling, painting, look development, motion capture, hair grooming and rendering) that together create a projected hologram that can pass for a rock star — like metal icon Ronnie James Dio, whom Eyellusion sent on a world tour in 2017. (Next up: Frank Zappa.) Most of Finnerty’s 10-to-7 workday is spent critiquing those teams’ work, determining the overall look of a project (from lighting and choreography to wardrobe) and poring over archival concert footage and photos to gather visual data on an artist’s performance style. He’s convinced that true 3D hologram technology — using lasers instead of simple light projection and mirrors — will be developed within the next five years, and insists that aspiring hologram artists won’t need a prestigious degree like his own. He recommends using DIY animation sites like Pluralsight and Animation Mentor — “If you sit in your room all night studying these instructional videos, you can figure it out” — and then designing your own animation clips. “If somebody has talent,” he says, “I’ll see it immediately on their demo reel.”
Persona Technologies co-founder/CEO Josh Bocanegra is building the next step in fan-artist engagement.
“Before Persona, chatbots were mainly used for customer service,” says Bocanegra, 28, of the artificial intelligence programs that conduct conversations via voice or text. Launched in 2016, Persona harnessed A.I. to build fan-engagement chatbots for Katy Perry, which debuted via Facebook Messenger in mid 2017, and is currently working on one for Rihanna. The Bronx-born entrepreneur, who dropped out of high school at 16 to launch his first internet business, stumbled upon his killer app serendipitously. “When Facebook launched its Messenger platform, I wanted to play around with the API [application programming interface], so for fun I built a Selena Gomez chatbot for my daughter.” His 8-year-old was thoroughly engaged, and Bocanegra realized he was on to something. After creating a bootleg Fifty Shades of Grey Christian Grey bot that got nearly 3 million interactions in a month (before it was shut down over copyright issues), Bocanegra met Def Jam artist Christina Milian through a business partner. “She had great ideas for product development and business strategies that were in complete alignment with mine,” he says, which led to their partnership on Persona. When not working out of his home in the Melrose district of Los Angeles, Bocanegra can be found at the Neuehouse coworking space in Hollywood or the coffee shops of Larchmont Village. His advice to upstarts: “Skills are important, but it’s equally important to build relationships,” he says. “Relationships equal power, especially in the long term.”
Amazon Music’s Allison Caley ensures that Alexa delivers on what’s asked of her
As marketing becomes more data-driven, a new breed of Harvard MBA has emerged that can code SQL and parse strings like a ninja. Caley, senior technical product manager of search for Amazon Music, oversees the product road map for the Amazon search team, which means, she says, “making sure that when customers ask the Amazon Music app or Alexa to ‘play the song “Despacito,”’ it plays the right song instantly.” To do that, she tends to focus on what’s going wrong, poring over metrics to determine “where search is failing customers.” Her days are spent wrangling engineers and pushing work orders to metadata experts like Amazon Music senior product manager of tech Ellie Alley, whose job is ensuring a request for “T-Swizzle” returns music by Taylor Swift. Caley, a pop fan who listens to Amazon Music’s “Hot Singles” playlist in her free time, says that after graduating from Bard College with a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in computer science, she interned at Amazon during her first year at Harvard. That led to a full-time job in 2015. Her advice to up-and-comers: “Start studying machine learning now. It will be expected knowledge in the near future. There’s so much ahead in terms of voice search — we’ve just scratched the surface.”
Vezt’s Andreas Carlsson enables artists to sell stakes in songs
Having co-authored such pop gems as Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas,” Swedish producer-songwriter Carlsson knows the value of a hit. In his current gig as chief strategy officer at Vezt, he’s turning artists and songwriters on to monetizing their tunes via ISOs — initial song offerings — in which fans can purchase stakes in a song or a back catalog using blockchain technology. Investors get a portion of royalties made on the music. “I’m not a coder, I’m not a programmer, I’m not a tech geek. I just have a big mouth,” says the 45-year-old of his role promoting Vezt to his many industry connections. He reports to Vezt co-founders Steve Stewart and Robert Menendez and splits his time between Stockholm and Los Angeles. Carlsson — who began working in the music industry after high school — also serves on the creative team for Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour and is writing a musical of his own. Those looking to follow in his footsteps should “be curious and take all meetings,” he says, adding: “Brand yourself, and [be that] brand 24/7.”
