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Meet Music's New Power Generation: 25 Top Innovators

by Billboard Staff
February 07, 2019, 9:02pm EST

They are multitaskers and multihyphenates, influencers and innovators, movers and moneymakers. Meet the 25 disrupters redefining the business, including one guy who made a marshmallow famous.

PHYLICIA FANT, 40
SHAWN HOLIDAY, 41   

The new urban planners: As head of urban music at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Holiday was instrumental in two of last year’s most impactful releases: Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” with Cardi B (the single held the No. 1 slot on the Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks) and Travis Scott’s Astroworld, which has earned 2.3 million equivalent album units. As of December, Holiday doubles as co-head of urban music at Columbia Records alongside Fant, who made a rare leap from her previous role as senior vp publicity and lifestyle at Warner Bros. Records.

Both are crucial hires for Sony as it works to recruit star executive talent that reflects the diversity of its artists, although Holiday sees mentoring as a way to develop and promote talent from within. “I involve them in the process, so they can learn as they go -- whether we get the deal or not,” says the executive, who was a linchpin in the label’s partnership with Fox TV show Empire. “I don’t want them to just hand things off to me and I say, ‘I’ll take it from here.’ I want them to take this experience as going to grad school, because that [education] only helps you grow as an executive.”

In 2019, Holiday and Fant will focus on rising rap talents like Polo G, Yung Bleu and Lil Tjay while supporting planned releases from established artists Solange and Juicy J. The pair are also celebrating Chloe x Halle’s two Grammy nods for best new artist and best urban contemporary album as a highlight (the sibling duo’s debut, The Kids Are Alright, peaked at No. 19 on the Top R&B Albums chart.)

Fant, who is also founder/CEO of The Purple Agency, sees her PR background as an advantage to her new role, working with artists whose public appearances and social media feeds are under close scrutiny. “Publicity is beyond calling magazines and making sure artists are on TV -- we’re the closest thing to A&R and marketing,” she says. “We definitely have a role in shaping the opinion and value system of these artists.”

Supporting diversity: “I really care about women of color and how we are perceived,” says Fant, who helped launch an annual entertainment summit at her alma mater, Atlanta’s Spelman College. “By Sony hiring [me], it shows that we matter. We’re beautiful, strong; we’re worthy of love and these promotions.”  

 

ADAM ALPERT, 38

The triple-threat CEO: Alpert likes to challenge the status quo. The longtime manager of The Chainsmokers chose a nontraditional “building album” strategy, as he calls it, to roll out the duo’s latest LP, Sick Boy. Released in 2018, the LP collected a series of singles released regularly over the previous 12 months. Alpert says the approach resulted in every track on the album getting playlisted, not just the radio singles. “It kept the buzz on The Chainsmokers for the entire year,” he adds. It also helped the act score its third No. 1 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. The University of Pennsylvania alum, who doubles as CEO of the duo’s Columbia label partner, Disruptor Records, and Sony/ATV publishing joint-venture Selector Songs, added a third CEO title to his docket with the November launch of the act’s new film/TV venture, Kick the Habit Productions. The company has already sold its first screenplay -- based on the duo’s 2017 hit “Paris” and penned by Mickey Rapkin (Pitch Perfect) -- to TriStar. “We have about 25 projects slated: films, TV series, digital shorts, docu-series, both scripted and unscripted,” says Alpert. “Music will always be No. 1, but this is an extension of their creative career.”

Movie title that describes his life: “The Fast and the Furious.”

 

NOAH ASSAD, 28

The new Latin starmaker: Under Assad’s management, Bad Bunny became Latin music’s breakout star of 2018, landing 27 hits on Hot Latin Songs and six titles on the Hot 100, including the Latin trap artist’s inescapable No. 1 with Cardi B and J Balvin, “I Like It.” “There was nothing forced [about his crossover],” says Assad, co-founder/CEO of independent label/digital distributor Rimas Entertainment. “It was Bad Bunny’s dream and it was my dream.” In January, the rising Puerto Rican rapper’s surprise LP, X 100PRE, debuted at No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart. “Our whole company is about passion,” says Assad, a natural hustler who recently expanded into publishing and has signed over 75 songwriters. “We’re fans of the music before the business.”

Five years from now... “There will be at least two or three times more streams in Spanish than in English on all platforms.”

