Last week, Epic officially announced its joint venture with Sylvia Rhone: Vested in Culture. Reporting to Epic chairman/CEO L.A. Reid, VIC chairman/CEO Rhone has already hit the ground running with a roster that includes Latin pop star Kat Dahlia, pop duo Quadron, R&B singer/songwriter Deon Young, pop singer/songwriter/musician Sebastian Mikael and rappers Casey Veggies and Cashius Green. In the following exclusive online interview, Rhone -- most recently president of Universal Motown -- talks about returning to the industry and ramping up New York-based VIC.
Given the challenges facing the industry, what prompted your return?
I’m still passionate about music, inspired by it and committed to it. When I left Universal and began thinking about my next step, I knew I still wanted a footprint in music. I’d also come up with other business opportunities that focused on my passion for film, TV, fashion and art. That’s how the name Vested in Culture originated. It casts a wide net with what I want to do in the future. Hence, I’m starting with the music label. And as VIC starts to develop in that sector, it will also expand into other areas of media.
Early stories reported the label would be called Audacious Music.
I did come up with that name, but I couldn’t get it cleared. Then it took me some time to come up with the right name. It’s a big responsibility to name a company so that it has personal meaning and meaning as a brand. VIC satisfies both of those.
What are the specifics of your joint venture?
I don’t care to share those details. However, in terms of staff I’ve hired three people: senior VP of operations Margeaux Rawson [formerly senior VP of media relations for Universal Motown], VP of A&R Amanda Berkowitz [formerly A&R manager at Atlantic] and manager Shaniqua Branch. They’re a small but brilliant and hardworking staff that loves music, knows music and comes from various disciplines in the business. Most important, they know how to build bridges in music that can connect to other ventures.
Have you formulated a mission statement for VIC?
We’re in the business of creating and curating emerging talent. We’re about great music, great songwriting and artists who also have the ability to engage with fans organically and impact culture. Our roster is extremely diverse; young talent who are all are songwriters, which I love. They have their own point of view and know who they are.
Who’s coming out first on VIC?
There’s a huge buzz on Kat Dahlia, who’s more than just a pop artist. Think pop/Latin urban artist. We dropped her song “Gangsta” right before the holidays in SoundCloud and there are 50,000 downloads. She’s in the discovery phase online as we grow her socials. We’re also creating her assets now including a video and photo shoot, going to radio the first week in March.
Having previously helmed Universal Motown and Elektra, how does it feel to be starting from the ground up this time?
I feel I’m in the best creative zone I’ve been in in a long time. I’m very optimistic about VIC and its success at Epic/Sony. There are a lot of opportunities right now for boutique labels in this environment where there are only three major labels. What really is an advantage and separates us from others is my experience chairing Elektra and Universal Motown. Working with legends and breaking new artists has prepared me for my dream of a boutique label. In this landscape, we can make a major impact and thrive in the marketplace. We can offer services that some of the majors can’t, but we also have the muscle of a major behind us with the Epic/Sony staff. For any artist, that’s the best of both worlds.
And I feel very lucky to be working with L.A. A lot of people are thinking we will be at each other’s throats. But it’s been an automatic love affair. He has impeccable ears, style and vision; our views and tastes are amazingly in sync. It’s great to have a partner with whom you have shared experience and history. I think I can learn something from him and he can learn something from me.
What does the future hold for the music industry?
The economics have changed radically. But there’s growth in premium services like Spotify, online radio and video platforms. Music has always been popular, but it’s even more popular than it ever was. We will never see the same topline of the past, which demands our constantly adjusting the business model. That said, however, I feel very optimistic about the business.