Def Jam’s Steven Victor kicks off Billboard’s annual 40 Under 40 list of young music executives, revealing how his 14-year business alliance with Pusha T fueled his growth and success in the industry.
STEVEN VICTOR, 38
Executive vp/head of A&R, Def Jam Recordings; CEO, Victor Victor Worldwide
Back in 2004 -- two years after the hip-hop duo Clipse broke through with the insistent coke-rap anthem “Grindin’” -- Pusha T, who formed the act with his brother Malice (who currently records as No Malice), got a call from Nicole Plantin, an assistant at their label, Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak Records. “She’s like, ‘Hey, this guy is your biggest fan. I feel like he could be an asset to you,’” remembers Pusha. “And she introduced me to Steven Victor.”
At the time, Victor was a 24-year-old publicity assistant at Interscope Records, and Clipse was caught in record-label limbo after Star Trak’s parent company, Arista Records, was folded into Jive Records. With the brothers’ second album, Hell Hath No Fury, delayed indefinitely and momentum from their initial success dissipating, Pusha brought in Victor to help out with publicity. “I got on the phone with him and was like, ‘Yo, this is what I want to do for you,’” recalls Victor. “‘I’ll do it for free if I have to.’”
That marked the beginning of a long and fruitful working relationship between the two men -- one in which Pusha went from Clipse MC to solo artist to G.O.O.D. Music label president, and Victor rose from publicist to artist manager to executive vp/head of A&R for Def Jam Recordings. Along the way, their dedication to and belief in each other through rocky times led them to the heights of the music business, forging the type of mutually beneficial relationship that is invaluable for someone attempting to scale the slippery rungs of show business.
Today, Pusha, 41, has a sneaker line with Adidas and a clothing brand, Play Cloths, in addition to his G.O.O.D. work. Meanwhile, Victor’s Def Jam deal allows him to continue running Victor Victor Worldwide, an umbrella company that houses his management firm, William Victor Management, as well as film, TV and publishing ventures with Universal Music Group. The two co-headlined UMG’s inaugural Masterclass college-speaking series at New York University last September, and have cultivated relationships in dance music and the film soundtrack world that have opened up new, highly lucrative revenue streams.
“I have a theory that comes from this,” says Victor, now 38, of his and Pusha’s relationship. “For [any partnership] to work, you have to trust that that person has your best interests [at heart], whether it’s financially, emotionally, whatever. And sometimes you have to be willing to let that person make a mistake, because everybody makes mistakes. Pusha and his brother gave me the runway to do what I was good at.”
It’s easy to see why the two work well together: It’s midday on the fifth floor of UMG headquarters in Manhattan, and they are in the midst of cracking each other up. Victor’s quicker to laugh, whereas Pusha favors a deadpan delivery, although his eyes betray his amusement. Their wives are friends -- Pusha and Victor were groomsmen at each other’s weddings -- and all four have a group chat named Vacay Gang. Soon, they may be even closer. Pusha’s wife, Virginia, keeps nudging her husband to move to New Jersey, closer to the Victors. “This next $10 million, you have to move,” says Victor with a laugh.
Things weren’t always so good. When Victor signed on to work with Clipse, the duo had reverted to the underground, releasing a three-volume series of mixtapes as the Re-Up Gang called We Got It 4 Cheap, alongside Ab-Liva and Sandman, while fighting for release from Jive. Victor brought a new element to the team. If Clipse had the streets, then Victor had the web -- and the internet was where all the young writers and editors were obsessing over the newest hip-hop music of the time.
“The series was being hailed on the internet, and we weren’t necessarily hip to that,” remembers Pusha. “I was a bit shellshocked. But we just listened to [Victor].”
When Hell Hath No Fury was finally released in 2006, it was met with universal acclaim. It also won Clipse its release from Jive.
Victor began to take on more duties with the duo, eventually becoming co-manager alongside Suave House Records founder Tony Draper. “Tony was teaching Steven and then sort of left the door open for Steven to come in and take over,” says Pusha.
Victor’s transition from publicist to manager came amid near-constant upheaval. He helped orchestrate a new label deal with Columbia for the third Clipse album in 2009, ’Til the Casket Drops. But then things began to spiral. In January 2010, original Clipse manager Anthony Gonzalez was sentenced to 32 years in prison on drug charges. In the middle of Clipse’s tour, Malice committed himself to religion and decided to quit rapping. Clipse was no more. And then Kanye West called.