MUSIC VIDEO BOOSTER
At YouTube and Google Play, Sandra Jimenez raises Latin music’s profile
After developing digital and musical projects for MTV Brasil, Jimenez joined YouTube in 2013, and was promoted to the newly created position of head of music for Latin America two years ago. The São Paulo-based Jimenez oversees all content from artists, labels and publishers in Latin America, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Latin market, which has made her a central figure in the genre’s rise on YouTube’s charts. She reports to YouTube global head of music for the Americas Christopher Miller, and spends most of her time in meetings with aggregators, labels and artists and connecting with content production partners. “We educate them, explain new features, go through best practices, talk about new releases and how we can support them and their priorities,” says Jimenez, who’s expanding her team from four to six. “A big thing for us is to engage with artists and show them how important it is to use our tools.”
MelodyVR’s Anthony Matchett wants to create the Netflix of virtual music
Enhancing the listening experience always interested Matchett: After graduating from London’s Alchemea college of audio engineering, he freelanced as a recording engineer for EDM artists in the city’s Soho district, going on to develop game and app audio for Wave Recording Studios clients such as Microsoft and Sony. In 2014, he founded MelodyVR, which, with the big three label groups and 630 artists onboard so far, is poised to become the music industry’s first mega-library of VR content, ranging from concerts to updates of classic MTV videos. As CEO, 30-year-old Matchett supervises 65 employees across four teams: production (content creators who film and record performances); postproduction (technicians who prepare audio and video for streaming); engineering (computer science guys building the VR platforms); and business (the bean counters of licensing, marketing and finance). At MelodyVR’s London office, he goes to team meetings, talks to artists and record labels, and inspects every 360-degree 3D file before it’s finalized. With the tech evolving so fast, Matchett recommends that aspiring creators consume all the VR they can; get to know existing tools “inside and out”; then buy some cheap GoPro cameras and start making content. “Get your hands dirty and just do it. It’s really trial by fire, which is how this business was created.”
Epic soundtracks, like God of War, are a specialty for Bear McCreary
McCreary, 39, is an Emmy-winning TV composer whose credits include Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead; a film composer who worked with J.J. Abrams on 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane; and a video-game composer whose magnum opus is this year’s Sony PlayStation 4 release God of War (his Nordic-themed orchestral score was also released as a Sony Classical soundtrack). But he sees little difference between his various platforms. “With God of War, there was a feature film in front of me that needed to be scored,” says the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music alum, who’s usually juggling 12 to 20 projects at once. Appropriately, the Los Angeles-based composer describes his day-to-day schedule as “a game of Tetris,” with entire days blocked off for writing on the computer in his studio (using Pro Tools, Digital Performer and notation software Sibelius) balanced with days filled with calls, meetings and “shutting off my creative brain to be small-independent-business-owner guy.” He advises young composers to adopt his blurred-lines mindset and “absolutely consider games, [augmented reality] and [virtual reality] series. In 10 or 20 years, it won’t even occur to anyone that there’s a difference between scoring films and video games. You’ll be writing music for content. It’s a mistake to discount any medium.”
SOUND SYSTEM INNOVATOR
As Sonos’ resident futurist, Mieko Kusano is looking beyond voice recognition
Kusano was recruited by Sonos at its launch in 2003 and tasked with helping the founders decide what to market. An industrial design engineer by training, she templated the software-based wireless speaker platform that became its main product. Over the years her role has shifted from operations — in product management and design — to planning. In 2017, Kusano was promoted to senior director of experience strategy, essentially making her Sonos’ resident futurist. Her recent focus has been making Sonos’ sound systems compatible with Amazon, Apple and Google’s voice recognition assistants, but she’s already looking for what will be the next technological breakthrough in her field. Though she’s not at liberty to be specific, Kusano says that “in the broadest sense, I think about things like: When you don’t have to stand next to a product to control it, what new needs can it satisfy?” From there, she says, her responsibilities evolve along two parallel paths. “The first is getting senior management [to agree] that an idea should be pursued.” The second is “working it into the company strategy and making sure everybody understands the goal.” For a woman whose mantra is “define and design,” Kusano says she has a dream job, made even dreamier by Sonos’ headquarters in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Yesterday I had a colleague in from Boston,” she says, and during a 90-minute walk along the beach, “we were able to discuss a lot of important things.”
Apple Music’s Jay Liepis is prioritizing country music
In country music, where terrestrial radio is still the primary tastemaker, the move to streaming has been especially slow. But services like Spotify and Pandora have gradually increased their Nashville presences, and now Apple Music is making Liepis — a 13-year Apple veteran who has helmed worldwide artist and label relations for iTunes since 2014 — its global head of country music, moving him to Music City. Later in 2018, Liepis plans to open a Apple office in Nashville, but for now, he’s focused on fostering relationships with the country music community and refining Apple’s identity within the space. He already has been proactive about arranging major exclusives, like a live premiere of Jason Aldean’s “Drowns the Whiskey” paired with a Beats 1 interview, and a retrospective tour playlist for Eric Church’s 61 Days in Church. Projects with Kacey Musgraves and Keith Urban are on the way. “The biggest benefit that streaming provides a country artist, and really the genre in general, is exposure and accessibility,” says Liepis. “We’ve been seeing steady growth and engagement around the genre. More and more country fans are turning to Apple Music.”
