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40 Under 40: Billboard Reveals 2021 List of Trailblazing Young Music Executives

Capitol Music Group chairman/CEO Jeff Vaughn, who kicks off Billboard’s annual list of young executives, is writing a new chapter for his label -- and “assisting the vibe” for all of his artists.

When his breakout hit, “Love Cycle,” took off in 2020, rapper Toosii started getting calls from major labels interested in signing him. One of the last meetings he went to was with Capitol Records. “When I walked in the room and saw Jeff [Vaughn], I was like, ‘This is the label,’ ” recalls Toosii. The two had met years earlier under very different circumstances — Vaughn was vp of A&R for another label, while Toosii, unbeknownst to Vaughn, was homeless — and the rapper remembered the kindness Vaughn had shown him during a vulnerable time. “He’s one of the most humble dudes you’ll ever meet, showing up to work in Vans and a flannel shirt,” says Toosii. “As an artist, he treats me like I’m precious. Shout-out to the new Capitol.”

As the company approaches its 80th anniversary next year, Vaughn, 36, is indeed molding a “new” Capitol. Recruited by Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge as Capitol Records president in 2020, Vaughn was promoted to chairman/CEO of Capitol Music Group earlier this year and faces the daunting tasks of reinvigorating the roster and more significantly investing in R&B and hip-hop. “Our goal is to be the preeminent popular music label,” he says, “and reimagine what the next 80 years of Capitol looks like.”

Read more about how Vaughn is writing the next chapter of CMG history here.

Tarek Al-Hamdouni
Senior vp digital marketing, RCA Records

Tasked with helping break artists like Doja Cat, Tate McRae, Fousheé and Flo Milli, the 37-year-old describes his work as twofold: “Find people who aren’t clicking ‘play,’ ” he says, and inspire current fans so they’re “pressing ‘play’ more often.” For Doja’s Planet Her rollout, that meant enticing listeners, new and old, with Spotify activations and a sumptuous VEVO performance series — anything to build out “the bridge between artist and fan.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “See the Arctic.”

Jarred Arfa
COO, Artist Group International

Promoted from GM/executive vp in April, Arfa, 37, guided the company through major deals during the pandemic, including adding boy band Why Don’t We to its icon-filled roster; teaming up with London-based K2 Agency through its joint venture with private equity firm (and AGI parent company) Yucaipa Companies; and signing with sponsorship/branding agency BrandMark. Still, he sees the cautious return of live music as the most exciting development.

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “The night my son was born, Billy Joel had a residency show at [Madison Square Garden] — I have a signed setlist from him welcoming my son to the world.”

Warda Baig
Talent buyer, Live Nation

In the past few months, Baig, 31, has jumped right into getting bands back on the road, booking over 60 concerts at The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory in Dallas and lining up the first shows for a new Houston ballroom slated to open in November. Outside of music, says Baig, “I spent the past year reflecting on my multiple identities and how I can use my platform at Live Nation to start change within the organization,” including helping the company take part in #StopAsianHateDay.

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “Doing the daily walk and talk to get our steps in — and catch up on our favorite TV shows.”

Rayna Bass
Senior vp marketing, 300 Entertainment

Megan Thee Stallion’s three Grammy Award wins in March marked a “full circle” moment for Bass, 35, whose campaigns for the rapper as well as labelmates like Young Thug and Gunna have won multiple marketing awards and helped Slime Language 2 — a compilation project from Thug’s Young Stoner Life Records roster — top the Billboard 200. “I am a creative sociologist,” says Bass. “I make it my business to understand where my artists’ brand and music fit within [the cultural] landscape.”

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Work in the hospitality business. I’m the hostess with the mostess.”

Stacy Blythe
Senior vp promotion, Big Loud

In 2020, the label home to country stars like Morgan Wallen, Jake Owen and Chris Lane marked its fifth anniversary, and Blythe, 37, celebrated accordingly: Her now-10-person promotions team took five singles to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in the 2020 calendar year — “the most of any imprint in Nashville,” she says, and nearly half of the label’s 11 total chart-toppers to date. Her next goal: taking Big Loud’s chart share from No. 3 to No. 1.