“He was like, ‘Yo, can you come to Hawaii?’” says Pusha. “And it worked out just like that: Boom, ‘Runaway.’ Boom, ‘So Appalled.’ Boom, GOOD Fridays.” Pusha’s collaborations with West paved the way for his solo deal with West’s G.O.O.D. Music, a joint venture with Def Jam. With Victor riding shotgun as Pusha’s manager, a run of celebrated mixtapes and guest verses turned the rapper into one of hip-hop’s most in-demand featured artists. And his first solo LP, My Name Is My Name, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 in 2013.
“The business was changing, we were learning everything: how deals were structured, why one deal might be better than another,” says Victor. “Learning how to maximize opportunities.” Adds Pusha, “We figured out our own path of how to make money and stay relevant.”
Along the way, the two began growing their careers as executives. Victor, who became COO of G.O.O.D. Music, parlayed his successes into A&R roles as senior vp at UMG and, as of October 2017, executive vp/head of A&R at Def Jam; in 2015, Pusha was appointed president of G.O.O.D. Music, tacking on label duties to his artistic endeavors. The two have overseen successes like Desiigner’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, “Panda”; chart-topping albums by Big Sean and West; and, in June, the five-albums-in-five-weeks rollout of new LPs by Pusha, West, Kids See Ghosts, Nas and Teyana Taylor.
Their paths in the industry have run parallel, which they credit for the long-term success of their partnership. “Your agendas have to match, especially when you’re starting off and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Victor. These days, their careers are as intertwined as ever, with touring, endorsements, investments and a new Pusha T album on the horizon. If they’ve arrived at the destination, it’s now about making the whole operation bigger and more lucrative.
“We have been working together for so long that our principles are in tune,” says Pusha. “If we let you in this fold, then you need to be about our principles, too.”
-- DAN RYS
MICHAEL ALEXANDER, 35
Executive vp international marketing, Universal Music Group East Coast labels
78M Streams for Post Malone: Alexander oversees international rollouts for Def Jam, Island and Republic’s top talent, including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and Post Malone. The executive’s methodical “country-by-country approach” to marketing helped Post Malone break a Spotify record when his 2018 album, beerbongs & bentleys, racked up 78 million global streams on its first day of release. “The go-to line [for international marketing] used to be, ‘We have to wait for the U.S. to [generate] a story, and then we can roll it out to the rest of the world,’” says Alexander. “We don’t wait anymore.”
Nonmusical Pursuit: “Summiting Mount Rainier [in Washington state].”
ERIKA ALFREDSON, 38
VP Marketing, Columbia Records
Did Right by Jack White: Alfredson, who describes her role as “an artist’s manager inside the label,” helped a pair of veteran rock acts debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200: Arcade Fire with its 2017 album, Everything Now, and Jack White with his 2018 LP Boarding House Reach. She also serves as product manager for recent Columbia recruit Diplo and says she’s excited to be working on the team developing The Four: Battle for Stardom contestant Zhavia into one of the label’s rising stars.
Advice to Her High-School-Age Self: “Enjoy your metabolism! And don’t sweat the small stuff.”
DERRICK AROH, 29
VP A&R, RCA Records
Golden 'Gut Formula': Aroh, a Brooklyn native, was instrumental in two key 2018 signings for RCA: Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) and hip-hop boy band Brockhampton. The former’s first single for the label, “This Is America,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May, and after signing to RCA for a reported $15 million in March, Brockhampton’s first album for the label, iridescence, topped the Billboard 200 in October. Aroh says that he favors a “gut formula” when it comes to signing new talent. “Brockhampton is the perfect example,” he says. “They don’t have a radio hit yet, but I was sold at their Irving Plaza show [in New York] in January.”
Before He Turns 40... “I’d like to have a family, with probably two kids. Even numbers are good.”
ROSA ASCIOLLA, 32
Head of North American artist and label marketing, Spotify
Made Hot Country Hotter: The Loyola University grad, who joined Spotify in 2013, has expanded the streaming platform’s Hot Country brand -- its playlist counts 5 million followers -- through the Hot Country Live series, which launched with a Carrie Underwood concert in New York. “We identified Nashville and country as an important market to develop,” says Asciolla, who adds that her role regularly involves demystifying Spotify -- and streaming -- for artists.
