It is impossible to be an emerging artists or to be a fan brand new releases and remain unaware of the streaming platform, Soundcloud, which can be credited with the early successes of such artists as; Chance the Rapper, Kehlani, Post Malone, & Bryson Tiller. For A3C 2019 (Atlanta’s, quickly expanding hip-hop festival, Co-Owned by Atlanta rapper and entrepreneur, 2Chainz Soundcloud came with a focus on education and networking events for the festival attendees and artists. Hosted at Mike WiLL Made It’s prolific EarDrummers Studios, Day One brought some of the strongest names in the industry together for a panel discussion, lead by Lisa Ellis (recently named Global Head of Music and Artists Relations at Soundcloud and one of the most powerful women in the music industry). The two keynote speakers were equally impressive heavyweights in the music industry; LA Reid and Troy Carter.
These names need no introduction, but for a quick recap; LA Reid is the man behind LaFace Records, Arista Records, Island Def Jam Records, and Epic Records. He has now founded his own independent label called Hitco Entertainment, which already has industry heavyhitters such as J-Lo, Big Boi, and Dinah Jane of Fifth Harmony. Troy Carter is the man responsible for breaking icons such as Lady Gaga, Meghan Trainor, and John Legend. He also served as the Global Head of Creator Services at Spotify before leaving to start Q&A, a talent management and full-service film and television production company.
The night began with excited artists and festival attendees piling into the Eardrummer warehouse, eager to learn and network with the litter of musicians, media, and label execs. The beauty of the event and A3C in general, was it’s ability to break the line of separation that often creates a barrier between those in the music industry and those trying to break into the industry. By the time Atlanta legend and CEO of So So Def Records, Jermaine Dupri arrived and took his seat, it was easy to tell, the crowd was in for a great conversation. Shortly, thereafter Lisa Reid, Troy Carter, and LA Reid arrived and took their seats on stage. After a bit of introduction and resume recounting, the forum was off to the races.
The conversation was centered around, “How can an artists separate themselves in an industry filled with traffic and talent?” T his conversation was invaluable to the artists who had pilled into Atlanta, a city that has quickly risen to prominence as the music industry hub for discovery and music business. It was especially helpful that Soundcloud, a streaming platform that is ascribed as the platform responsible for opening the floodgates of access and distribution to underground and budding artists, hosted the conversation.
Lisa Reid: What do you as a music exec and talent manager look for in an artist?
LA Reid: The truth is, not many things have changed about how the music of an artist makes me feel. I’m still looking for showmanship. I’m still looking to be excited, I still want to scream at the top of my lungs when I hear something that’s incredible or if I see someone that’s really committed to what they do. Someone that is unique and different. I think the thing that I hang my hat on are originals. And one of the things I love about the music business, particularly the music scene out of Atlanta…and I learned this from the players out here…I learned this Jeff Dixon (co-founder of Disturbing Tha Peace Records), I learned this from Jermaine Dupri. I learned that Atlanta was all about artists who were original. Artists didn’t copy each other. Kris Kross was like no other, OutKast was like no other, Ludacris was like no other. And that’s one of the beauties of Atlanta, so when I see that I still get chill bumps.
Lisa Ellis: So, Troy, how do you think the landscape has changed, to the point where an original artist like that can reach someone like yourself?
Troy Carter: The great thing about technology is that it’s sorta democratized distribution. So, I love YouTube’s platform, Soundcloud’s platform, because it’s something that the artists have 100% control over, in terms of being able to get the music out to people. So, before you were limited to, “I gotta make a record in a recording studio. Than I gotta wait outside the recording studio to give it somebody or outside a record label to get it to somebody”. And now the power rest in artist’s hands to get it out there. I think the problem is, you have way more lanes, but you also have way more cars…You got so much more traffic. I think it’s like 50,000 songs a day that are going up on these platforms now, so you gotta be great to cut through all the noise. So, we just look for unique point of views. Pretty much the same old stuff. You want somebody with a great tone. And that is usually one of one. And I think that’s harder to find now because it’s way more traffic and a lot less curation.
Lisa Ellis: So, it’s almost like there’s this middle tier of artists that have emerged. And there’s this really wide super highway in that middle tier of working artists, calling themselves professionals. But, how do you reach global superstars?…And what defines a superstar right now?
