A decade ago in London, a 15-year-old Elliot Grainge taught himself how to trade commodities online. He was drawn to the complex, fast-paced network of day trading, where risk-takers can reap huge rewards, but the side gig didn’t go as planned. “I lost all my money,” recalls Grainge with a laugh. “I decided that I needed to create a business where there wasn’t so much day-to-day volatility.”
Grainge, now 26, drew on that same penchant for data and fascination with the internet when he founded the independent hip-hop record label 10K Projects in Los Angeles in 2016, inspired by the adage that you can achieve mastery in any field with 10,000 hours of practice. His edge? An early grasp of SoundCloud’s youth-driven rap community, where he broke two of the platform’s buzziest acts, Trippie Redd and 6ix9ine, at a time when major-label heads were still trying to wrap their heads around the platform.
The inventive label has now surpassed 10 billion global streams, according to 10K Projects, and in August, Redd notched his third Billboard 200 top five title with !, which debuted at No. 3.
“When artists come home from the studio and think the song’s a hit, in this generation, they want it up within the next 24 hours,” says Grainge, the son of Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge. “SoundCloud became that quick hub of, ‘We’re going to put this out and build a fan base.’ And there were certain artists that stuck out.”
Drawn to Redd’s melodic cadence and punk-influenced sound, Grainge invited the Ohio native to dinner in West Hollywood in 2017. “Elliot ran through a plan,” remembers Redd, 20, who signed to 10K shortly after that meeting. “He was himself, but at the same time, it was business.” The artist liked that the friendly young entrepreneur offered him full creative control over his work and was onboard with his ambitious goal to release two projects per year. They now get together over dinner regularly to strategize. “I have a hand in everything,” adds Redd. “That’s amazing to me.”
Roughly 10,000 hours — a little over a year — into its existence, 10K hit its stride. In 2018, Redd dropped two Billboard 200 top five albums featuring Juice WRLD, Travis Scott and Diplo, while the rainbow-haired, controversial 6ix9ine linked with Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz for the melodic hit “FEFE,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Grainge has since doubled — and diversified — his artist roster with new signings like teen pop singer AUSTN and Puerto Rican rapper iann dior, whose debut, nothings ever good enough, has logged 100 million streams.
He’s also forming new alliances. In August, 10K and the publishing/distribution company Create Music Group made a joint strategic investment in music firm Homemade Projects, which covers touring, digital marketing, management and merchandise, with clients including Metro Boomin and G-Eazy. Says Grainge: “They’re a 21st-century company.” The partnership includes the joint label venture Homemade Records, which will be distributed by Caroline. While the label has yet to announce signings, Grainge says it will put out music before 2020.
10K has had setbacks. Days before the scheduled release of 6ix9ine’s debut album, Dummy Boy, last November, the rapper was indicted on federal racketeering and firearm charges. After an incident in Atlanta in June, Redd was charged with aggravated assault and battery. Legal actions are pending for both artists.
Even so, creatively, Grainge says that Redd is “a dream” to work with. “He’s extremely independent with his songwriting process and how he wants to lay the tracks out,” he adds. “He’s one of those human beings who shines.”
10K has been successful, he thinks, because the label continues to nurture its “niche, loyal, youthful” SoundCloud fan base by keeping its artists active on the platform, rather than abandoning it after an artist’s mainstream breakthrough. It also helps that Grainge is often close to his roster in age: “If you’ve grown up with iPhones and BlackBerrys,” he says, “you can understand some of the actions that artists might take, or the reasons they might go a certain way creatively or visually.”
Grainge likens today’s chaotic, boundary-pushing hip-hop culture to ’70s-era punk rock in Britain. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that he says his personal philosophy borrows from The Clash’s rowdy 1979 hit cover of “I Fought the Law.”
“It’s sort of this punk-rock phase I’m going through,” he says. “ ‘Fuck everyone, I’m doing it my way.’ ”
— TATIANA CIRISANO
Sandra Afloarei, 34
Senior vp promotion, Epic Records
Afloarei helped Travis Scott claim his status as a mainstream star this past year with Astroworld, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in August 2018 with 537,000 equivalent album units. “He’s a true modern-day rock star; he is what these punk-rock guys were doing 20 years ago, only in hip-hop,” says Afloarei, who was instrumental in assisting the rapper land two top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as a lead artist, including the No. 1 single “Sicko Mode.” “People said we were crazy and it was never going to happen,” says Afloarei. “But we did it.”
Most Pressing Issue: “It’s important to highlight the success of women in the industry on both the creative and business side. I don’t think we’re paid the same, [nor] are artists recognized the same.”