NOAH ASSAD, 28
Co-founder/CEO, Rimas Entertainment
Jump-Started Bad Bunny: Assad, who manages Bad Bunny and owns and operates the label that releases the Puerto Rican trap/reggaetón singer’s music, guided him to his first Hot 100 No. 1 single, “I Like It,” alongside Cardi B and J Balvin. Assad and Bad Bunny are hoping to continue the crossover hot streak with “MIA,” a collaboration with Drake. A native of Puerto Rico, Assad has set his sights on the hip-hop music scene in Mexico, where he recently bought a recording studio. Millennials there, he says, “are now accepting reggaetón and trap artists.”
Nonmusical Pursuit: “I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan.”
Founder/CEO, CID Entertainment, CID Presents
Connecting Artists and Fans: Berkowitz translated his love of jam bands into curated VIP ticket experiences and travel packages for 105 tours in 2018, including those by Chris Stapleton, Phish, Lil Xan, Liz Phair and ODESZA. Through CID Presents, Berkowitz launched artist-curated festivals for Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Dead & Company and Luke Bryan in 2018 and has already doubled business for 2019. CID’s goal, he says, is to create “authentic” bonds between artists and fans.
If He Didn't Work in Music...: “I’d be a regular caller on The Howard Stern Show.”
*Executive was 39 when the list was finalized.
NICOLE BILZERIAN, 36
Senior vp/head of urban marketing, Interscope Geffen A&M
Hit Paydirt with MUDBOY: Bilzerian oversaw the release of J. Cole’s KOD, which bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- his fifth album to top the chart -- and has generated upwards of 1.1 billion streams. The Worcester, Mass., native also helped break 6LACK, Sheck Wes and Juice WRLD, using a strategy that doesn’t rely solely on stats. “There have to be tangible cultural experiences to generate fans,” she says. For the release of Wes’ MUDBOY, Bilzerian worked with the rapper to create a New York-centric experiential component that included a pop-up at basketball battleground Kingdome Court in Wes’ native Harlem, a subway ride with fans and food trucks wrapped with album art.
EESEAN BOLDEN, 33
Senior vp A&R, Warner Bros. Records
Big Results With Lil Pump: Bolden brought SoundCloud rapper Lil Pump to Warner Bros. through an early-2017 deal with Tha Lights Global, a winning move that has given the label new hip-hop cred. In September, Pump’s viral Kanye West collaboration, “I Love It,” became YouTube’s biggest first-week hip-hop global video debut, with 76 million views, and leaped to No. 6 on the Hot 100. Other recruits include Saweetie, whose “ICY GRL” has amassed over 58 million global YouTube views. The California native credits his A&R success to “due diligence and smart betting.”
Before He Turns 40...: “I’d like to skydive. I put it off every year.”
AMANDA CATES, 37
Head of marketing and digital strategy, Maverick Nashville
Took Aldean to No. 1: Cates quarterbacked the promotion and digital campaigns for Jason Aldean’s Rearview Town, which premiered only on premium-streaming tiers in April but still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Central to the LP’s chart-topping success: The Appalachian State University grad coordinated a series of Apple Music exclusives, including a Beats 1 interview and a live version of “Drowns the Whiskey,” both of which helped the album hit No. 1 on the streaming service’s country albums chart.
TONY COREY, 36
VP marketing, Island Records
A Lot of Lovato Streams: “The most successful campaigns start with the artist’s vision,” says Corey, who calibrated the marketing campaign for Demi Lovato’s 2017 album, Tell Me You Love Me, to the LP’s “soulful R&B-driven” sound, which helped score her biggest single to date, “Sorry Not Sorry.” (The track peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and generated upwards of 610 million streams.) The East Carolina University grad says he’s also part of the push to “build on the success of our new artist Loote,” the pop duo that has generated over 80 million U.S. streams.
IAN CRIPPS, 29
VP A&R, Atlantic Records
Made Mason Ramsey Famous: In April, Cripps partnered with Big Loud Records to sign 11-year-old “Walmart yodeling kid” Mason Ramsey, whose debut single, “Famous,” hit No. 4 on Hot Country Songs. “After spending time with him, I knew he was a star,” says Cripps, adding that his goal is to find artists “who create their own lanes.” The A&R executive also bet early on hip-hop artists DRAM, whose “Broccoli” hit No. 5 on the Hot 100, and KYLE, whose breakthrough single, “iSpy,” reached No. 4 -- both with assists from Lil Yachty.
