Women in Music 2018

Ahead of Super Bowl LIII Spotlight, Atlanta Music Leaders Declare 'It's The New Motown'

Steve Kelley/Getty Images
Atlanta skyline.

When the NFL announced that Super Bowl LIII would take place Feb. 3, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, music fans and artists created wish lists of halftime performers who could spotlight the city’s rich musical history. Bruno Mars called for a set that included OutKast, T.I., Gucci Mane, Lil Jon, Jeezy and Jermaine Dupri. “It would be the best party TV has ever seen,” Mars tweeted to the NFL, telling the league that it had an “opportunity to celebrate incredible hip-hop [artists] from Atlanta.”

The NFL ended up choosing Maroon 5 for the performance, but Atlanta isn’t wasting time complaining about a non-hip-hop headliner. Its music industry leaders are instead determined to showcase -- off the field -- the business and creative strengths of Georgia and its capital city.

From The B-52s and R.E.M. to OutKast and Gucci Mane, Georgia has long been at the forefront of shaping global music culture. In previous decades, labels such as LaFace and Disturbing Tha Peace made Atlanta a musical center, while Quality Control Music has helped carry on that tradition in the past few years, sending Migos, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby up the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100.

The city’s creative power is matched by an increasingly supportive business climate. The Georgia Music Investment Act, which took effect Jan. 1, offers new tax breaks to draw more business to a place known for influencing music across genres, from country and gospel to rock’n’roll and hip-hop.

Music business leaders in Atlanta are ready for their city’s media close-up during Super Bowl LIII weekend, and shared their insights about Atlanta today.

‘THE HEARTBEAT OF MUSIC’

“Atlanta is the heartbeat of music,” says Kevin “Coach K” Lee, COO of Quality Control Music. “It’s like a modern-day Detroit when Motown controlled the sound and feel of music. Even the film and television industry has had a really big liftoff in Atlanta that’s influenced by [the] culture of the music business here. Quality Control Music will be [taking] advantage of [that] by making sure that our artists and producers [are] performing [in] or having their music placed in the films and television shows being produced here.”

‘THE HIGHEST CALIBER’

“It really is amazing, the amount of producers here of the highest caliber,” says Robert Polay, founding partner of the business management firm Polay + Clark, which has represented India.Arie, Keith Sweat and others. He lauds “the success of Quality Control from a management and label perspective. [Also], startup companies like Music Matters are doing sound production for all of the sound and video festivals.”

Where to go: “The Club at Chops’ Lobster Bar [70 W. Paces Ferry Road N.W.]. Whatever level celebrity you are, you can get in and out of there without being seen and have five-star service. No cameras allowed.”

‘FORWARD THINKING’

Charlie Brusco, president of Red Light Management Atlanta, represents Styx, Don Felder, Ann Wilson and others. He’s also a veteran promoter, and notes the strength of Atlanta as a live-music market. “Forward thinking by [Red Light founder] Coran Capshaw and [Live Nation Atlanta president] Peter Conlon resulted in Chris Stapleton doing two shows in Atlanta: one at Verizon [Wireless] Amphitheatre and the other at Cellairis Amphitheatre. This shows that there is a distinct market difference between the northern and southern suburbs of Atlanta.”

Where to go: “Eddie’s Attic [515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur, Ga.], the Buckhead Theatre [3110 Roswell Road N.E.] and the Tabernacle [152 Luckie St. N.W.] all cater to good sounds and good times.”

‘OFFICIAL COOPERATION’

“What has happened in Atlanta is unusual in that the political world -- from the city to the state government -- has understood the value, in the last three to four years, of what the music business means economically,” says attorney Joel Katz, founding chairman of the global entertainment and media practice at Greenberg Traurig. “We have never seen more cooperation from city and state officials trying to get more things done.”

Where to go: “We go a lot to Atlas [88 W. Paces Ferry Road N.W.] at the St. Regis Atlanta. [We frequent] a lot of the good restaurants. It’s helpful in terms of getting people to talk while eating and drinking a good glass of wine.”

‘THE SOUND HAS PERMEATED THE INDUSTRY’

“Atlanta is a global city,” says Chaka Zulu, a founding partner of the label, management group and tech firm Culture Republic, which launched hip-hop artist Nick Grant in 2017. “When you think of pop culture relevance, not just of Atlanta’s superstars [but also] the creatives and the business side, the [city’s] sound has permeated the industry; you can’t get away from it.”