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Run a meatball food truck. I grew up in an Italian family and often find it difficult to locate authentic Italian food in the South.”

Alex Coslov
VP marketing strategy, Republic Records

“If Republic is Congress,” says Coslov, 31, “then I am the artists’ senator, representing them internally and building for the future.” Responsible for award-winning campaigns for acts such as Pearl Jam and Greta Van Fleet, Coslov also noticed the gaming community’s response to Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” and worked to make it a single as the track blew up on TikTok. It’s one of many ways user-generated content has “recalibrated the industry across all departments,” he says.

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Be finding different ways to disappoint my parents after dropping out of law school. In all seriousness, probably writing my second novel.”

Ileana Diez
Marketing executive

Illustration by Ollanski
Ileana Diez

Read more about how the former head of marketing for Roc Nation is helping artists build their empires here.

Gordan Dillard
Artist manager, SALXCO

Doja Cat spent 18 months working on her June release, Planet Her, and Dillard, 34, was with the artist every step of the way, helping the rapper/pop star welcome her space-themed third studio album into the world with events such as a futuristic Grammys performance in March and a mesmerizing drone light show in Los Angeles in June (created in partnership with Amazon Music). Says Dillard: “The last year has forced everyone to think outside the box.”

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “The loud music and the water dispenser — random, I know.”

Catrin Drabble
Executive vp corporate development and finance, Kobalt

Amid the disruption of COVID-19, London-based Drabble, 32, played a key role in helping Kobalt achieve profitability for the first time in 2021. It’s one of many hats she wears: When she and her global investments/deals team aren’t strategizing new signings and renewals, they’re busy with merger-and-acquisition activity, like the May sale of AWAL and Kobalt Neighbouring Rights to Sony. “As we think about revenue going forward,” she says, “we are having to predict how social media, fitness apps [and more] will change the publishing landscape.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Produce a rosé from my family’s fledging vineyard that I am not embarrassed to give to my friends.”

Nima Etminan
COO, EMPIRE

It has been a busy few years for the distributor/label/publisher, and Etminan, 33, has had a hand in some of the San Francisco-based company’s most notable moves, including working with Blackground Records to bring Aaliyah’s catalog online; partnering with labels such as Lil Durk’s OTF and Nigerian rapper Olamide’s YBNL Nation; and helping artists like Young Dolph, Key Glock and Yung Bleu score top 20 albums on the Billboard 200.

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “Just arriving in San Francisco from Germany and bringing Top Dawg Entertainment to EMPIRE to release Kendrick Lamar’s first mixtape.”

Jules Ferree
Executive vp brands, SB Projects

Finding partnerships for the management company’s artists to advance their careers and connect with fans requires Ferree, 39, to be “part translator, part air traffic controller, part salesperson, part matchmaker and part mind reader,” she says. Thanks to projects including Justin Bieber’s New Year’s Eve concert with T-Mobile and J Balvin’s multiple McDonald’s team-ups, she and her team have brought in nine figures’ worth of deals to the company during her tenure.

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “Writing Twitter copy for Justin Bieber when I was handling digital marketing at Def Jam.”

Tim Glover
Senior vp A&R, Interscope Records

“I’m always on the daily search for the next artist to sign,” says Glover, 37, who has had a hand in developing artists like R&B star Summer Walker and “Blueberry Faygo” rapper Lil Mosey. Working across a roster of over 20 artists, Glover also played an instrumental role in the making of J. Cole’s The Off-Season, which became the rapper’s sixth Billboard 200-topping album and had the largest streaming week of any album this year.

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Be doing real estate. Buying property is important, ownership is important.”