Madeleine Bennett, 30
Head of International Artist and Label Marketing, Spotify
Since March 2018 Bennett has been involved with the launch of Spotify in 18 new markets, she says, with distinct musical cultures, including the Middle East, North Africa, India, South Africa, Romania, Vietnam and Israel. “We have a responsibility to build ethically, sustainably and with intention,” says Bennett, who leads a team of 40 people across 77 markets and has overseen Spotify’s partnerships with the three major music groups as well as companies like Starbucks and Sony PlayStation. “Specifically, I want to work to promote more women making music, more young people exploring artist catalogs, more cultures exchanging and exploring musical traditions and more resources devoted to the mental and physical well-being of artists.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Learn to DJ. I’m working on it. I’d play a lot of female artists and music from other cultures.”
Josh Berman, 39
Senior vp streaming and digital marketing, Concord
Berman created a data management system for Concord that collects and cross-references consumer information across its music division. “We’re consistently shattering our own internal weekly streaming numbers, and that’s reflective of how we use data,” says Berman of the info that allows Concord to produce more efficient direct marketing with a much higher return of engagement and consumption. “We’ve achieved savings upwards of 70% against the industry standard on some of our advertising campaigns, because we’re targeting people who are more likely to engage with the ad.”
Most Pressing Issue: “Data siloing. We are the only industry in the world that does not share consumer info across the various buckets of the industry. It’s dumb.”
Jaclyn Bertsch, 39
Senior vp global label management and integration, The Orchard
When The Orchard acquired German distributor finetunes and Norway’s Phonofile, Bertsch, whose role spans over 40 markets, managed the process of absorbing the “high volume of incoming labels with diverse tastes,” she says. “This included all communication planning, label training, oversight of the metadata, catalog transfer, managing the assignment of incoming labels to our staff and general management of the transition plan.” This followed Bertsch’s involvement in 2017 with The Orchard’s integration of RED distribution in the United States and RED Essentials in the United Kingdom.
Mitch Blackman, 39
Agent, concerts; ICM Partners
Known for his success in hip-hop with clients Kid Ink, Ty Dolla $ign and the late Nipsey Hussle, Blackman shifted his focus to jazz in 2018. “I’m trying to make jazz mainstream; that’s my vibe,” he says, citing what he calls the “cutthroat” nature of the rap market’s boom in recent years as the impetus, which he notes has led to the rampant “stealing of acts” and “cutting commissions” among competing agencies. “You can’t be in the history books unless you create your own lane,” says Blackman, whose eclectic roster includes genre-defying artists like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and Masego. “Everyone chases trends, but [by] doing that, you never get a lifelong artist.”
Mac Clark, 39
Agent, Creative Artists Agency
As the longtime agent of The Chainsmokers, Clark played a role in the launch of Kick the Habit Productions, the duo’s film/TV company that has some 22 productions in development, and sold their first project, Paris (a feature film inspired by the pair’s titular hit single), to TriStar Pictures. “Any time one of our artists steps outside of their primary medium and succeeds, it’s something to cheer about,” says Clark. This includes Logic’s history-making first novel, Supermarket, which landed the Maryland rapper atop The New York Times’ Paperback Trade Fiction Best Sellers list, making him the first hip-hop artist to do so.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “See the Northern Lights.”
Brandon Davis, 30
VP A&R, Atlantic Records
Davis signed Lizzo in 2015 and has worked with her since, cheering as the breakout rapper-singer reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September with “Truth Hurts.” “We are just at the tip of the iceberg and scratching the surface of what will be a very long career,” he says. The eight-year Atlantic veteran also co-A&R’d The Greatest Showman, which became the world’s best-selling album of 2018, according to IFPI. “We got a lot of no’s,” says Davis of both projects. “What we built took everyone by surprise.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “I would love to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl.”
Allison Kaye, 38
President, SB Projects; Partner, Ithaca Holdings
In what has been a milestone year for SB Projects — with parent company Ithaca Holdings acquiring Big Machine Label Group in June for over $300 million — Kaye has led the day-to-day management of SB’s roster and the development of its TV, film and lifestyle properties. SB client Ariana Grande “has given pop artists the ability to finally do things their way,” says Kaye of the star who released two albums in six months (Sweetener in August 2018 and Thank U, Next in February 2019). Also in February, Grande became the first solo artist to occupy the top three spots on the Billboard Hot 100 (with “7 Rings,” “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” and “Thank U, Next”), and she’s posting the biggest numbers of her career with her ongoing Sweetener world tour — by the close of its North American leg in July, she had earned $78.8 million. Kaye is used to a demanding schedule; in 2017 she guided the creation of the One Love Manchester and Hand in Hand benefit concerts in 14 days apiece. That amount of time is also “what I consider crunchtime with starting a tour or releasing a new project,” she says. “My work life seems to exist in chaotic two-week stretches.”
Most Pressing Issue: “Fan engagement and retention. Everyone is releasing so much content. The challenge is getting people to invest in the artist and not just one song.”
