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'La La Land' Exec Producer Ty Stiklorius Talks Being on Stage During 'Surreal' Oscars Gaffe

Brigitte Sire
“When I saw the joy and tears of our Moonlight friends, it felt like we all won,” says Stiklorius, photographed Feb. 23 at the Friends at Work offices in Venice, Calif. 

John Legend’s manager reflects on the craziest moment in Oscars history and why she hates the "coded and loaded" term 'urban.'

"We realized something was wrong up onstage,” says Ty Stiklorius, recounting the mind-blowing mishap during the Oscars on Feb. 26 when, as manager of John Legend and an executive producer of La La Land, she found herself among the presumptive best picture winners before the gaffe was corrected and Moonlight claimed its rightful prize. “It was one of those surreal, unexpected life moments.”

A Wharton School graduate, Stiklorius was an executive at Ascent Media (part of Liberty Media), where she consulted for Irving Azoff, before teaming with ex-singing partner/longtime friend Legend to form JL Ventures in 2006. She joined forces with Troy Carter’s Atom Factory in 2012, breaking off to form Friends at Work three years later. Stiklorius now oversees a 20-member staff, with offices in New York and Venice, Calif., housing a 10-client roster that includes Alicia Keys, Lindsey Stirling, Ciara and The Color Purple breakout Cynthia Erivo. She, Legend and film producer Mike Jackson are also partners in Get Lifted Film Co. (La La Land, Underground).

“I’ve watched many managers fail because they took on too many artists,” says Stiklorius, 42, who’s married (to former Viacom executive vp Erik Flannigan) and the mother of two children. “I want to try this on my own terms.”

With eight Friends at Work managers, are you looking to build a collective like Guy Oseary did at Maverick or Scooter Braun did with SB Projects?

I don’t want to have hundreds of artists on our roster, but I can see us expanding and giving those guys a run for their money, which we do now. When I left Atom Factory as co-president, people said, “You’re never going to make it on your own. You need to join with another company.” I was like, “There’s no way I’m getting married [metaphorically] again.” I want to try this on my own terms in my own building with my own team.

Some artists have brought their managers inside, making them salaried employees. What’s your perspective on that?

It’s tough for great managers to want to do that because they may not be diversified enough. I feel like you need scale to do that; that you need a lot of artists to be able to justify a whole digital team, for example. If you’re Beyoncé, you could probably have 20 employees. But most artists can’t afford to have all of the infrastructure that we have. So it works out better economically for an artist to hire us as their partner, as their team, without having to bring that all in-house and just have it service them. If John wanted to have the infrastructure that we have, he would have to replicate this whole thing and it would be way too costly. 

Legend, whose Twitter account was recently hacked, has been very outspoken about President Trump. Has that impacted the business of John Legend?

It hasn’t. Maybe I had a couple moments of concern because we do have some pretty big brand partners. But they’ve all declared they wouldn’t want him not to say what he feels. People trust John. Even if they don’t necessarily agree with his point, they respect him so much that they want to hear what he has to say.

How do you feel about the “urban” delineation at labels and radio?

I hate how coded and loaded that word is. People call and say they want to do “multicultural” or “urban” projects with John. It’s like, what do these words mean? I also don’t like the segregation of radio — that black artists have to climb the urban adult contemporary charts in order to cross over. Adele, Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake don’t have to do that. Why do John or Alicia have to please the urban core before they can go into pop? And if they go straight to pop, then urban radio programmers are like, “Oh, they’re trying to leave us.” It just becomes this game. Why can’t it be about great music?

What’s your assessment of where the Academy Awards currently stands in terms of diversification?

Two years ago there was Selma—the #OscarsSoWhite controversy year—and John and Common performed the film’s song “Glory.” And Selma’s Ava Duvernay wasn’t even nominated for director. It was devastating to wake up to that truth. Since then I think they’ve brought in more diversity. I’m hopeful that it’s going to continue to get better. But I think there’s still a long way to go and also in terms of representation for women in Hollywood.

And what’s your take on the same subject concerning the Grammy Awards in the aftermath of Beyoncé not winning album of the year?

I don’t know. Grammy voting and how it works is something I need to get better at understanding. It’s all so hard to know because I hate the ranking of art. But the reason I do like the Grammy Awards is because it is this one powerful platform that can elevate music on a global scale. When John performed “All of Me” [at the 56th annual ceremony in 2014], it changed our lives. So I’m always grateful and thankful that there is still this one big show that can break a song or artist. There are very few places where you can do that anymore.

Why do you think there aren’t more women working in management?

Perception. Artists sometimes think the person representing them needs to be the same old guy banging his fists. Then you get a guy like John Legend, who’s a feminist, who’s smart, who knows how good I am at this, and it didn’t matter that people were like, “You have a white lady as your manager? Can’t be ... Troy is your manager.” He’s like, “No: She’s my manager.” Once you see some female managers at the top who can do an extraordinary job for their artists and also be mothers, then I think the floodgates will open. 

This 'From the Desk Of' comes from the upcoming March 11 issue of Billboard.

2017 Academy Awards