Lee Goforth
Music agent, Creative Artists Agency

A CAA veteran who started in the mailroom 15 years ago, Goforth, 38, spent the pandemic helping rising stars Tate McRae and Conan Gray turn a “pause into an even bigger moment for them” by mapping out 2022 tours and brainstorming unconventional opportunities — “books, podcasts, brands, virtual shows” — to support his roster. He also leads the agency’s festival group, working with roughly a dozen agents to take clients from afternoon acts to headliners.

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “I am a lifelong Willie Nelson fan. I have over 60 of his records on vinyl and numerous Willie Nelson T-shirts, and I’ve been on [his tour] bus.”

Charlie Hellman
VP/head of marketplace, Spotify

Leading the team that develops services to help creators and rights holders “grow their audience and grow their earnings,” Hellman, 35, has had a hand in some of Spotify’s most important features, including Spotify for Artists (now used by over 1 million musicians monthly), the recently improved playlist-pitching tool (which helped 76,000 artists get added to editorial playlists for the first time in 2020) and other educational and promotional tools. “Fifty-seven thousand artists make up the top 90% of streams on Spotify — quadruple the amount there were in 2017,” says Hellman. “[We’re giving] artists agency over their careers.”

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “High fives.”

Raj Jadeja
VP creative A&R, BMG

The 39-year-old has grown the publisher’s hip-hop presence by playing a major role in the signings of 21 Savage, DJ Khaled and the late Juice WRLD, with whom he also traveled on tour. Today, Jadeja is focused on keeping the momentum going for writer-producer D’Mile, whose collaborations with H.E.R. have already won both Grammy and Academy Awards. Says Jadeja: “We are just getting started.”

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “Getting fired from my first A&R job. Best thing that could have happened.”

Grace James
Senior vp/head of marketing, Atlantic Records

“Marketing is a form of storytelling, using the tools I have to convince people why an artist is worth their time, money, like and follow,” says James, 37, whose pop/rock roster includes Coldplay, Lizzo and the In the Heights movie soundtrack. But James — a key member of Atlantic’s racial justice employee resource group, Off-Color — says it’s about being a good listener, too: “Whether it’s social media commentary or streaming analytics, fans talk back and tell us what they like.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Host a TED Talk about how running changed my life. This November, I’ll be running my ninth marathon.”

Monica Jordan
Director of creative, U.S. Latin, Sony Music Publishing

“I truly enjoy that moment when I come across a songwriter or artist who is just getting started and my gut yells, ‘Star power!’ ” says the Miami-based Jordan, 38. And she has been feeling that a lot lately, having signed breakout rapper-singer Myke Towers and rising hitmaker Elena Rose (who has written for Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez). Jordan also helped organize the publisher’s first Pan-Latin Zoom camp, bringing together over 80 songwriters from around the world for three days last year.

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Be involved in musical therapy — specifically with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Lisa Kasha
VP digital marketing and social media, Epic Records

After working on Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert, “Astronomical,” Kasha, 39, continues to push Epic’s roster to the forefront of gaming and tech, spearheading Zara Larsson’s Roblox dance party (which drew 1.6 million unique visitors in its premiere weekend) and bringing Madison Beer to TikTok with an “immersive reality” concert experience. “Moving forward, I don’t see how digital won’t be at the center of every marketing plan,” says Kasha.

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “I was a massive *NSYNC fan, and one of my older co-workers who worked in lighting surprised me with an *NSYNC crew shirt.”

Federico Lauria
Founder/CEO, Dale Play Records/Lauria Entertainment

No one has done more to put Argentine hip-hop on the map than Lauria, 39, whose Dale Play roster achieved major milestones in the past year: Nicki Nicole became the first Argentine artist to perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Duki launched a major European tour and producer Bizarrap became the country’s most-streamed artist globally on Spotify in 2020. “It’s very exciting to feel that this is only the beginning,” says Lauria, who also opened new international offices (in the United States and Spain) and produces the annual Buenos Aires Trap Festival.

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Get my whole family together for a big trip.”