JAMIL "BIG JUICE" DAVIS, 29
Co-founder/co-CEO, The Revels Group/RVG Records; founder/CEO, Big Juice Poppin Party Promotions
G-Eazy Victory: While co-managing flagship client G-Eazy -- who has three top 10 Billboard 200 albums and 5.5 billion streams to his name -- Davis and his partner of 10 years, Matt Bauerschmidt, guide a roster that includes Leven Kali, Anthony Russo, Dounia, Gibson Hazard and Carly Rose. To deal with their growing client list, they added three junior managers to the staff in 2018. “I love young hustlers,” says Davis. Revels Group also manages Drake’s Aubrey and The Three Migos Live! Tour.
Nonmusical Pursuit: “My 150 black shirts.”
ARI FINK, 36
Program director/host, SiriusXM
Dave Matthews -- In Demand: This summer, Fink created two pop-up channels for the satellite broadcaster: Phish Radio, which debuted with a Q&A with bandleader Trey Anastasio, and Dave Matthews Band Radio, which launched on the heels of DMB’s new LP, Come Tomorrow. The latter channel was such a hit among SiriusXM’s 33.5 million subscribers, it was extended through Labor Day.
STEVE GORDON, 37
Co-head of electronic music, United Talent Agency
Muscle for Marshmello: When Circle Talent, the dance- and electronica-centric agency Gordon co-founded with Kevin Gimble, was acquired by UTA in April, the executives signed on as co-heads of their new employer’s electronic music division. Their roster, which includes Marshmello and Kaskade, came with them, and Gordon says the added muscle of UTA has enabled him to focus on “servicing our clients in untapped areas.”
MICHAEL GREISCH, 33
Agent, Paradigm Talent Agency
Helped Phish Make History: Greisch, who was mentored by the late Chip Hooper and inherited the much-loved agent’s artists, played a key role in Phish’s landmark 13-night Baker’s Dozen summer residency at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2017, which raked in $15 million. He also booked back-to-back tours for Dave Matthews. “I’ve always been such a fan of both bands,” says Greisch. “Getting to work with them and to be part of their story is thrilling every day.”
10 Years Ago...: “I was trying to convince my future wife to move to California so that I could get a job in a mailroom.”
MIKE HAYES, 38
Concert agent, ICM Partners
Got the Go-Go's to Go Again: In addition to heading up ICM’s festival department, Hayes helped develop Machine Gun Kelly and Jon Bellion as bankable live acts. The father of two also booked The Go-Go’s for three sold-out shows in July at the Hollywood Bowl, where they were accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
If He Didn't Work in Music...: “I’d hopefully be working for the Los Angeles Chargers or San Diego Padres.”
MIKE HURST, 38
Royalties Recovery Ace: In May, Exactuals launched RAI, an artificial intelligence tool that Belfast, Northern Ireland-born Hurst says uses “machine learning” to correct and enhance metadata used by digital service providers to avoid royalty misattributions. The tech was so promising that in August, City National Bank, an investor since 2013, acquired Exactuals and kept Hurst at the helm. “Now that the Music Modernization Act has passed, the industry has a monumental data project to complete,” says Hurst. “With RAI, we aim to be a major part of the solution.”
BRUCE KALMICK, 36
Co-owner/partner; Triple 8 Management, Triple Tigers Records
Got Whiskey Myers a double shot of success This year brought the breakthrough of Whiskey Myers, the first band Kalmick took on as a manager 11 years ago, after he landed the Texas group a cameo -- and three of its songs -- on the hit TV series Yellowstone. “We look for artists who are going to have real careers, and if I have to go to Iceland to sign them, I will,” says the Austin-based father of two, a reference to Triple 8’s Reykjavík-based blues-rock band Kaleo, which scored a No. 1 Alternative hit with “Way Down We Go” after becoming part of his roster in late 2014. Triple Tigers, the label that Kalmick and Triple 8 partner George Couri founded in 2016 with Thirty Tigers principals David Macias and Norbert Nix and Sony Music also scored two Country Airplay No. 1 singles in early 2018 by the first two artists signed to the indie: ”Yours” by Russell Dickerson and “Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery.
If He Wasn't in Music...: “I’d be a sports agent.”
LUCAS KELLER, 34
Founder/CEO, Milk & Honey Management
Silenced the Skeptics: “You’re never going to make any money with songwriters and producers” was a refrain Keller says he often heard when he founded Milk & Honey as an A&R- and marketing-focused songwriter, producer and artist management company in 2014. Four years later, Milk & Honey boasts a roster of 44 creatives that, says Keller, have sold or streamed the equivalent of 400 million songs, including Sir Nolan’s “No Brainer” with DJ Khaled, which peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100. Up next: an outpost in Amsterdam to support a thriving roster of electronic artists, including rising DJ Oliver Heldens.
