Caroline's Jacqueline Saturn on Indies, the Power of Word-of-Mouth and Grooming the Next Gen of Female Music Executives
The longtime promotions executive opens up on steering an indie through the major-label system and overcoming the word "impossible"
On Jacqueline Saturn's desk on the seventh floor of Hollywood's Capitol Tower sits a large tub of Red Vines licorice. A Rage Against the Machine lunchbox filled with bite-size chocolate bars lies open on a nearby table. Saturn, the GM of Harvest Records and Capitol Music Group's indie services division, Caroline, never touches the stuff, but on the advice of her 10-year-old daughter, she keeps both containers stocked.
"She said, 'Mom, you always have to have candy in your office because people will want to talk to you more,' " says Saturn. "It's known in the Tower, and people come in here all the time."
Even without the candy, the news coming out of Saturn's office is pretty sweet. In the last nine months, Caroline has distributed three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 from Halsey (Astralwerks), NF (NF Real Music/Capitol) and Migos (Quality Control/Motown/Capitol), while winning a bidding war to distribute Bad Vibes Forever, the label that includes controversial rapper XXXTentacion, in October. (She declined to comment on that particular deal, one of 250 such distribution pacts that Caroline has inked.) In the past month alone, NF's "Let You Down" topped Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart, and Migos tied The Beatles for the most simultaneous hits on the Billboard Hot 100 among groups, with 14.
The Nashville native's awareness of the power of music started early. "My first artist that I was obsessed with was Shaun Cassidy," recalls the marathon runner. "We would call the radio request lines. And that was where it all started, the cause and effect."
That "cause and effect" led the Syracuse University grad to a 15-year career in promotion at Sony's Epic Records, where she rose to executive vp radio promotion and helped propel the careers of acts such as Pearl Jam and Oasis. In 2013, Saturn followed her longtime mentor, then-Columbia co-chairman/COO Steve Barnett, to Los Angeles, shortly after he became Capitol Music Group's chairman/CEO. Serving first as co-GM of Harvest -- home to Banks, Glass Animals and Death Grips -- Saturn added co-GM of Caroline to her portfolio in 2015. (Her Harvest and Caroline co-GM, Piero Giramonti, left CMG at the end of 2017.)
In the wake of Caroline's 2015 move from New York to Los Angeles, Saturn now oversees a 30-person staff, up from six when she started five years ago. And, she stresses, it's the staff that makes things run. "One of the best parts of working at Harvest and Caroline is that this is our entire floor," she says. "The whole team is here. It's certainly not me flying solo. Any meeting that I'm in, I always say the same thing: 'It's not just about what I think. It's about what everybody in this room thinks.'"
What is something you learned from your promotion days that still serves you well?
Every day, there was a poster outside [former Epic Records senior vp] Harvey Leeds' office. It said, "What happens when you don't promote? Nothing." That was it. Because even when we were starting Harvest Records and we were signing these artists that no one knew about but we fell madly in love with, we really believed we could make a difference. My job was talking about it wherever I went.
Caroline has roughly 250 partners between labels and artists. How do you decide which projects to take on?
It's about meeting the artist and meeting the people in charge and knowing that we can have a synergy to do the job, because it is a very hard job. It's not about just signing labels and anything that's a throwaway. That is not the business that we're in. The business is really delivering... synch, partnerships, marketing. We're a services team.
Caroline-distributed Christian rapper NF came in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last October without ever having charted a song on the Hot 100. What was the key to his success?
We worked in lock step with Capitol Christian Music Group [after] we saw NF in Nashville about four years ago, and it has been an awesome ride. Those are the ones that make you realize that anything is possible. Let me tell you something -- and this is important -- a lot of people told me that was impossible. And I said, "Nope, I'm not talking about it." He is a musician and he is a rapper, and he can be treated just like any other artist. And we did it, and I'm so proud. I'm fascinated by him because he has these strong beliefs and a real vision, and we've really listened to him. We haven't even done television this cycle. It's word-of-mouth and streaming. Once you get all those things and then pile radio on top of it, it's incredible.
Some of your acts go through Caroline, but also utilize Capitol's services. How does that work?
For example, Lil Baby is an incredible rapper from Atlanta on Quality Control, and we've done a great job starting at zero to where he's at. [Now] there's a lot of heat, and he is being upstreamed to Motown/Capitol. There are opportunities everywhere in this building for that to happen if that is what the artist wants. Halsey is on Astralwerks, but worked by the Capitol radio team and marketing team, but we're the distribution partner.
Caroline's market share is 1.77 percent, according to Billboard estimates. What's more important to you, market share or profit?
They are both extremely important in what we do. It was 1.2 [percent] when I started in 2015. It's an exciting time for artists that want to be independent, own their masters and work with an incredible team. We're in a business, so there are definite goals within the company that we have. It's about becoming bigger and attracting more people and working with the right partners.
How do you grow the business when Best Buy and Target are stepping back from CDs?
There are other opportunities now to make up for those numbers. It's very hard in this business if you take one new bit of information on the physical side and get completely distraught by it, because we've seen growth in other areas. We make sure that we're saying, "If this is going to happen, then we are going to make sure we have another course of action for [our artists]."
At Sony, you worked closely with executives who recently have been accused of sexual harassment. What has that been like for you?
Because of what I have recently read, my heart goes out to all of those girls that are being so brave. I support them coming out and talking about it now. It's a watershed moment for our business, and it's important we make sure people know they can talk about what happened to them.
You have a history of hiring women. How do we protect young women coming into the industry?
As a woman, I have tried to do more than my part to bring talented young women into the business. If we are going to create the next generation of women leaders, we are going to assure that young girls not just feel safe, but that they can see themselves as rising to leadership positions. I had an all-women staff at one point at Epic. I am proud that I have mentored and groomed and pushed people on who have gone to these unbelievable places.