Exactuals’ head of music product Chris McMurtry is fixing one of the industry’s most confounding issues
McMurtry, 39, may seem like a bit of an eccentric: a tech whiz-slash-classical composer who spent nearly a decade working on Apple’s Information Systems and Technology team helping build out its retail operation. But he has turned that highly-specific skill set into a career solving one of the music industry’s broadest and most challenging problems: incomplete, insufficient or just plain incorrect metadata preventing artists and creators from getting paid for the use of their works in a digital-first economy. In 2013, McMurtry joined classical-music distributor Naxos’ digital team, before leaving the following year to found Dart, a platform dedicated to boosting the accuracy and efficiency of classical metadata. His next creation, Royalties.AI, broadened its horizons to all genres of music, and media payments company Exactuals snapped up the product and hired McMurtry to lead its music operations in June 2017. These days, he spends most of his time meeting with companies like The Orchard and CD Baby, speaking with them about how they use the product and how his team can make their lives easier with tweaks to the platform. “If you’re gonna be a specialist, be a specialist on a problem,” he says, and “use that passion that you have to really focus on a wide range of skills. I do think we will see this problem of paying rights holders going away — we’re literally seeing this disappear overnight.”
Lauryn Morris oversees the team that made Snapchat’s Spectacles
For her senior thesis project at Cal State University in Long Beach, Calif., where she studied industrial design, Morris created a headset that allowed users to “see” and “feel” music, then went on to design eyewear for Michael Kors, Zac Posen and Nike. This “led me to a couple of wearable technology projects,” recalls Morris, 35 — which is what got her recruited by Snap Inc. in 2014. She advanced to design lead in 2016. Now, working out of a “fabulous office that’s close to the beach” in Venice, Calif., she spends her days “connecting the dots” between designers, software and hardware engineers, and marketers who work on Spectacles, sunglasses that record video and images. “No two days are alike,” she says. “Lots of conversations and mood boards and sketches. Something the graphic designer is working on might be related to something our [user interface] director is working on. I help tie those two together.” Spectacles have become favorite gadgets for recording concerts (Diplo and Twenty One Pilots have even worn them onstage). “If you’re interested in getting into wearables for the music industry, the human senses are really important to study, [as is] music theory,” says Morris. “Classes in industrial design are a good first step to understanding what niche of consumer products you want to get into.”
Pandora’s Oriol Nieto digs into algorithms daily to send you spot-on tracklist recs
An NYU music technology PhD, Nieto started out developing code for video games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. He arrived at Pandora in late 2015 and became a senior scientist at its Music Genome Project two years later. Now, he works on a team of 20 within the Listener Science department at Pandora’s Oakland, Calif. headquarters, leveraging the MGP’s capabilities to improve listener recommendations. Every day starts the same way for Nieto: listening to tracks harvested by Pandora’s algorithm, which sifted through a million tracks the night before. Curating the best titles for a playlist requires a subjective evaluation by actual human ears, so Nieto analyzes those results, then tweaks the code to pinpoint the most apt song selections even further. While the modified algorithm runs through the data again, he fills the rest of his day with strategy meetings about everything from “Future Projects” (top secret Spotify-killer stuff) to improving Pandora’s user interface. To decompress, he takes “guitar breaks,” playing his Fender Strat in Pandora’s “house band,” which performs quarterly metal jam sessions. Aspiring Pandora data scientists should, he says, pick up an instrument, along with an advanced music tech degree. “If you’re going to be recommending playlists to millions of people, it helps to know as much about music as possible.”