If He Wasn't in Music...: “I’d be an architect. It’s my second passion.”
TAYLOR LINDSEY, 32
VP A&R, Sony Music Nashville
New High for Old Dominion: Three years spent developing Old Dominion came to fruition for Lindsey in April, when the five-piece took home the Academy of Country Music Award for vocal group of the year. The younger sister of country songwriter Hillary Lindsey (Little Big Town's “Girl Crush”) also spearheaded the 2015 signing of Grammy winner Maren Morris and helped singer-songwriter Luke Combs score a career-opening hat trick of Country Airplay No. 1s (“One Number Away” crowned the chart in June.) Says the University of Georgia alum, “I lead with my gut.”
HEATHER LOWERY, 39
VP talent and touring, Live Nation Urban
Urban Music Incubator: Since the creation of Live Nation Urban in 2017, Lowery has partnered with and tripled the size of the Broccoli City Festival in Washington, D.C., to 29,000 attendees and helped build five new live events for urban artists, including Kirk Franklin’s Exodus Music & Arts Festival and the first live iteration of a Spotify playlist, RapCaviar Live, which she has booked in Philadelphia, Dallas, Detroit and other cities.
Before She Turns 40...: “I’m buying a house and closing a deal on a TV show I’m developing.”
AMAYA MENDIZABAL, 34
Latin music curator, Amazon Music
Amazon's Latin Strategist: A former Billboard chart manager, the Miami-based Mendizabal joined Amazon Music in 2017 as the first U.S.-based Latin music curator. In the newly created position, she drives the company’s Latin strategy by building playlists and stations (including the recently launched Fuego Latino, featuring artists like Becky G and Ozuna) that cater to audiences from different Latin cultures. She also increases editorial opportunities, including original content from artists. Mendizabal, who is expecting her first child in early 2019, says, “I really have to be in tune with what’s happening across multiple genres.”
ADAM MERSEL, 27
Manager, First Access Entertainment
Behind Bebe's Big Year: Client Bebe Rexha set a new record for the longest-running No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart with “Meant to Be,” her duet with Florida Georgia Line, which has held the top spot for 45 weeks and counting. “I really think the lyric and tone of the record came at a time in this country -- and around the world -- when many of us needed hope,” says Mersel. The stunning success of “Meant to Be” meant Rexha’s debut album, Expectations, went gold its first day of release in June, and her current single, “I’m a Mess,” has racked up over 144 million global views on YouTube. Now, says Mersel, “Bebe’s breaking as a solo act.”
If He Wasn't in Music...: “I’d open a restaurant or go to culinary school.”
SCOTT NAGELBERG, 39
Manager, Crush Music
Panic! At the Pinnacle: Panic! at the Disco -- Nagelberg’s flagship client since 2004 -- landed its second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Pray for the Wicked (180,000 equivalent album units earned in its first week) and its second-ever sold-out Madison Square Garden gig in July. “This is not a flash in the pan,” says the Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based manager. “We’ve established [Panic!] as a career generational artist.” Nagelberg also helped establish frontman Brendon Urie as a Broadway star with his 10-week run in Kinky Boots.
Advice to His High-School-Age Self: “Stay strong. The Cubs will win the World Series in your lifetime.”
NATINA NIMENE, 38
VP urban promotion, Def Jam Recordings
All G.O.O.D.: Nimene was part of the team that launched the massive G.O.O.D. Music five-album rollout that included Kanye West’s Ye, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in June. Collectively, the five albums generated first-week streams totaling 390 million. “Natina always goes hard,” says Def Jam artist 2 Chainz. “She understands radio promo and the culture as a whole.” Nimene adds, “We use streaming information to show the trajectory of a particular project. [But] ultimately, radio is still the way that most people consume music.”
If She Wasn't in Music...: “I’d be a forensic pathologist or detective.”
NELLY ORTIZ, 29
Director of marketing and partnerships, Roc Nation
DJ Khaled's Brand Broker: This past year, Ortiz has helped make DJ Khaled the king of branding. The “I’m the One” producer chronicled his weight loss on social media for WW (formerly Weight Watchers). Ortiz, who’s the sole brand broker on Roc Nation’s management team, also helped activate Big Sean’s PUMA partnership and merchandise marketing for Shakira. “Once the deal gets to the execution phase, it’s my job to make sure it gets done.”