Marisa Lauro-Norris
Senior vp international marketing, Def Jam Recordings

With approximately 70% of Justin Bieber music consumption coming from outside the United States, the recently promoted Lauro-Norris, 38, had plenty to do in the last year and a half: The pop star’s March album, Justice — released only 13 months after 2020’s Changes — hit No. 1 in 117 countries on Apple Music, while smash single “Peaches” (with Giveon and Daniel Caesar) spent five weeks atop the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart. “I’m big on setting goals,” says the 17-year veteran of the label, “and every day we work to smash them.”

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “The moving around and face-to-face dialogue.”

Rakiyah Marshall
Founder/CEO, Back Blocks Music

After three years at BMG, Marshall, 29, launched her own artist development, publishing and management company last November — and quickly saw results. She scored label and publishing deals for rising star Lily Rose, helped songwriter Blake Pendergrass land cuts with Morgan Wallen and Chris Lane, and signed Ashley Cooke, a viral TikTok success story. “It’s exciting to me to watch these songs come to life in as quickly as 24 hours,” she says of how songwriters can use the app to take fans inside the creative process.

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “My autographed Sam Smith vinyl of In the Lonely Hour. It has made it through many apartments and job changes.”

Steve Martocci
Co-founder/CEO, Splice

“It has been a huge year for us,” says Martocci, 39. In 2020, samples from the music creation platform were heard in Billboard Hot 100 hits like Doja Cat’s “Say So” and Bad Bunny’s “Dákiti,” while overall sample downloads spiked 50% during the first month of the pandemic as young producers flocked to the service. To help them, Splice recently launched new education tools, Splice Skills, among other features. Says Martocci: “Continuing to evolve our platform for these next-generation creators is really exciting to me.”

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “[Selling] my first company, GroupMe, to Skype — it was born from my friend talking about how hard it was to find each other at concerts.”

Claire McAuley
Senior vp global administration, Warner Chappell Music

The admin department is Warner Chappell Music’s “engine room,” according to the London-based McAuley, 38, who in the past two years has overseen upgrades to the publisher’s proprietary copyright/royalty platform, Tango, and its in-house royalties app to make it easier for creators to track the success of their songs. Keeping songwriters paid during the pandemic wasn’t easy, but McAuley — a board member of the recently launched Mechanical Licensing Collective — credits her team with “leaving no stone unturned or source untapped.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Go to as many live shows as possible.”

Matt Meyer
Agent, music, UTA

Representing artists such as Halsey, Machine Gun Kelly, Tinashe and Lil Dicky, 31-year-old Meyer has been plotting his clients’ return to the road and, he says, “doing anything and everything to proactively push my clients’ and their managers’ visions forward” — including brokering the deals for Halsey’s recent non-fungible token series and her concert with livestreaming platform Moment House. He also organized the digital launch event for her 2020 poetry book, I Would Leave Me If I Could.

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Likely work in the art space.”

Johnny Minardi
VP A&R, Elektra Music Group

Since the Elektra brand relaunched in 2018, Minardi, 38, has signed and developed new talents like Tones and I, Meet Me @ the Altar and jxdn (signed to Travis Barker’s DTA Records, a joint venture with Elektra). He also works closely with alt-rock veterans All Time Low, who hit an all-time high when “Monsters” topped Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart for 18 weeks and crossed over to top 40 radio. “I’ve been friends with them for over 15 years,” he says, “so I can’t help but get a little sentimental seeing them finally enjoy this level of success.”

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “A Less Than Jake Halloween 7-inch. [Seeing them] play the Metro in Chicago on Halloween in 1998 changed my life.”

Andrea Minze
VP music for advertising, Universal Music Publishing Group

“I am a crate-digger — I love the thrill of the hunt,” says Minze, 38, which comes in handy when overseeing synch licensing of the publisher’s catalog for brands like Orbit, Dell and Volvo. After discovering Ural Thomas’ 1967 song “Can You Dig It,” written by Russ Regan and Jerry Goldstein, she got a brief from Google last year looking for cool funk music and knew she had “the one.” Regan’s widow even reached out, thanking the team for helping his work live on. “Her note really moved me,” recalls Minze. “It’s why I pursued this career in the first place.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Master the art of from-scratch tortilla-making.”