Stem co-founder/CEO Milana Rabkin Lewis aids indie streaming
Growing up “in a family of musicians,” Rabkin Lewis always believed in fair pay for artists. As a digital media agent at United Talent Agency, the UCLA graduate helped career artists find ways to independently distribute and monetize their content — and, in the process, learned that paying those who worked with the artists was “a big headache.” In 2015, she co-founded Stem (with partners Tim Luckow and Jovin Cronin-Wilesmith) to help musicians distribute on streaming services and streamline the subsequent collection and splitting of revenue. “We don’t really believe the DIY artist exists,” says Rabkin Lewis, 30. “Being independent doesn’t mean doing it completely by yourself.” She oversees 50 employees at Stem’s West Hollywood office, where she meets with artists, managers, investors and Stem’s board while also working closely with the company’s platform partners. “In any given week I’ll be in a different city, meeting with Spotify, Apple, Pandora or Amazon,” she says. Rabkin Lewis sees startups like Stem only growing in the near future, calling “the unbundling of the major labels” in Los Angeles the catalyst for a new ecosystem of companies “providing very specific services to artists.” In fact, Sheryl Crow just used Stem to digitally distribute her new single, “Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” (featuring Annie Clark).
Auddly’s Christian Råsmark ensures songwriters collect all their cash
Without a consistent business model among streaming platforms, it has become increasingly difficult to determine who gets paid when a song gets played — a problem for music publishers, record labels, rights associations and, ultimately, songwriters. In 2015, Råsmark joined founder Niclas Molinder at Auddly, a software application that collects and tracks credits and royalties from streaming and radio. (Max Martin and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus are co-owners of the company; Elton John has become a brand ambassador.) “Today, an average pop song has four to five songwriters and six publishers,” says Råsmark, 45, who’s COO and product manager. “It’s a lot to keep up with.” Because it can be years between when a song’s credits are finalized and the song is played, the app also aids in accountability. “We track the information so that everyone remembers what they committed to.” Much of Råsmark’s time is spent managing a team of 15 and analyzing user behavior, gathering feedback and making software tweaks. A native of Sweden who formerly worked in finance at Accenture and Unilever, Råsmark anticipates a day in the near future when digital streaming services will allow users to search by songwriter, specific instrument player or even recording studio. “Who played what, and where it was made — that matters for everyone,” he says.
Paperchain’s Rahul Rumalla will level up blockchain technology
In 2016, Rumalla quit his programmer day job in Dallas and moved to Spain to pursue a master’s degree at Berklee College of Music’s Valencia campus. At the time, tech-savvy figures were starting to evangelize about the possibilities of the blockchain to help streamline music rights management, and Rumalla co-founded Paperchain, one of several startups at the time building frameworks for a decentralized database that could help track copyrights and get creators paid. But he and his two partners were unconvinced: “Bad information in the real world, if you put it on the blockchain, will still be bad information,” he says. So Paperchain began building a cryptocurrency that would tokenize artists’ royalty revenue and allow it to be traded on a blockchain-based market that could get creators paid quickly and efficiently — and also allow them to leverage future income in exchange for upfront capital. Now based in New York, chief technology officer Rumalla, 30, and his team have built a working prototype and spend their days raising funds with the goal of launching a private market later this summer. “The challenge is trying to bridge the gap between two industries that don’t work with each other,” he says. “We’re just three dudes who are really passionate about the music industry and building a product that can solve a lot of these problems.”
TWITCH MUSIC STRATEGIST
At the livestream gaming giant, Pat Shah is ready to potentially break the next Bieber
After six years in investment banking, Shah pivoted to music in 2005, hopping aboard a startup called MusicGremlin. The career shift led the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business grad to executive roles at EMI, Universal Music Group and Spotify, where he was head of original content licensing before joining Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch in January. “At Spotify, the job was building on top of something that already existed,” says Shah, 43. “Here, we get to start from scratch.” At Twitch, where he reports to COO and former Pandora executive Sara Clemens, Shah is part of a team repositioning the site from real-time gaming hub to more inclusive social video platform, where musicians both famous and undiscovered can perform live. He spends his days talking to labels and publishers and pitching them on how Twitch can be the music industry’s next new partnered revenue stream, promotional tool and talent scout, like Vine was for Shawn Mendes, and YouTube was for Justin Bieber. “A lot of what I’m doing is just learning about our user base and thinking about how we can help artists promote new releases and get discovered,” says Shah. In March, Drake tag-teamed Fortnite live with one of Twitch’s top gaming streamers, and the session became one of Twitch’s most simultaneously streamed single events, peaking at 628,000 concurrent viewers. “That’s a massive number,” says Shah. “On Twitch, artists can connect directly with users and create a different experience than with their actual music. And that’s a terrain and a canvas we can really do a lot more with.”