 

SI-HYUK BANG, 46

The K-populist: BTS -- the seven-man K-pop band that South Korean songwriter-producer-executive Bang assembled in 2010 -- catapulted into Western-pop consciousness in 2018, notching its first Hot 100 top 10 with “Fake Love,” landing on the cover of Time magazine and ruling the Social 50 chart for 111 weeks (and counting). The crossover was unprecedented: BTS scored two No. 1s on the Billboard 200 (Love Yourself: Tear in June; Love Yourself: Answer in September) and sold out its first U.S. stadium show at Citi Field in New York in under an hour -- both of which were first-time feats for a Korean act. Bang, who re-signed BTS to the management company he co-founded, BigHit Entertainment, through 2026, insists that there’s no “specific strategy dedicated to making a global pop group. It’s a collaborative process. I promised the members from the very beginning that BTS’ music must come from their own stories.”

Song that first resonated: “‘We Are the World.’ I was in fourth grade and hadn’t really known pop music until then. I was mesmerized.”

 

DOONEY BATTLE, 30

Viral visionary: In 2016, then-16-year-old Lil Pump’s blond and pink dreadlocks caught the eye of music-industry entrepreneur Battle. When Battle asked his little brother what he liked about Pump, his brother replied, “He’s like a cartoon character!” Pump’s 17.5 million Instagram followers and the No. 3 peak of “Gucci Gang” on the Hot 100 proved Battle’s instincts right. As co-founder/CEO of digital-first entertainment company Tha Lights Global, Battle says that he, co-founder Tim Lowery and partner Jordan Tugrul “know how to tell if something sparks before it actually sparks.” Another viral success Battle predicted: the 2016 single “JuJu on That Beat (TZ Anthem),” Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall’s Hot 100 No. 5 hit. Expertise on the intersection of music and social media attracted Sony to partner with Tha Lights Global in 2018. “They’ve brought me in to bring this urban culture back to Sony,” says Battle, a native Floridian. Battle has signed 23-year-old artist Dominic Fike under Columbia Records.

Five years from now... “Streaming will still be growing, but the industry will be quantifying the value of social attention, just like radio play.”

 

BOBBY CAMPBELL, 33

The Gaga whisperer: “The success of A Star Is Born was presenting [Lady Gaga] as an actress without looking like she was making a strategic pivot,” says Mermaid Music Management’s Campbell, who first met the singer in 2007 at Interscope Records, where he was a marketing coordinator. Campbell became Gaga’s manager after she split with Troy Carter in 2013, later inking a deal to join Artist Nation. For A Star Is Born, he brokered a postproduction deal that brought on Live Nation Productions and Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino (No. 2 on Billboard's Power 100 2019) as producers in exchange for help marketing the film (and a $10 million check from the live events giant). The partnership was a master stroke: The film led to two Academy Award nominations and, for lead soundtrack single “Shallow,” four Grammy nods. Meanwhile, the pop icon is in the midst of a double residency at Park MGM in Las Vegas. “We turn the venue around in 24 hours from Enigma to her Jazz & Piano show,” says Campbell. “It’s a constant creative zigzag, but there’s a range in her talent she isn’t afraid to explore.”

 

MARTHA EARLS, 41

The genre blender: Music City’s latest powerhouse manager Earls -- owner of EFG Management, a startup based in the Gulch neighborhood -- shepherded marquee client Kane Brown’s sophomore album, Experiment, to a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 with 126,000 equivalent album units. Anchored by a release-week blitz that included a headlining show at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater and appearances on Live With Kelly and Ryan, The Voice and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Brown’s career-making coup was the culmination of “a lot of hard work” from Earls’ team and label partner Sony Music Nashville. Of the biracial country outlier’s unexpected rise, she says, “I want the world to become smaller -- to blend genres and defy expectations.”

Recent movement that resonated: “I’m into Enneagram personality typing. It’s a wonderful way to better interpret people’s priorities and drivers. I’m an 8, by the way.”