‘TEAM OF VISIONARIES’

“Since the Olympic Games in 1996, Atlanta and the state of Georgia [have] remained profoundly on the world stage,” says Keith Perissi, director of the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program at Kennesaw State University. “Now, with the Super Bowl, Atlanta will showcase a state-of-the-art stadium that can host sporting events and major live concerts, due to [Atlanta Falcons owner] Arthur Blank and his team of visionaries.”

‘THE HUB OF IT ALL’

“Productionwise, it’s leading the world, and it’s the epicenter of music, whether it’s blues, country, hip-hop, R&B or gospel,” says Al “Butter” McLean, senior vp creative at Kobalt, who has signed publishing and administration deals with Jeezy, Noah “40” Shebib and, most recently, Childish Gambino. “It’s the hub of it all,” adds McLean. “There’s a lot of help coming from the school system as well for upcoming talent.” He cites the music programs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia in Athens.

‘ATLANTA SETS THE TRENDS’

“The South still has something to say,” declares DeeDee Hibbler, production manager of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission, which promotes the growth of music, film, TV and digital ventures in DeKalb County, just east of Atlanta. “Atlanta sets the trends that shape modern-day music. The music tax credit has been the most promising development for the state of Georgia’s music economy.”

‘A DEEP POOL OF TALENT’

“There are over 60 recording studios and 100 venues in metro Atlanta alone,” says Tammy Hurt, managing partner at Placement Music, a music production and licensing company. “Not only is Atlanta the epicenter of hip-hop, our Atlanta Symphony is a 27-time Grammy Award-winning orchestra. We have a deep pool of diverse talent, in addition to the resources of businesses such as City National Bank and Monarch Private Capital that understand the value of music.”

Where to go: “Venkman’s [740 Ralph McGill Blvd. N.E.], located in the Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta’s white-hot neighborhood, built by local musicians for musicians.”

‘THE CONSTANT INFLUX’

“The most promising recent development is the constant influx of non-Atlantans in the industry visiting the city more often,” says Kei Henderson, founder and senior vp marketing of management company Sincethe80s, which represents 21 Savage and others. “Atlanta is a city where you have to see it to believe it.”

‘WE CAN SUPPORT BIG EVENTS’

“We’ve got everything going on here, including the [new tax] incentive,” says Stephen Weizenecker, a partner in the law firm Barnes & Thornburg, where he is a member of its entertainment, media and sports practice group. “It came into effect this year, and we’re starting to see a lot of interest from disparate groups. Getting the Super Bowl is a great example that we can pull something like that off. We can deal with the high-level talent, provide the support and infrastructure, both human and physical, for rehearsal and the stadium that can support big events.”

‘DO THE DEAL’

“The music, film and tech industries are collaborating to provide a platform for the next generation of creatives, with a focus on artist ownership of their intellectual property,” says Mikael Moore, managing partner of Wondaland, the music company co-founded by Janelle Monáe. “I love that local music companies are bringing resources back to Atlanta and investing in the future of the city. The attitude across the board has been: Do the deal wherever you need to, but build the studio, workspace or platform in the city.”

‘FINANCIAL OPPORTUNITIES’

Tunde Balogun, co-founder of LVRN, the label whose artist 6LACK debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in September with East Atlanta Love Letter, is on the board of Invest Atlanta, an economic development group that co-launched the Creative Industries Loan Fund. “It really is going to give people opportunities financially that they never had.”

Where to go: “I definitely take all my people to The Cheetah [a strip club at 887 Spring St. N.W.] -- [it serves] the best fried chicken you’ll ever have.”

‘WE ARE THE TRENDING TOPIC’

“Atlanta is expanding, and it is time to create more avenues for our artists, young executives and creatives,” says Malita Rice of Mogul Mentality, who manages OG Parker and Deko, producers of Migos’ “Slippery” hit. “We are the trending topic. Atlanta constantly gives the people something to talk about.”

Metro Atlanta’s Hot Venues

SunTrust Park
Capacity: 41,150

State Farm Arena
Capacity: 20,919

Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood
Capacity: 19,004

Infinite Energy Center
Capacity: 13,000

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park
Capacity: 12,000

Columbus Civic Center
Capacity: 10,000

State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park
Capacity: 6,700

Wolf Creek Amphitheater
Capacity: 5,420

Fox Theatre​
Capacity: 4,600

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Capacity: 2,750

Source: Billboard Boxscore

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of Billboard.