LA Reid: So, earlier today I was with my team and we were talking about what defines a superstar. And there were many things, but I’ll just cut through all that. I asked my team, “How many superstars are in the business today?”. 11? And we tried to break it down in fairness and say, “OK. There are certain superstars with all the respect in the world, and we’ll call them legacy stars or heritage stars. Let’s just say that’s U2, or Madonna. There’s only a few that go in that category. And there’s the current superstars. That’s Drake, that’s Post Malone, that’s Ariana Grande, that’s Taylor Swift, that’s Billy Eilish, and that’s like the current landscape. Right? And there’s obviously the country stars. And there’s probably, I’m gonna say 10 there. So, I think we’re really only talking about 30 superstars, maybe. So, now we go down to the middle class and you said something like 50,000 songs being uploaded a day. And those are the artists that have a shot. They’ve been distributed, now they have a shot. So, now we’re talking about how to breakthrough the traffic jam and that’s where it gets difficult, because the barrier to try, whether we like it or not, is rather low, because it’s not curated. You can put anything you want out, so the barrier is rather low. So, now you have so much traffic on the street. You have soooo much. So, what’s the difference? Let’s say it’s a song. Let’s say you’re Lil Nas X and it’s a song that just goes crazy. And that’s certainly a great way to breakthrough. We all question if that’s sustainable, whether we are right or we’re wrong, whatever your opinion might be, it’s a conversation. So, the most difficult thing is, “How to create sustainability as you breakthrough?”, so that you have a long-lasting career. And to me, what I struggle with…And I’m passionate about this point…I still think that takes WORK. I still think that takes a commitment to the career. I still think that takes this really strange, almost esoteric thing called REHEARSAL. Right? That you never hear about anymore. And a soundcheck. Not, “Mic check 1,2. OK. Now, I’m going to do the first show of my life at Madison Square Garden”…That’s where it gets tough because people aren’t putting in the work. So, some of the artists we’ve worked with and some of the artist you’ve worked with…one of the things we love about them is where they might have had marginal talent, their commitment was such that they were gonna cut through the traffic, because no one was ever going to stop them…
Troy Carter: And they were committed to the game. It’s that thing where greats study the greats. Right? So, you see this sort of lineage of greatness. I remember my daughter was watching this YouTube video of Beyoncé and I showed her Tina Turner. It’s the lineage. It’s studying the game. And LA and I had breakfast a few months ago, and we were talking about when we both worked with Meghan Trainor. And we talked about how it was a team effort in terms of a strategy perspective…I ran into her a couple weeks ago and she said, “I miss you and LA, so much”, because we would beat the sh*t out of her on those records. When she didn’t have a record, we would get on the phone and be like, “OK. We gotta get a backend on this record” or if the show wasn’t right that night we were like, “OK. We gotta get the show right” or we gotta get this right. There was a lot of strategy that went into it. But, it was about her investing the time in, but also, the strategy of LA as the record label, me as the management, and the rest of the extended team that work together on building that.
Lisa Ellis: So, do you believe, even with millions of tracks going out a month, around the world, from a user-generated perspective on platforms…that it’s the artists that are really prepared, the one’s that really hone in on their art form and make their songs the best they can be, are the ones that are able to cut through the traffic?
LA Reid: Yes. I would say that great artists are not only talented, but also very smart. They now to surround themselves with professionals that can really make a difference in their lives; People who aren’t afraid to challenge them, simply because they aren’t a breadwinner.
Troy Carter:…I definitely think that songs matter. So, you gotta have the records and you gotta have them consistently. Doesn’t matter who the artists is. And especially in modern day Pop and Hip-Hop, you gotta have consistent records. But, you also have to have strategy around how you tour, where you tour, who you tour with. You gotta have strategy around how you work your digital assests…There’s so many pieces around it. And a lot of times you’ll see people have a tremendous amount of success with the records in the beginning, but when the teams not right, those wheels eventually fall off. Because, when it’s good. It’s really good and everybody looks smart. But, when the lights come on…And I think the Beatles might be the only band in history that didn’t catch a brick. And they were only together 7 or 8 years? So, history tells you everyone goes through a cold period and that cold period is all about strategy. That’s when the lights come on.
Lisa Ellis: Since we are in Atlanta right now, do either of you feel that finding your community and really owning your backyard is still significant?
LA Reid: I may not be right about this…Now I’m just riffing, but if I’m Lil Tecca and I put my song up on Soundcloud and it starts to find an audience, and then gets moved into the other platforms. My fans could be anywhere, because the world has shrunk as a result of distribution. So, my fans may be in New Zealand. My fans might be in Africa. My fans could be in Russia. My fans could be in Dalton, Alabama. So, it’s no longer, “I’m from Atlanta so, I need Atlanta” or, “I’m from Philly, so I need Philly. I don’t know if that stands as true as it once did. Because, platforms have made the world your community.
Troy Carter: Yeah, I feel the same way. It’s like all of a sudden, overnight, you can turn on the world, so easily. It’s funny because on the flipside of it, I was just looking at a Philly artists new record and I was checking the data on it, and it was like because he’s a Philly kid, the numbers over-indexes in Philly. And you can see it’s just one of those markets, that when they feel they have one of their own, they go all in. And you’ll see that with artists who have very distinctive styles or a very distinctive localized point of view, where people feel like you’re speaking on behalf of them, the community automatically comes behind them. But, I don’t think you’re in control of it, like you used to be able to take control of that…
The night winded down with a networking session immediately following the panel and a short question session. The event proved to be a successful collaboration between Soundcloud and A3C; providing all attendees with priceless information to apply to their own careers and the opportunity to, perhaps, meet potential collaborators, and business partners.