 

ANDREW GERTLER, 30

The Mendes machine: Gertler was a young Warner Music Group executive in 2013 when he came across a cover of A Great Big World’s “Say Something” posted by a 15-year-old Canadian singer, emailed the kid’s mother and pitched himself as a prospective manager. Almost six years later, that scrappy bedroom YouTuber has transformed into the arena-headlining pop star Shawn Mendes. 2018 heralded new milestones for the two: a third Billboard 200 No. 1 album; Mendes’ first two Grammy nominations, including a song of the year nod for Hot 100 No. 11 hit “In My Blood”; and the singer’s first stadium sellout, a forthcoming hometown show at Rogers Centre in Toronto. At a time when management companies double as boutique record labels and artist managers juggle a portfolio of partnerships and projects, Gertler stands out for his laser-focused commitment to his day-one client. “Other than one time for my brother’s wedding, I haven’t missed a Shawn show, period,” says the Chicago-born founder of AG Artists, who cites Irving Azoff and Scooter Braun as management role models. “I would rather grow one thing to a $600 million business than grow six things to $50 million to $100 million businesses.”

 

GHAZI*

The empire builder: A Billboard 200 No. 1 album for signee XXXTentacion was just one achievement for Ghazi, founder/CEO of the digital distribution company and hip-hop label EMPIRE. Among his other moves: inking a multiyear strategic partnership with Universal Music Group, signing a distribution pact with Antonio “L.A.” Reid’s Hitco, scoring rapper Tyga’s biggest single in nearly seven years with the No. 8 Hot 100 hit “Taste” (featuring Offset) and adding comeback-ready performers like Robin Thicke and Iggy Azalea to its growing roster. In 2019, Ghazi, who recently started going only by his first name, plans to focus on expanding EMPIRE’s publishing business and global reach, with a 10,000-square-foot studio set to open this spring near the company’s San Francisco headquarters, where Ghazi has proudly kept EMPIRE since founding the company in 2010. “Being here in this city -- the entrepreneurial spirit of this area, and the unique skill sets you acquire -- has made me the person I am today,” he says.

 

ELLIOT GRAINGE, 25

The edgy heir: Rising urban label 10K Projects, shepherded by founder/CEO Grainge -- son of Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge (No. 1 on Billboard's Power 100 2019) -- had 10-digit returns in 2018, with over 5 billion streams for its roster overall, thanks to two of the year’s biggest rap breakthroughs: Trippie Redd and 6ix9ine. “I’m very proud of the fact that 10K Projects was profitable and that we have been able to reinvest back into our artists,” says the London-bred, Los Angeles-based upstart, who plans to invest more in developing new acts in 2019. “There’s a lot of volume, and a lot of new artists coming through, which equals a lot of a noise,” says Grainge, eyeing 10K’s next wave, led by new signees Lil Gnar and Icy Narco.

Five years from now... “Distribution will be the most powerful sector of the music industry.”

 

AMBER GRIMES, 29

The utility player: Grimes’ first industry break was at Def Jam, where the then-19-year-old worked as former vp A&R Abou “Bu” Thiam’s executive assistant. It was Bu who later pitched Grimes as a “well-connected” young hustler to Nick Cannon, who cast her in a starring role on Oxygen’s Like a Boss, a 2016 docu-series about personal assistants. Meanwhile, the Atlanta native dug deeply into her hometown music scene -- managing artists; running a recording studio; starting her own full-service marketing firm, The Cardi Brand Agency  -- and in 2017, Spotify made her senior manager of urban independent. “Being a jack-of-all-trades can be looked down upon, but you need to be,” says Grimes, who’s now vp global creative at Capitol Music Group, where she started in December, in a position reporting to chairman/CEO Steve Barnett that didn’t previously exist. “I’m a college dropout, so this is an incredible opportunity.”

 

KEI HENDERSON, 34
JUSTIN "MEEZY" WILLIAMS, 29

The joint venture capitalist: “Not a lot of people know what getting a championship ring feels like,” says Williams about client 21 Savage, whom he co-manages with Henderson. Together, they tag-teamed the MC’s first No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 with his I Am > I Was LP, which earned 131,000 equivalent album units in its first week. Savage has also netted five top 10s on the Hot Rap Songs chart, including a feature on the mammoth Post Malone hit “rockstar,” which crowned the Hot 100 for eight weeks. “It would be nice to have another platinum album for him,” says Henderson. Although the rapper’s future is in question now that he faces deportation after his arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for a long-expired visa, Williams and Henderson have other prospects: Henderson’s boutique label, music management and publishing company, Sincethe80s, recently inked a joint-venture deal with Motown/Capitol.