JASON PETERSON, 36
Chairman, GoDigital Media Group
Making Vidaprimo Supreme: Peterson launched GoDigital as a rights management service that could collect content revenue for artists from YouTube and other digital platforms. But, he says, he quickly realized “the opportunity was in growing the audience and creating a network for them.” Today, GoDigital includes label, distributor and publisher Cinq Music, and a multiplatform video network, Vidaprimo, that generates 2 billion streams per month, mostly in Latin America. “Everything indicates Latin is in a huge growth curve for many years to come,” says Peterson, whose success has caught the attention of U.S. artists as well. This year, GoDigital partnered with Janet Jackson’s Her Rhythm Nation Records to record and distribute her new music. Jackson’s recent single, “Made for Now,” with Daddy Yankee, is her first entry on the Hot 100 since 2015.
HORACIO RODRIGUEZ, 37
Senior vp marketing; Universal Music Latino, Machete Music and Capitol Latin
Dialed "Despacito" Up to 11: As the head of U.S. marketing for Universal’s Latin labels, Rodriguez helped establish Luis Fonsi as a global superstar with his work on “Despacito.” It surpassed the 5 billion mark for global YouTube views and tied the record for number of weeks atop the Hot 100 -- 16. And J Balvin led the Latin Grammy pack with eight noms, the most of any artist. “What really drives me is helping new artists carve out a lane to fulfill their potential,” says Rodriguez.
Senior vp global touring, AEG Presents
Relit The Gaslight Anthem: In June, Schaefer, who was managing Soundgarden's touring business at the time of Chris Cornell’s 2017 suicide, left the firm he co-founded with Rich Cohen just two years earlier to join AEG at the behest of another former business partner, Gary Gersh. Prior to AEG, Schaefer reunited The Gaslight Anthem for a 21-date tour behind the 10th anniversary of the rockers’ breakthrough album, The ’59 Sound, that included two shows at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and three nights at the Stone Pony’s Summer Stage in Asbury Park, N.J.
Nonmusical Pursuit: “I have gotten deep into collecting wine and have taken several trips to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to taste some of the best pinot noirs in the world.”
GABRIELA SCHWARTZ, 39
Senior vp marketing, Capitol Music Group
Making Migos Mega: Schwartz, a self-described “Jew-Rican,” oversaw "The Year of Migos" campaign for Quality Control Music, Motown and Capitol: “They came into 2018 with Culture II, and it has just been about elevating their brand with global expansion,” says Schwartz. The numbers back her up: Since its No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 in February, the Atlanta rap trio’s album has generated over 4.5 billion streams worldwide. In 2019, Schwartz says she’ll be spotlighting Motown’s 60th anniversary: “We’re going to have a huge global campaign to commemorate what the label has done for music and culture [and] what Motown means for the future.”
Five Years Ago...: “I was at Def Jam, and we were putting out Rihanna’s Unapologetic.”
MITCHELL SHYMANSKY, 36
VP data and analytics, Universal Music Group
Digital Data Jedi: Shymansky, who heads a 28-person team that includes eight analysts and six data scientists, has spent the last 18 months overhauling all of the world’s largest label group’s systems with the goal of collecting data and analyzing it to produce actionable opportunities. “We process 105,000 terabytes of data each month,” says Shymansky, the storage equivalent of 157.6 million CD-ROMs. But that’s just the first step. “As [Republic Records chairman/CEO] Monte Lipman says, ‘We are data rich but insight poor,’ so my job is to take all that data and get it to be usable.”
If He Wasn't in Music...: “I’d be a Formula One race engineer. [That is] data use in its purest and most competitive form.”
CAMILLE SOTO, 36
President, GLAD Empire
Strategized Anuel's Comeback: The Puerto Rico-born Soto orchestrated the remix of “Te Boté,” which hit No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs; the upcoming “Te Boté Remix 2,” featuring Jennifer Lopez; and the release strategy of Anuel AA’s Real Hasta la Muerte, which debuted at No. 1 on Top Latin Albums the week he walked out of prison in July. Originally a company that managed social media and recouped publishing revenue, GLAD blossomed when Soto launched the digital distribution arm Gladcore in 2016. Her roster of 250 artists releases 100-150 songs a month, and GLAD grossed upwards of $3 million in 2017. “Reggaetón, Latin trap and urban music are among the most consumed in the world right now,” says Soto. “And we have all these indie Latin artists who want more control over their business.”