Katie Mitzell Fagan
Head of A&R, Nashville, Prescription Songs

A 10-year veteran of the Dr. Luke-founded publishing company, Fagan, 33, opened its Nashville office in 2016 and has enjoyed showcasing both the “melting pot” of noncountry talent in the city — including folk-pop stunner and producer Joy Oladokun — as well as Prescription’s growing roster of women behind the boards, such as Lo Lind and carobae. Says Fagan: “I look forward to the day when we will no longer specify someone as a ‘female’ producer.”

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “Hugging my writers and staff every day!”

Bradley Rainey
Head of music for visual media, WME

With a roster that includes Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Soul, with Jon Batiste), Ludwig Göransson (Tenet) and Emile Mosseri (Minari), Rainey saw clients make up over half the nominees in the best original score fields at the 2021 Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTAs. (Soul won all three.) “[There’s] an appetite for artistry like I haven’t seen before,” says Rainey, 36. “Artists are getting involved in film/TV and mainstream, and composers who work in one medium — TV or video games, for example — are crossing over into films and vice versa.”

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “A Radiohead poster I got at a Haiti benefit concert in 2010.”

Austin Rosen
Founder/CEO, Electric Feel Entertainment

When 24kGoldn and iann dior’s “Mood” topped the Hot 100 for eight weeks in 2020 and 2021, it was a special kind of victory, says Rosen, 33: In addition to managing the two artists, Electric Feel also counts co-writers/producers Blake Slatkin and Omer Fedi as members of its roster (which spans management, label and publishing divisions). Meanwhile, star client Post Malone continues to score new accolades as both “Rockstar” (featuring 21 Savage) and “Sunflower” (with Swae Lee) received diamond certification last year.

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “The first pair of Post Malone Crocs we made.”

Veronica Sanjines
VP marketing, Warner Records

It takes more than millions of followers to launch a music career. That’s where Sanjines, 39, comes in, helping artists like Bella Poarch and Nessa Barrett “evolve from TikTok influencers to respected artists,” she says, through blockbuster launches (like Poarch’s “Build a Bitch” video) and fan-engagement plans (she has mapped out “a ton of Easter eggs” teasing Barrett’s upcoming EP). “My job is to protect the artist’s vision,” says Sanjines, who also works closely with genre-hopping rapper Ashnikko and Brazilian powerhouse Anitta.

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “Getting dressed for work. I treat the office like my personal runway.”

Shara Senderoff
Partner/president, Raised in Space

Working at the forefront of music and new technology, Senderoff, 36, has led the charge on some of the venture capital firm’s buzziest investments — including data platform Audigent (for which she serves on the board), celebrity texting app Community and virtual concert company Wave — and has helped them keep growing during the pandemic. To Senderoff, the field has never been more exciting: “The explosive growth in blockchain technology, crypto and [non-fungible tokens] has created an influx of incredible founders and new startups.”

What I've Missed Most About Office Life: “Listening to podcasts and music while driving to meetings.”

Moe Shalizi
Founder/CEO, The Shalizi Group

After playing a key role in longtime client Marshmello’s groundbreaking Fortnite concert in 2019, Shalizi was well-equipped to help the DJ-producer thrive in a year with no touring. Last year, Marshmello launched the children’s entertainment platform Mellodees and delivered a splashy virtual performance at the UEFA Champions League Final opening ceremony in May. “We do whatever we can to provide as much value and growth for our clients,” says Shalizi, 31, who also launched new label Pick Six Records in 2020.

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “Still in college trying to figure out where I wanted to go in life.”

SK Sharma
Chief analytics officer, Ingrooves Music Group

Illustration by Ollanski
SK Sharma

Read more about how Sharma is using his science background to help the industry unlock the power of data here.

