How Social Media Is Helping Execs Bond With Artists -- And Close Deals

In early 2019, Columbia Records chairman/CEO Ron Perry DM’d Lil Nas X on Instagram. The rising artist wasn’t responding to Columbia’s A&R team, but he quickly hit Perry back — he liked the look of his feed. By March, the rapper signed to the label.

It’s one of the most striking recent examples of how social media, and Instagram in particular, has become an increasingly important tool for artists and executives alike. “Commenting on artist pages, you see Ron Perry do that all the time. You see [Columbia co-head of urban music] Phylicia Fant telling Lil Nas X he’s doing such a great job or giving him the heart-eyes [emoji],” says Fadia Kader, music partnerships manager at Instagram. “It’s building a different kind of relationship between the artist and the executive. It’s like having your own cheerleader.”

For executives themselves, it can be just as key to build a presence on the app. Kader points to Roc Nation senior vp Lenny S; Moe Shalizi, who manages Marshmello and Roddy Ricch; and Motown Records president/Capitol Music Group executive vp Ethiopia Habtemariam as examples of executives who use Instagram effectively, whether it’s sharing ultra-exclusive behind-the-scenes shots or commenting on artist and fan pages. (She notes that unlike rising artists, executives don’t face the pressure to pump up follower numbers.) Caroline and Harvest Records president Jacqueline Saturn in particular is, says Kader, “authentic and doesn’t feel overly promotional” on her feed. “She shows that you can literally have it all: You can support your artists, have a poppin’ label, an awesome family and go on vacation — and work out with your team in the morning.” Which has, in turn, led to some organic networking opportunities: Since Saturn started sharing her passion for fitness on Instagram, executives like Shalizi Group’s Krista Carnegie and Flighthouse’s Jacob Pace have asked to meet for a 6 a.m. workout.

Saturn advocates for using social media not only to maintain, but also cultivate relationships. “In this business, everyone is looking, everyone is kind of checking each other out,” she explains, adding that she freely publicizes her support for other artists and executives, too. “I [recently] DM’d [RECORDS CEO] Barry Weiss and was like, ‘I literally can’t stop listening to [Noah Cyrus’ “July”]; can you please make it a No. 1 record?’ ”

But some executives are wary of revealing their strategy to competitors on social media. Courtney Stewart, CEO of Right Hand Music Group and co-founder of Keep Cool, is active on Instagram but says he only has a ghost account on Twitter: “I just spy on people.” Post Malone’s manager, Dre London, says it’s most important to be careful while in the studio. “It’s dangerous if we’re working on a record and someone from the entourage is on IG Live or posting to their stories,” he says. “Next thing you know, an unfinished song could be circulating on the internet.” It has happened before; now, his team has a strict no-phone policy in the studio. And plenty of executives (especially those over 50) avoid showing anything personal on their feeds at all. “We’re not here to become YouTube stars,” says RCA chairman/CEO Peter Edge. “That’s not why I got into this particular role in life.” Sony Music Nashville chairman/CEO Randy Goodman says: “I don’t use it. I get all the info I need from my team — and my wife and kids.”

Still, most agree that being an active social media user — at least purely for the sake of artist promotion — is worth the risk. “I believe [in it] 100%,” says Doug Morris, 81, founder of 12 Tone Music Group, though he solely uses his accounts to promote his artists. To London, social media has become the equivalent of a résumé, one it’s best to keep engaging and up-to-date. “Companies are looking to see what kind of influence and engagement a person has,” he says. “When you go into a meeting, that’s one of the first things they ask: ‘What are your numbers like on social media?’ ” And like any social media user, plenty of executives simply enjoy one of the most basic functions of a platform like Instagram: being reminded of happy memories. “There’s a lot of pictures at gigs and seeing clients and supporting their efforts,” Marty Diamond, Paradigm’s head of global music, says of his Insta. “It reminds me: Fuck, I get to do this every day.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.