JONATHAN STRAUSS, 32
Founder/CEO, Create Music Group
18 Million Reasons Why: Create Music Group’s original-content arm, Flighthouse -- a top TikTok channel with nearly 18 million fans -- launched a YouTube platform in June. “We want to be part of this [youth] culture that wants to share things and talk about things,” he says. “Brands like Nickelodeon don’t really focus on that.” In September, he unveiled a publishing arm that inked a “multiyear deal” with rapper 6ix9ine, who is signed to Strauss’ pal Elliot Grainge’s 10K Projects.
Advice to His High-School-Age Self: “Invest in Amazon and Netflix.”
AARON TANNENBAUM, 38
Music agent, Creative Artists Agency
Luke Combs' Growth Agent: Tannenbaum helped graduate breakout country artist Luke Combs to arena headliner with his 2018 Beer Never Broke My Heart Tour, and now, he says, 98 percent of the “Hurricane” singer’s 2019 arena tour has sold out months in advance. Tannenbaum, who also represents Martina McBride and Brantley Gilbert, has come quite a long way since his first industry job, answering phones at the Monterey Peninsula Artists booking agency. “I made flash cards of all the frequent callers and almost quit the first day,” he recalls. “I have a lot of respect for receptionists.”
Nonmusical Pursuit: “History -- several trips to places of historical significance, [such as] Monticello and Appomattox [Va.].”
MELISSA THOMAS, 37
Senior vp international; Epic and Columbia Records
Streaming Giant: Thomas, who was promoted to her current position in September, devised the global marketing strategy for Camila Cabello, whose Young Thug-featuring “Havana” became Spotify’s most streamed song ever by a lead solo female artist in June. (It has since amassed over 1 billion worldwide to date.) “Some of my greatest career highlights have been in the last year-and-a-half,” says the 13-year veteran of Sony Music. Prior to her promotion, Thomas served as vp international marketing for Epic. There, she led a team of five in managing global campaigns for DJ Khaled, Future and Travis Scott. The lattermost’s Billboard 200 No. 1, Astroworld, she says, broke Sony’s in-house first-week album-streaming record with nearly 350 million U.S. streams.
Nonmusical Pursuit: “I have a thing for bags, especially from French fashion houses. Last year, I bought my first Chanel purse at the flagship store in Paris. It might sound superficial, but it meant something because it was a result of my hard work over the years.”
BEN TOTIS, 35
Booking Cabello and Balvin: Totis has booked some of the year’s biggest stars, including 2018 MTV Video Music Award artist of the year Camila Cabello’s first headlining tour with stops in North and South America, Europe and the United Kingdom. The former Fifth Harmony singer also opened a number of dates on Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Totis, a University of Georgia grad who majored in international affairs, also has begun booking shows for Colombian reggaetón star J Balvin, who in June briefly replaced Drake as the most popular artist on Spotify. “Reggaetón, Latin trap and all the [success] that Bad Bunny and J Balvin are having is comparable to what is taking over the contemporary landscape, which is the urban scene,” says Totis.
Before He Turns 40...: “I’d like to build a piece of furniture from scratch.”
JOSH VAN VALKENBURG, 36
Senior vp A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville
Finding Nashville's Future: While supporting such established Sony/ATV Nashville songwriters as Ross Copperman, Chris DeStefano and Lindsay Rimes -- who saw such co-writes as Kane Brown’s ”Heaven,” Kenny Chesney’s “Get Along,” Dierks Bentley’s “Woman, Amen” and Chris Young’s “Losing Sleep” top the Country Airplay chart in 2018 -- Van Valkenberg and his team have been signing and developing acts that write their own material as, he says, the country genre “becomes more of an artist- and writer-driven format.” Among them: Mitchell Tenpenny, The Sisterhood, Fairground Saints, Jon Langston and Lainey Wilson.
Nonmusical Pursuit: “I love to play cards: poker, rummy, gin. And anyone who isn’t familiar with the game Nertz, come see me. I’ll change your life.”
KATY WOLAVER, 32
VP A&R, Warner/Chappell Music
The Writer Whisperer: Wolaver was promoted to her current position in June after moving to Warner/Chappell from SONGS Music Publishing two-and-a-half years ago. Her roster of songwriters includes the prolific busbee (Maren Morris, Florida Georgia Line, P!nk), Sasha Sloan (Camila Cabello’s “Never Be the Same”) and Scott Harris, who co-wrote the Shawn Mendes hit “In My Blood,” which rose to No. 11 on the Hot 100. Wolaver says that job fulfillment comes from hearing her stable of writers’ songs “land on the radio and seeing them performed live. Those are the moments.”