Journalist Elliott Wilson drives video and editorial initiatives at Tidal
The industry has always relied on crafted narratives to promote and market artists, albums and songs. But at a time when the ubiquity of streaming makes tens of millions of tracks available to anyone and everyone all at once, context is more important than ever. And as the journalism world shrinks and the demand for content rises, a steady stream of seasoned music journalists has migrated away from traditional publications toward the streaming services that need storytelling expertise, particularly over the past two years. Wilson, 47, the former editor in chief of XXL and founder of Rap Radar, signed on as editorial director of culture and content at Tidal in February, and is responsible for programming and overseeing its hip-hop playlists — “immersing myself in the culture that is hip-hop,” as he puts it — and brought with him his popular Rap Radar hip-hop podcast interview series. His compatriots in editorial content creation (audio, text and video) include Amazon Music head of editorial Nathan Brackett, former executive editor of Rolling Stone; Bill Crandall, vp editorial content at Pandora, who had stints at Rolling Stone as well; and Alex Gale, a Billboard alum and Complex executive editor who joined Apple Music as head of editorial in February.
The platform’s Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood brings artists closer to their fans
Since joining Instagram in late 2015 as head of music partnerships, Wirtzer-Seawood has helped some of the world’s biggest artists use the platform to connect with audiences in apparently unfiltered ways. She learned that is what fans ultimately want in her previous job, as head of digital at Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, helping coordinate the surprise release of the singer’s self-titled 2013 LP. “A lot of what I did with Beyoncé on Instagram has given me the foundation to work in a meaningful way with a lot of artists,” Wirtzer-Seawood has said. “A lot of people are trying to emulate what she has done on the platform, which is really about maintaining control of the narrative.” A New York University and University of California Santa Barbara graduate, Wirtzer-Seawood started out as an assistant at Def Jam in the ’90s, rising to director of operations at Island Def Jam Music Group and then to vp marketing at Def Jam Enterprises. Now at Instagram, she has homed in on the Stories feature as a way for artists to maintain image control while marketing themselves in ways that don’t feel overtly sales-y. (Think Cardi B lying in bed talking about her pregnancy or Rihanna showing off her Fenty Beauty lip glosses.) “The ability to use stories and then to add the call to action via links in those stories,” Wirtzer-Seawood has said, “has become incredibly important for offline value for artists.”
José “Junior” Carabaño turbocharges artists on YouTube and beyond
As a young graphic designer in Venezuela, Carabaño worked with Noah Assad, a concert promoter booking shows for reggaetón acts like J Alvarez and De La Ghetto. In 2014, both began attending workshops at Google Colombia, where they received the training to launch their own multichannel network for artists to optimize and monetize their content on YouTube. Today, their digital marketing and distribution company, Rimas Entertainment, includes label, management and booking arms, and employs over 50 people in Mexico, Miami, Puerto Rico and Colombia. Rimas is the digital hub for major Latin acts like Bad Bunny and Ozuna, and does everything from social media marketing campaigns to strategizing how to bump channel subscriptions and video views. (Its artists are encouraged to cross-promote each other.) Carabaño, 24, oversees all creative direction and likes to brainstorm directly with clients. “When we started, very few people were aware of what [YouTube] entailed,” he says. “We were able to monetize user-generated content that came from both fans and artists.” Beyond its own acts, Rimas also develops campaigns for Romeo Santos, Ricky Martin, Wisin y Yandel and, most recently, the Black Eyed Peas, carefully monitoring trends in different countries and placing videos on targeted playlists. Carabaño anticipates that in a few years Rimas “will be established as a multinational, with five times the number of artists we have now and far more involvement in the mainstream world.”
Brud co-founders Sara DeCou and Trevor McFedries brought Lil Miquela to life
Traditional job titles don’t apply at Los Angeles-based tech company Brud: McFedries, 32, is head of compassion (he also DJs and produces as Yung Skeeter), while DeCou, 26, is chief of stuff. Along with their “team of engineers, storytellers and dreamers,” McFedries and DeCou created virtual stars Lil Miquela and Ronnie Blawko in 2016. Now boasting 1.2 million followers on Instagram, Lil Miquela recently launched “her” first sweatshirt design with Japanese streetwear brand Ambush, and her August 2017 debut single, “Not Mine,” has 1.5 million streams on Spotify. Lil Miquela brings to mind another uncanny star with her own close collaborator — human YouTube sensation Poppy and her director, Titanic Sinclair — and like any true pop star, she has recently dealt with her share of internet drama. McFedries and DeCou engineer storylines to keep fans engaged between Lil Miquela’s posts, like when her Instagram was “hacked” by an invented far-right troll and she later discovered she was “not a human being,” turning against her two creators.