YJ Shin
President, BigHit Music

Just when it seemed like BTS couldn’t get any bigger in 2021, the K-pop group scored back-to-back Hot 100 No. 1s, setting streaming and chart records in the process. Helping plot the group’s continued world domination is Shin, 38, who oversees operations for the label — a subsidiary of HYBE, which was previously known as Big Hit Entertainment — and also supports the roster’s other acts, including Tomorrow X Together. “The pandemic and the development of technology have allowed us to do a lot of experiments,” he says, “to find new ways to expand and add immersiveness to the fan experience.”

Before I Turn 40, I Want To: “Write my own song.”

Brandon Silverstein
Founder/CEO, S10 Entertainment

Silverstein, 29, recently expanded with the launch of S10 Publishing — with writer-producer HARV co-writing Justin Bieber’s chart-topping “Peaches” — and a label entity (S10 Records) in partnership with Ryan Tedder's Artist Driven Records, whose first signing, JESSIA broke out with the TikTok hit “I’m Not Pretty.” He has also steered management clients to new heights: Anitta scored her first top 40 radio hit with “Girl From Rio,” while Normani’s “Wild Side” (featuring Cardi B) marked a career-best debut as a lead artist with a No. 14 bow on the Hot 100.

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “A freshman at Indiana University, but that year, I put together my first Bounce Music Festival on local farmland. We ended up drawing tens of thousands.”

David Stromberg
GM, Cactus Jack

Travis Scott ruled 2020 with his Fortnite concert and a pair of Hot 100 No. 1s — and longtime manager Stromberg is keeping business booming. This year, the rapper unveiled a spiked seltzer brand with Anheuser-Busch and a film-project partnership with A24; meanwhile, his upcoming Astroworld Festival sold out in 30 minutes. “Somehow, we broke more records and set more precedents in a pandemic than we ever could have in a normal year,” says Stromberg, 33. “I like to think we gave kids something to be excited about.”

If I Didn't Work in Music, I Would: “Produce classic movies. Seems like the movie business is somehow even more creatively bankrupt than music.”

Lexi Todd
Director of business and legal affairs, Primary Wave Music

As in-house counsel for the publishing/management company, Todd, 30, has a front-row seat to the booming catalog market, working with nearly every department to grow and secure opportunities for the company’s library of legendary songs. In the past year, she ran point on over a dozen acquisitions totaling $65 million. “You know you’re a part of something big,” she says, “when people completely outside of the music industry congratulate you on recent deal closings and want in on the action.”

Ten Years Ago, I Was: “Working triple shifts in between college semesters: breakfast restaurant in the mornings, seafood restaurant in the evenings, then late-night gigs with my band.”

Ebonie Ward
Partner, Emagen Entertainment Group

“I wake up at 5 a.m. no matter the time zone to read, research and get to work,” says Ward, 34, who splits her time between Atlanta and Los Angeles. In addition to managing rappers Gunna and Turbo, Ward signed Flo Milli as a client last year and watched as the breakout MC’s Ho, why is you here ? mixtape established her as one to watch. “After working with men for the last 10 years,” says Ward, “I am excited to be part of developing a female artist leading the next generation.”

My Favorite Piece of Artist Merch: “My vintage Sade T-shirt and my original Lauryn Hill ‘Ex-Factor’ T-shirt.”

Alex Wilhelm
Co-owner, 48 Hours Entertainment

Illustration by Ollanski
Alex Wilhelm

Read more about how Wilhelm’s company is brokering deals for breakout artists here.

Methodology: Billboard’s 40 Under 40 list was chosen by editors based on factors including but not limited to nominations by peers and colleagues, timely career accomplishments and overall impact on the music industry. Nominations for each Billboard power list open not less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For our editorial calendar, please email thom.duffy@billboard.com.) The nomination link is sent to press representatives and/or honorees of companies previously featured on any Billboard list, as well as those who send a request to thom.duffy@billboard.com. Nominations close and lists are locked not less than 90 days before publication. Unless otherwise noted, MRC Data is the source for tour grosses and sales/streaming data.