Ciara Talks New Label, 'Leveling Up' to Be Her Own Boss: 'Tough Moments Build Your Character'
Throughout her career, Ciara has sold over 23 million records, garnered 1.4 billion music video views, earned a Grammy award and has collaborated with everyone from Missy Elliot to Nelly and Enrique Iglesias. In this next chapter, the artist is taking everything she’s learned from her past and channeling it into her current adventure: being her own boss.
In 2017, Ciara launched her own record and entertainment company, Beauty Marks Entertainment. The venture was launched for her to follow her own creative direction and release her music on her own terms. BME debuted its first major endeavor in June 2018, when Ciara released “Level Up,” which hit 11 on the Billboard US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and peaked at number 59 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
On Thursday evening (Feb. 7), Ciara took the stage at the MAKERS Conference in Dana Point, Calif., where she spoke to attendees about the importance of following your passion, trusting yourself and what it means to “leveling up.”
Billboard caught up with the singer for an exclusive chat about how her life has changed since taking her career into her own hands.
What’s the mantra behind Beauty Marks Entertainment?
The mantra of the company is that all the scars we get from the obstacles we face in life are beauty marks. When you go through adversities and face challenges, embrace them because they make us who we are. They give us the wisdom we need to survive. I started off signed to Arista records and then shortly after, I was about to put out my first song. The label folds, the executive that signed me went to another label, and I had to re-audition for another label to hope that they would give me a shot to put out my first song that I had already prepared to put out. And then another change happened in that system and I had to switch to another system. Sometimes you don't know it's happening but those tough moments build your character. They give you wisdom and so you have to embrace those moments because they really turn out to be beauty marks.
What are the priorities for the company?
It definitely encompasses all things for me as it relates to my work world -- everything from music releases, the label side of it, to the management side of it. My ultimate goal is to perfect my journey first, and then at some point in time down the line, it would be fun to actually have other artists come along and the idea would be to empower them. The idea of ownership is really important to me and that's what this phase is about. It's truly about, let's really build things to where it can last for a really long time and I can really reap the full benefits of my labor. I've been in systems and the way the deals are typically structured for us artists, we don't really get to reap the full financial benefits of our labor. I love what I do. I wake up every day excited to do what I do, even during the toughest times. But at the same time, it's like, let's make economic sense of it all as well.
Is it rewarding to release music on your own terms?
There have been moments in the past when I've felt creatively handicapped just because I have to wait for the powers that be to make the decisions for me and then they take a long time. I'm just waiting and waiting and losing time and before you know it, six months pass by. Things move so fast and you can't hold onto records too long because the times change. And when you feel like you have something that's creatively distinctive, you want to be able to get it out there at the right time. So being able to have that freedom and flexibility is so special.
What do you love about being your own boss?
I'm very involved in everything but I also believe in the importance of having team members around you so you know that when you close your eyes, things are being done. I've always been very vocal since the beginning of my career, whether it's writing the music or how I want my image to look on a video or a project. I don't think that's gonna ever change and now I get to really have open and real raw dialogues with my team. I also don't know everything either, but at the same time, it's great to sit with my team and talk it all through.
What are you doing differently with your career now that you started BME?
I've always believed that without my fans, I wouldn't be here. And in the moment that I was able to put my first release, under my own company, it reaffirmed the power of the fan. When [a major] CEO told me that I didn't have the right vision or I wasn't necessarily choosing the right record, the fans decided it was. And nothing could stop that; nothing could stop the fact that there were tons and tons of viral clips happening like literally within 24 hours with “Level Up.” That was my fan’s true reaction and so it shows you power of the fan. It shows you the power of your platform, the power of also building a brand. It’s a whole different day and age in the music culture and we all have to adjust. There's way more opportunities out there and I'm very excited that I have the opportunity to take advantage of the special time we're living in.
What is your new music release structure going to look like?
I'm having fun just giving my fans music. There are plans to what I'm doing but if I have a moment where I'm like, “I want to put this song out today,” I'm gonna put it out. That’s what it's about. I just want to ultimately do what feels right. And I will say that every time in my career when I've done what felt creatively right to me in my gut, it's always works. So I want to stick to that formula.
You’re dropping “Greatest Love” on Feb. 12. What can tell us about the new tune?
It has got a lot of love in it. Valentine's Day is right around the corner and I just want people to feel that love, whether you're single or if you have your partner in your life. I’m super proud of this next release.
You’ve accomplished so much for 33. What do you attribute your success to?
Never give up and keep believing in yourself. There were so many times where I have heard "No" and I feel like that if I had listened, I wouldn't be here today. Set goals. There's something to the power of manifestation. I'm actually planning to do my next chapter sheet again, where I take a moment to write down the goals I want to accomplish -- and writing down is huge because you start to give yourself a compass on where you're trying to get. I really believe you can't get anywhere in life without a compass. Speak it into the universe, write it down and then follow up!
Give us a quick "day in the life" of you as a boss.
It's meetings, listening to songs, getting emails about opportunities, seeing if it works for us, if it doesn't. It’s going through video treatments that are submitted and budgets. It’s being mindful of that side of it, making sure I'm being smart economically when I'm making creative decisions. Oftentimes, us artists, we lead with creative first, but now I have to put on my business hat. It’s like “Oh, I want to do this really cool video but wait! What's the budget say? Okay, does it make sense for us for the long run? What's our marketing plan?” It’s all of those different things. It feels really cool being on this side of it and also of course to live my dream out as an artist. I feel more empowered now than ever and I'm really grateful for this time.
Is there someone you look to as a mentor for when it comes to dealing tackling the business side of things?
My team has been a great source of support. These are people I have worked with for a while and it's been really really cool to have that system. On my team there's me [and] my president, Jessica Abramson Lott. Then there's my assistant, Hanna Isaksson, who's been with me for almost six years now. There’s my publicist, Lauren Ceradini. We actually worked together when I was signed at Epic and now are working directly together with all the things that I'm doing for myself as an artist in BME. Jorden Dinenburg is the only guy in the midst of all of us girls and he's my CBO, Chief Global Brand Officer. Then there's Ashley Acevedo who just joined us as a product manager to BME. It’s a five-man band but we have the arms of 10 people pumping. It's a growing process, a learning process, and I also have to grow as needed. I also want to include Monti Olson, who's been a great friend of mine who also works from time to time with our company as well. He was with me when I was signed to Warner Bros. in my last deal.
It’s amazing to be surrounded by people on my team who I know sincerely have my back and that we’re all pumping toward the same goal together. I've been having the time of my life and I’m so excited about the journey ahead that I can't even see. The ultimate goal is to keep leveling up!