CHIPOTLE PLAYLIST CURATOR
Studio Orca owner Chris Golub chooses the tunes soundtracking your lunch
Golub’s interests in music and the culinary world dovetailed early in his career: After serving as his college radio station’s music director at Villanova University, he became the resident DJ at influential clubs like Philadelphia’s Bank, then opened his own wine/sake bar in Denver. It was there that Chipotle founder Steve Ells paid him a few visits in 2009, eventually asking if Golub would make a couple of sample playlists for his fast-casual chain. That same year, Golub founded Studio Orca, which now curates music for a variety of restaurants, boutique hotels and retail stores. As Chipotle’s official “director of vibe,” Golub programs the in-store playlists from a pool of “unique, upbeat, cross-genre” songs he estimates as “floating around 600 tracks.” He starts each day scanning music blogs to stay up to date on the latest releases and hits local clubs early in the night, “so I can catch the opening acts, many of whom will be the next superstars in the industry.” In between, he researches bands, producers and labels. “We try to steer clear of the music that’s on top of the pop charts,” says Golub. “You’re already hearing these tunes everywhere you go; we try to showcase the emerging talent around the world, as well as some throwback jams.”
Rapper-artist Ka5sh blends songs and jokes into internet gold
“My life sucked before memes, to be honest,” says Ka5sh (pronounced “cash”; his given name is Jordan Craig). In college in his native Fayetteville, N.C., he studied to be an elementary-school teacher, then worked a series of dead-end jobs before moving to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, where he met “a lot of heavy hitters” in the meme community. Ka5sh made memes to promote his own music, but “it wasn’t until I started connecting the dots, realizing that none of my homies who are big memers had ‘job’ jobs, [that] I was like, ‘Wait — why am I making memes for free?’” He advertised himself as a freelance meme-maker on social media, then started hearing from labels: “They reach out with what they want to promote, and if I take on the client, I’ll send them some ideas, and we go from there.” His first big hit was a meme for Rae Sremmurd’s “Swang,” mixing country line-dancing videos with the song; now, he says, “rappers hit me up all the time, asking me to make memes for them for free for, like, clout.” But for Ka5sh, 26, meme-making is hard work. In peak memer mode, he’ll wake up at 9 a.m. and often spend 14 hours online, perusing reaction pics he has earmarked, “going through the recesses of my brain and picking out fire jokes,” and prepping posts. Now, he says, “everybody’s throwing their hat in the viral echo chamber, and it’s getting a little oversaturated.” (Ka5sh himself is expanding into acting, and will have a role on an upcoming Viceland reality show.) “You’ve got to know the artist’s brand and their fan base’s idea of them, and play around with that to make something that sticks. If any marketing nerds are reading this: Hire me if you want to make your artists’ songs go off.”
Creative director Craig Love made “The Middle” into a high-budget commercial
The video for Zedd and Maren Morris’ mega-hit “The Middle,” which premiered at the Grammy Awards in January, ends with a cluster of dancers assembling in a red-and-white bull’s-eye — a nod to Target, the spot’s sponsor, which had at that point made similar high-budget ads-as-music-clips with Carly Rae Jepsen and Lil Yachty, Gwen Stefani and Imagine Dragons. But it was an ad agency creative director, Mother New York’s Love, who brought “The Middle” to life. “People watching the Grammys don’t want to see another commercial. They’re watching for the music,” says Love, 43. “So for a few years now, Target has been doing these huge music productions as a thank-you to viewers. We worked on different ideas for about six months, but nothing clicked until we heard a sneak preview of ‘The Middle.’” By that point, he and veteran music video director Dave Meyers (Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar) had only nine days to produce the clip. “Timing is always crazy in advertising, but this was next level,” says Love. His advice to aspiring creative directors? Be ready to sweat (“You’d be surprised how much work goes into an ad”), and don’t major in advertising. “I make ads, but they’re often disguised as pop culture,” he says. “Your cultural perspective is what makes you valuable. You can learn what a ‘brand pillar’ is later.”
The Shade Room’s Angelica Nwandu reinvented the tabloid using social media
In early 2014, Nwandu was in the midst of a Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab in Utah when she got a furious call from her boss at the accounting firm that employed her. He had an ultimatum: Come back today, or you’re fired. She quit. It wasn’t long after that Nwandu turned her obsession with celebrity blogs into a business venture: The Shade Room, an Instagram account that posts gossipy reports on black culture. After one week of ’gramming, Nwandu, now 27, had 10,000 followers. Today, The Shade Room, which spills the latest tea on JAY-Z and Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and others, boasts over 13 million followers and has spawned a website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and online store. In 2016, Nwandu, who initially monetized The Shade Room by selling promotional Instagram posts that she wrote, told Cosmopolitan, “If I got a week off, The Shade Room would probably burn down.” But that’s no longer the case. The Shade Room now has a staff, the participation of an investment firm and advertising partnerships with major corporations like McDonald’s, giving Nwandu enough breathing room to complete the film project she was working on at Sundance four years ago. The family drama Night Comes On won the NEXT Innovator Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and is set for an August release.
