The highest-ranking African-American women at Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group are, respectively, Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam, Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone and Atlantic executive vp Juliette Jones. Here’s how Jones got to where she is today. (Find links to the other women’s stories below.)
Juliette Jones’ first interview for a record-promotion job took a weird turn.
It was 1994, and the male senior executive who would be her boss presented her with an off-color scenario. What would she do if a radio-programmer asked her to perform oral sex on him to get a record played?
“I said I’d been taught that all is fair in love and promotion,” recalls the frank-talking Jones. “So if that’s what we have to do to get records played, then I’ll be in line — right after the men. And he said, ‘You’re going to do great at this job.’”
And she did. Jones has parlayed that entry-level gig as Jive Records’ first mid-Atlantic regional promotion director for urban music into a nearly 25-year career that has included corporate-ladder-climbing stops at Virgin, J/RCA and Warner Bros. Traded from Warner to Atlantic in 2012 as senior vp urban promotion, Jones was promoted to her current post as executive vp in 2013. She has been the driving force behind radio hits by Bruno Mars, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, Gucci Mane and 2017 breakthrough superstar Cardi B, among others.
All these years later, Jones finds herself among a small circle of female promotion executives at major labels, including fellow Atlantic evp Andrea Ganis, Interscope president of promotion Brenda Romano, Columbia senior vp Ayelet Schiffman, Def Jam senior vp Nicki Farag and Epic executive vp Traci Adams. Overall, record promotion remains a male bastion. Asked if she has faced more challenges as a woman or as a person of color in promotion, Jones says woman.
And so she continues to share her story of the ’94 interview with the women — five on a 15-member team — who work in her department. “I tell them to feel free to use it if you’re ever faced with a similar programmer conversation,” says Jones. “I try to be very candid with them about issues unique to women who work in promotion.”
Such as: being mistaken for a groupie, which happened to Jones as recently as 2017. “Consistently in my career, when I’m with artists, I’ve been harassed because it’s assumed the woman is a groupie,” says Jones. “Ten men with no credentials will walk ahead of me, but security will stop me. ‘Oh, that’s right,’” she says, laughing. “‘I’m here to try to sleep with Young Thug.’”
But the Evanston, Ill., native doesn’t regret her decision to not become a doctor or to quit the University of Maryland, where she majored in accounting. She first discovered promotion when she and Arlinda Garrett, a radio promotion/marketing vet, worked as-customer service reps for MCI in Washington, D.C. Garrett was returning to the music business and asked Jones to be her intern. Between handing out tapes at clubs and attending industry conventions, Jones became hooked.
Beyond promotion being one of the highest-paid jobs at a label (“If I’m working, I like to make money”), the tremendous amount of autonomy involved was attractive to Jones. “I didn’t have to play nice with everyone in the sandbox to get their subjective opinion on my performance,” she says. “Everyone sees it every Monday morning when the charts come out.”
Five years of interning — including a free stint at WBLS New York replacing Sean “Diddy” Combs, who had exited to join Uptown Records — and five or six false starts prior to joining Jive only made Jones more determined to keep chipping away. Not that she had a choice. As a woman, “if you complained, you were going to be out,” she remembers. “I knew a woman who was blackballed for almost 10 years for complaining. So I just did the best I could.”
Thankful to #MeToo and #TimesUp for bringing issues to light and the supportive climate it’s fostering, Jones says there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of the male-female disparity in promotion. In fact, Jones and Thea Mitchem, executive vp programming of iHeartMedia’s Northeast division, are developing a mentorship program. “It’s important, as women, that we learn to use our power to support each other, plus be comfortable in asking questions and voicing our career desires,” says Jones. “We need more [Atlantic chairman/CEO] Julie Greenwalds and Sylvia Rhones in the top seats — someone who sees the potential in women. I don’t think men are up there systematically keeping us out. It’s just not top of mind for them.”
Meanwhile, the streaming revolution continues to impact the industry. When Jones joined Warner Bros. in 2011, she says maybe two digital people were on staff. She estimates that there are now 30, if not more, across formats at Atlantic. “There’s just an endless amount of work to do,” she says, “because music is becoming a volume business. Back in the day, we’d work a single for months, put out an album and pray it sold so we’d make some of our money back. Put one or 10 records up today, and we can start making money [immediately] on all of them.”
As for career goals, Jones admits she set only one plateau for herself after securing her first regional job in 1994: “That was to make six figures by the time I was 30, which was a long time ago. But I still care as much as I ever did, and it’s still a lot of fun. If you’re not competitive, not itching to go out for drinks so you can talk shit to other reps about your No. 1 record, this isn’t the job for you.”
POST SCRIPT: WHAT WAS A KEY INSIGHT EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?
“As an intern, I met the radio DJ George ‘Boogaloo’ Frasier once at a brunch, and he said, ‘Let me tell you something, baby girl: All these [celebrities] in here catching your attention, bedazzled and flashy, most of them can’t help you. If you want to be an executive, you have to know who can help you. If people aren’t trying to teach you anything or don’t give you the impression that they see any potential in you, leave them alone.’ When I got access to the labels, the rock stars to me were the executives, not the artists.” — Jones