Advice to Her High-School-Age Self: “Listen to that small voice in your gut.”
JAIME ZELUCK HINDLIN, 33
Founder/owner, NONSTOP Management
Doing it for Lauv: Zeluck Hindlin announced the formation of her management firm in August, but the venture was a year in development and largely the result of a life-changing moment: The former A&R executive for Dr. Luke’s Prescription Songs suffered heart failure following the birth of her daughter with songwriter husband -- and longtime client -- JKash (Maroon 5, Charlie Puth) in early 2017. “I almost died,” says the Long Island native. “I had to re-evaluate everything.” Her decision to go into business for herself has already paid off: Writers/producers Andrew Wells, Michael Pollack, Michael Matosic and Bantu are buzzing and former client Lauv, who she signed to Prescription broke through with his solo hit, “I Like Me Better," --and Zeluck Hindlin just officially came on board to serve as A&R consultant for his next project. .
*Declined to give age
Contributors: Trevor Anderson, Megan Armstrong, Keith Caulfield, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Camille Dodero, Eric Frankenberg, Bianca Gracie, Katy Kroll, Catherine Lowe, Brooke Mazurek, Taylor Mims, Melinda Newman, Silvija Ozols, Paula Parisi, Kevin Rutherford, Diane Snyder, Eric Spitznagel, Christa Titus, Jack Tregoning, Christine Werthman, Nick Williams, Xander Zellner
Methodology: A committee of Billboard editors and reporters weighed a variety of factors in determining the 2018 40 Under 40 list, including, but not limited to, Billboard’s 2017 Top Artists and Top Tours rankings; nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors; impact on consumer behavior as measured by such metrics as chart, sales and streaming performance, social media impressions, and radio and TV audiences reached using the latest data available as of Oct. 11. Career trajectory and overall impact in the industry are also considered. When available, financial results are taken into consideration. Where required, U.S. record-label market share was consulted using Nielsen Music’s market share for album plus track-equivalent and streaming-equivalent album-consumption units and Billboard’s quarterly top 10 publisher rankings. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music are the sources for tour grosses and sales/streaming data, respectively. Nielsen is also the source for radio audience metrics. Unless otherwise noted, album streaming figures cited represent collective U.S. on-demand audio totals for the album’s tracks, and song and artist streaming figures represent U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.
MY THEME SONG
Katy Wolaver, Warner/Chappell Music: "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco. I put it on when I need to feel inspired or extra motivated. There is something so special about the spirit of the song that completely resonates with me.
Mike Alexander, UMG East Coast Labels: Tom Petty’s "I Won’t Back Down." His honesty and strength will always resonate with me. It’s so important to be outspoken and have a point of view.
Nelly Ortiz, Roc Nation: Calle 13’s "Latinoamérica." The video showcases so many Latin cultures and makes you realize we’re not as different as we think we are culturally. It reminds me how proud I am to be a Latina.
Amaya Mendizabal, Amazon Music: Gang of Youths’ "Say Yes to Life." It’s a brilliant track about carrying yourself and those around you through dark times by shaking off negativity and saying "yes" to everything life throws at you.
‘MY DOGS ATE ME’
From tidal waves to toothless mouths, this year’s 40 Under 40 executives share their most bone-chilling, night-sweat-inducing (and, yes, comical) stress dreams.
Jason Peterson, GoDigital: I used to have recurring tsunami dreams. But I use Image Transformation Therapy and dynamic breath work to metabolize traumatic stressors. This has removed these dreams entirely for several years.
Josh Van Valkenburg, Sony/ATV: I’m walking onstage as the lead in a play and realize I don’t know any of my lines. I always try to fake my way through it, but it’s a disaster. I’ll panic and wake up with a sick feeling in my stomach.
Lucas Keller, Milk & Honey: The last nightmare I had was that something happened to me and my dogs ate me. [Laughs.] I can’t make that up. Every time I see my chihuahua lick her chops, I get scared now.
Scott Nagelberg, Crush Music: I’ve been blessed with two: one where my teeth fall out and the other where I crack my iPhone screen. Both are odd, as I have above-average dental hygiene and only cracked my phone screen once. Definitely just jinxed myself.
Bruce Kalmick, Triple 8 Management: I have this dream that I’ve gotten to the end of the college semester and I’ve forgotten to go to a class. Like I just missed it the whole way. Dreams are not reality, but in the dream it’s all over. It’s just all over.