Fashion Nova CEO Richard Saghian snagged Cardi B as spokesmodel
On her Invasion of Privacy track “She Bad,” Cardi B sings, “I could buy designer, but this Fashion Nova fit” — an ode to the body-conscious fast-fashion brand that Saghian, 36, founded in 2006. Four years ago, he noticed Cardi’s social media posts mentioning the brand. “They were hilarious — she made some amazing videos about our jeans,” he recalls. “We started sending her packages [with our clothes], and a relationship began.” While Saghian won’t comment on the financial details of the deal, he says Fashion Nova and the artist “mutually prosper”; Cardi previously has said the brand offers her $20,000 a month to post pics of her wearing its designs. Besides working on similar “celebrity initiatives” with Bhad Bhabie and Kylie Jenner, Saghian spends his days attending design meetings, developing new product categories and working on overall brand strategy. Cardi B’s first collection for Fashion Nova drops in November; a new one will launch every quarter after that.
YouTube’s heyitsfeiii, Fei Yang, mixes her love of K-pop with fashion and beauty
Yang, 24, spends most days at home in Michigan, producing the videos she posts to YouTube twice a week for over 1 million subscribers, or “fam,” as she calls them. She field-tests makeup and outfits worn by K-pop stars or the newest beauty trends promoted by acts such as BTS and TWICE. K-pop artists also have appeared on camera with her. Yang began posting to YouTube in 2013 while still in college. “I was seeking my own space, my own voice,” she says. Inspired by her love of K-pop and beauty entrepreneur Michelle Phan, Yang built a loyal audience by melding the two. She has since posted hundreds of clips in which, for instance, she’ll deconstruct music videos or feature K-pop idols doing her makeup. Thanks to revenue-sharing with YouTube and sponsors that pay Yang to feature their products, heyitsfeiii has become a full-time job. Referring to her younger self, she says, “Little Fei would have flipped herself inside out” had she known she would be interacting with some of her favorite K-pop groups. But there are pitfalls, the biggest of which, says Yang, is the metrics-obsessed influencer-culture mindset, where success is judged by views and subscriber numbers instead of by quality. Fall into that trap, she says, “and you’ll start doubting your self-worth.”
Interscope’s Conor Ambrose and Renaud Jean-Baptiste Jr. get the label’s songs prime streaming placement
One fortuitous day in 2014, Los Angeles newcomer Ambrose spotted Interscope Records vice chairman Steve Berman at the Starbucks outside the label’s Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters. “I was managing a studio at the time and essentially ran up on him,” recalls the Elon University graduate, 26. It was a gamble that led him in 2017, via executive assistant and marketing roles, to the newly created director of playlisting position, which has Ambrose reporting to executive vp/chief revenue officer Gary Kelly. Kelly also hired former MTV music programmer Jean-Baptiste, 36, a self-described “college dropout,” who traded the New York grind for a “new coast” and “a new role that hadn’t existed before,” as director of urban playlisting. When they’re not meeting with artists and managers, the two work closely with editors at streaming services, primarily Spotify and Apple Music, to get Interscope songs “on the biggest playlists possible,” says Jean-Baptiste. “You don’t ever want to pitch them too aggressively, and it’s really about storytelling,” adds Ambrose, citing the explosive success of newcomer Juice WRLD, whose “Lucid Dreams” has hit over 100 million Spotify streams. As for the skills that have led to their success, Ambrose cites a “need to out-hustle everyone,” while Jean-Baptiste adds: “I’m an intern for life. Everything is a bonus. Nothing is expected.”
At the new Def Jam, Noah Callahan-Bever shapes the label’s narrative
When Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenberg, took the reins at Def Jam earlier in 2018 with the aim of returning the label to its core hip-hop principles, one of his first moves was to hire Callahan-Bever, then-chief content officer of Complex, to help him tell that story as the label’s executive vp brand strategy and content. The New York University graduate, now 39, had built a career as a journalist specializing in hip-hop coverage, with earlier stints at Vibe, XXL and Mass Appeal. In his new gig, he controls Def Jam’s message across digital and marketing platforms — “whether it’s weighing in on copy in a Billboard ad or looking at artwork,” he says. He also is redesigning Def Jam’s website and assembling a content team to develop stories and videos for the label’s roster of often-viral artists, with whom he works closely to be sure any content developed around them fits with the Def Jam brand. “When 2 Chainz pulls off a marketing stunt, it’s a huge deal. When Kanye [West] touches his mouse pad, the whole world stops,” says Callahan-Bever. “If we have a great idea and execute it at a high level, the reach we have is not like anything I’ve experienced in my career.”