Cancel: (Henderson) “Bro culture.”


KEVIN KUSATU, 39
ANDREW MCINNES, 35

The DRM TM:The artist management and live-event producer launched by McInnes and Kusatsu in 2011 exported its flagship Mad Decent Block Party to Pakistan last February, and continued pushing into Asia and Africa on behalf of its roster that includes A-Trak and Dillon Francis, who released his first Spanish-language LP, Wut Wut, in 2018. Technically an “off year” for marquee client Diplo’s Major Lazer outfit, TMWRK shepherded the launch of two new projects for the producer: pop supergroup LSD, with Labrinth and Sia; and Mark Ronson disco collaboration Silk City. The latter’s breakthrough hit, “Electricity” (featuring Dua Lipa), topped the Dance Club Songs chart and nabbed a best dance recording Grammy nomination. “The greater music business was like, ‘Those are the electronic music guys,’ which was fine,’” says McInnes, who is happy now to be “crushing it” with a more diverse roster of Panic! at the Disco support act Two Feet and alternative mainstays TV on the Radio and Animal Collective.   

Outdated industry practice: (McInnes) “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor protections.”


 

HEATHER LOWERY, 40

The urban pioneer: As vp talent and touring at Live Nation Urban, Lowery helped the division launch five strategic R&B/hip-hop/gospel partnerships in the last 18 months. “One of our biggest initiatives is to build more touring platforms for urban artists, while cultivating the next generation of executives of color in the touring industry,” she says. These include the RapCaviar Live series in association with Spotify, Kirk Franklin’s Exodus Music & Arts Festival and Washington, D.C.’s Broccoli City Music Festival. The lattermost tripling its attendance to 33,000 in 2018, according to Live Nation Urban, after touting Cardi B as its headliner. “Securing Cardi B for her last performance before she went on maternity leave was extremely difficult because she was in such high demand and wasn’t committing to very much,” says Lowery. “I put her confirmation on my vision board -- that’s how bad I wanted her on the show.”

Recent book that resonated: Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch

 

LONNY OLINICK, 37

The new label head: Led by CEO Olinick, Kobalt’s recording company AWAL has already poached artists deadmau5, Broken Bells and Betty Who from major labels. In November, it announced a global partnership with Glassnote after the fellow indie label left its distribution deal with Universal Music Group. With artist-friendly deals that promise ownership and transparency, AWAL has recruited a class of next-gen stars like Rex Orange County, Little Simz, Kim Petras and Lauv, who surpassed 2 billion streams in 2018. The company further extended its reach with the acquisition of radio promotion/music marketing firm in2une Music and by forging a yearlong alliance with The Other Nashville Society to bolster the company’s Music City footing. “AWAL has created a modern music company with the ability to sign, develop and take artists to the top of the charts,” says Olinick, who adds that the company is on track to net “over $100 million” in the upcoming fiscal year.    

 

VICENTE SAAVEDRA, 36

The Latin maverick: A pair of LPs from reggaetón star Ozuna, Odisea in 2017 and Aura in 2018, finished at Nos. 1 and 2 on the 2018 year-end Top Latin Albums chart, an especially impressive feat for independently promoted releases. “I’m proud to be an indie competing against multinationals,” says Saavedra, Ozuna’s manager and founder of Dímelo Vi, the Puerto Rican artist’s label in which he’s also business partner. Although Sony Music Latin/The Orchard distributes Dímelo Vi, Saavedra says the imprint is otherwise self-reliant: “We do our own marketing and promotion -- we want to show that it’s possible.” Not easy, though, says Saavedra, who operates by gut and often seals deals with a handshake: “Frankly, it has been hard, honest work.” Up next? A new Ozuna album and two singles with Ricky Martin.

Movie that describes his life:300. We’re few, but we’re many.”