#METOO-ERA HR CHIEF
Sony’s Dasha Smith Dwin is redefining how labels relate to their employees
In January, Sony Music Entertainment chairman/CEO Rob Stringer admitted to Billboard that human resources departments have “always been a bit of a backwater at record companies.” But Stringer took a big step toward changing that when, in February, he hired Smith Dwin as executive vp/global chief of human resources, a new and bigger role than HR managers have traditionally held at the company. Now, Stringer calls the department a “strategic priority.” Smith Dwin, a Colorado-born finance major-turned-lawyer who has overseen employee relations for Time Inc. and asset management firm GCM Grosvenor, holds a job with new importance: Over the past year, all three majors have parted ways with top executives following investigations into sexual misconduct allegations against them, and the once freewheeling labels are embracing a new corporate standard when it comes to sexual harassment and workplace bias. “Diversity and inclusion are major components of our hiring practices and a top priority throughout our organization,” says Smith Dwin, who oversees an international talent development program called Amplify, and also is focused on helping existing staff “cross-pollinate” across divisions. “The best employees are those who understand more than just one area of the business.”
Sony Latin Iberia’s Dusko Justic introduces artists to international audiences
“My job is to make Latin music a global sensation,” says Justic, a 10-year Sony veteran. He was promoted to his current position as vp international marketing and partnerships last July, following the international success of Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam’s “El Perdón” in 2015 (which far preceded “Despacito”) and Iglesias’ “Súbeme la Radio” (featuring Descemer Bueno and Zion y Lennox) in 2017. The 44-year-old executive — who reports directly to Sony chairman/CEO of Latin America, Spain and Portugal Afo Verde — started an office in London roughly four years ago that focuses on promoting Sony Latin acts like Iglesias in new regions abroad such as Australia and the Philippines. Justic and his team played a key role in developing the release and marketing strategy for Nicky Jam and Will Smith’s official 2018 World Cup anthem, “Live It Up!” And though Iglesias, Nicky Jam and Maluma (whose upcoming European tour was a big marketing push) are his focus, he also is building the global presence of developing artists like Monsieur Periné from Sony Colombia (who’s touring Europe this summer) and C. Tangana and Rosalía from Sony Spain. “The bulk of my day is a lot of communication with artists, management, labels, colleagues and partners,” says Justic. “The most important thing is figuring out the artists’ DNA and what they want to accomplish at a global level.”
Atlantic Records’ Tom Mullen prepares today’s hitmakers to be tomorrow’s legends
On a recent visit to Charlie Puth’s house, Mullen saw the pop singer moving to throw away lyrics he had scribbled on a piece of paper. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’” remembers Mullen. “‘That could be in the Rock Hall!’” As Atlantic Records vp marketing catalog, he archives the present for the future. Before joining the label in April 2017, he directed digital marketing at Legacy Recordings, where he dreamed up new ways to promote old albums, like making a time-lapse video of Bob Dylan driving from Manhattan to Big Pink in upstate New York, where he recorded The Basement Tapes, for a 2014 six-CD release. The clip got 500,000 views in 48 hours, an unheard-of figure for catalog promotion. “[Atlantic chairman/COO] Julie [Greenwald] had this idea of using that same approach for her roster’s catalog,” says Mullen, 39, who has since conceived campaigns for Matchbox Twenty’s 20th anniversary tour and a Jason Mraz vinyl rerelease. “I’m responsible for the hits after they’re hits.” Three months into starting his job, Mullen, who hosts his own Washed Up Emo podcast, took on another new role: launching Atlantic’s in-house podcast network. Now Mullen — who concedes, “I don’t sleep” — oversees every element of creative for Atlantic Records’ podcasts, including copy, artwork and talent booking. He even hosts the network’s first live series, What’d I Say, for which he interviews roster talent. “It plays into my catalog role: The artist has another thing to talk about, and Atlantic archives it for the future,” says Mullen. “And as an artist, you would want that.”
Contributors: Katie Bain, Dave Brooks, Megan Buerger, Rene Chun, Leila Cobo, Camille Dodero, Tamar Herman, Hannah Karp, Robert Levine, Kelsey McKinney, Marissa R. Moss, Melinda Newman, Paula Parisi, Dan Rys, Jack Tregoning, Andrew Unterberger
A version of this article originally appeared in the June 30 issue of Billboard.