 

JOHN SHAHIDI, 39
SAM SHAHIDI, 35

The music video mavens: In 2018, YouTube viewers watched an astounding 24 billion minutes of footage produced by Shots Studios, the management and content creation company founded by brothers John and Sam Shahidi. A digital-video operation that has invested heavily in music, the Los Angeles company counts among its clients Swedish DJ Alesso and Venezuelan-American singer Lele Pons, whose Shahidi-steered “Celoso” video has amassed over 208 million YouTube views. Last November, Netflix premiered the Shots production Vai Anitta, an unscripted docu-series starring Brazilian pop star Anitta, who’s also on the studio’s roster. “We’re a video-first company, always,” says John, who’s focused on expanding to additional Latin, European and Asian markets.

Five years from now... (Sam) “Video will be the most powerful sector of the music industry.”

 

MOE SHALIZI, 28

The new brand manager: It takes a particular talent to break an A-List DJ, but it’s a marketing whiz who can turn a mellow kid with a SoundCloud account into a multimillion-dollar walking logo. That’s what Shalizi did with Marshmello, the anonymous DJ-producer he has managed since 2015 and helped make into a bankable dance-music brand. Building upon the crossover exposure of 2017 Hot 100 hits with Selena Gomez (“Wolves,” No. 20), Khalid (featured on “Silence,” No. 30) and Migos (“Danger,” No. 82), Marshmello conquered 2018 with the Bastille collaboration “Happier,” which soared to No. 3, spent 19 weeks (and counting) at No. 1 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and topped a pack of other charts, including Radio Songs, Mainstream Top 40 and Alternative. Thanks to an entertaining culinary show, Cooking With Marshmello, the dance-music artist’s YouTube channel claims 26 million subscribers and a whopping 4.6 billion total views; and Forbes ranked the masked act as the fifth-highest paid DJ, earning an estimated $44 million in two years. In December, Shalizi left Red Light Management, where he had been since 2015, to become founder/CEO of The Shalizi Group -- a Marshmello-anchored management firm that also represents other dance mononyms like Jauz, Slushii, Sikdope, Ookay and Ghastly. “I had a vision that required me to go on my own in order to make it happen,” he says.

 

WASSIM "SAL" SALIBY, 39

The globalist: Slaiby, the CEO of SAL&Co/XO Records and a Maverick management partner, struck box-office gold with The Weeknd’s “Pray for Me” with Kendrick Lamar, with the Black Panther soundtrack song peaking at No. 7 on the Hot 100. His momentum continued with the French Montana-assisted “Welcome to the Party” from Deadpool 2, and producer-songwriters Ben Billions, Da Heala and Breyan Isaac scoring credits on the Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack. The Lebanon-born Slaiby, who is on Global Citizen’s advisory board, credits his success to his diverse team: “Belly, Amir ‘Cash’ Esmailian, The Weeknd, Manny Dion, La Mar Taylor and myself built this company as a family, and all come from different backgrounds. We are true immigrants who work together as brothers.”

Social issue that keeps him awake: “The stigmatization of immigrants. As one myself, I am very passionate about giving equal opportunities to those who have fled hardship in their home countries.”


JONATHAN STRAUSS, 32
ALEXANDRE WILLIAMS, 31

The music monetizers: High school friends Strauss, CEO, and Williams, COO, first founded Create Music Group in 2015 as a YouTube royalties-collection service. Over three years later, the company monetizes over 9 billion monthly music streams for a roster that includes deadmau5, Marshmello and Post Malone. Their ever-widening orbit now includes distribution, video-content creation and promotion following the acquisition of TikTok and the YouTube channel Flighthouse, and a growing publishing arm, which signed controversial MC 6ix9ine last September. In December alone, CMG found over $7 million for clients, and 2019 looks like a “$100 million year,” estimates Strauss. Thanks to the agency, says Williams, an “emerging middle class” of content creators is reaping the benefits of the “fully revived post-Napster digital era.”

Quaint industry practice: (Williams) “Listening to the radio.”

 

*Declined to provide age

CONTRIBUTORS: Trevor Anderson, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Megan Armstrong, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Camille Dodero, Thom Duffy, Deborah Evans Price, Eric Frankenberg, Adrienne Gaffney, Bianca Gracie, Gary Graff, Jenn Haltman, Andrew Hampp, Cortney Harding, Steve Knopper, Katy Kroll, Robert Levine, Joe Levy, Brooke Mazurek, Taylor Mims, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman, Paula Parisi, Eric Spitznagel, Christine Werthman, Deborah Wilker, Nick Williams

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9 issue of Billboard.

Billboard Power 100 2019