Nicki Farag, 39
Executive vp Promotion, Def Jam Recordings
A 17-year Def Jam veteran, Farag in March 2018 became the first female executive vp in the company’s history. Her track record has included driving pop hits for Kanye West, Alessia Cara and Justin Bieber, as well as Rihanna, for whom Farag has promoted 14 No. 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 — and at least one chart-topping single on each of the singer’s last seven studio albums. “She is the quintessential radio artist,” says Farag. Now the executive is eyeing the label’s rising roster upstarts, like Dominican American DaniLeigh and Florida rapper-singer YK Osiris, whose breakout hit “Worth It” peaked at No. 48 on the Hot 100 in August. “ ‘Worth It’ has gone platinum and [Osiris’ 2018 hit] ‘Valentine’ went gold,” says Farag. Osiris “has touched a demographic, urban young teens, that hasn’t been touched in a really long time.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “My bucket list I just achieved. My wife and I bought a home in the Pacific Palisades. It’s our first home, ever.”
Becky Gardenhire, 38
Partner and co-head of nashville, WME
Gardenhire, who joined WME in 2002 and became a partner in 2017, led her team to book more than 14,000 dates for WME’s clients in the past year, she says, and oversaw Rascal Flatts’ Summer Playlist Tour this year. Passionate about breaking new bands, Gardenhire helped Ingrid Andress debut at the C2C: Country to Country festival in London and perform with Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild for Cracker Barrel’s new initiative “Five Decades, One Voice,” celebrating the women of country music. “There’s a lot of great opportunities for new clients right now,” says Gardenhire. “It’s healthier than it’s ever been, and it feels like it’s never stopping.”
Most Pressing Issue: “Diversity! I’m a part of [the Academy of Country Music’s] diversity and inclusion task force. We are diving deep into what steps we can all take to make sustainable change.”
Marissa Gastelum, 39
Latin music artist relations, Apple Music
Gastelum launched the Latin hit-driven ¡Dale Play! in October 2018 with the premiere of Bad Bunny and Drake’s “MIA.” It became the first Latin playlist on the music streaming service’s top five and remains the top Latin playlist throughout Latin America, reports Apple. ¡Dale Play! is also a platform for emerging artists, who often appear on Apple’s weekly companion radio show. “Labels are fighting for the [exposure],” says Gastelum. “These are our relations, our family.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Skydive.”
Justus Haerder, 35
Executive vp group strategy, mergers and acquisitions; BMG
Since joining BMG’s M&A team right out of college in 2009, Haerder has played a key role in the company’s expansion. He helped guide BMG’s largest label acquisition in a decade with the $100 million-plus deal for Nashville-based indie BBR Music Group, home of Broken Bow and Stoney Creek Records, in 2017. “That acquisition immediately gave us scale and muscle in that market,” says Haerder.
Ten Years Ago I Was…: “Just starting at BMG. I describe it as ‘a startup on steroids’ back then.”
Walter Jones, 38
Co-head of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
Jones’ promotion this month to co-head (with David Gray) of A&R for UMPG is his latest achievement in a decade-plus as a music publisher. He partnered with Quality Control to sign a publishing deal with Lil Baby (whose catalog has logged 6.1 billion streams) and won a Grammy Award earlier this year for co-producing H.E.R.’s self-titled LP, named best R&B album of the year. He’s also been the A&R collaborator for Quavo, Metro Boomin, Lil Yachty, CuBeatz, Quay Global, City Girls and more.
Most Pressing Issue: “Fair compensation for songwriters.”
Sam Juneman, 29
VP commercial partnerships, Universal Music Group
Juneman has worked on 12 No. 1 albums in her first year as vp commercial partnerships at UMG, she notes. One was Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, for which Juneman’s team created an interactive version of Eilish’s bedroom on the 17-year-old singer’s website. “How often do you get to do something so cool and weird and outside of the box?” says Juneman.
Fadia Kader, 37
Music partnerships, Instagram
Kader credits her previous work in the fashion industry for what she calls her “superpower” of forecasting the next big thing — like “doing Drake’s first sold-out concert [in Atlanta] that got him signed in 2009.” For Instagram, Kader defined music as one of the lead verticals for the IGTV long-form video app, working with Beyoncé’s team on content (her first video has netted over 12 million views) and with Pharrell Williams, who created a Tokyo city guide that allowed Instagram to be “part of the story and not just [a place for] it to live,” says Kader.
Brooke Michael Kain, 39
Chief digital officer, AEG Presents
Kain launched AEG’s customer data platform initiative in 2019, which provides tailored offers for ticket holders at select festivals. At the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware, targeted offers went out to more than 44,000 attendees, and at Stagecoach, the participation rate was over 90%. “Ultimately, this creates an experience that makes the consumer feel like we’re rewarding them,” says Kain, “flipping the idea of loyalty on its head, and it’s wildly successful.”
Ten Years Ago I Was…: “At Interscope working for Jimmy Iovine, probably until 3 or 4 in the morning every night. I was hustling to get Beats headphones into every Vevo video shoot. … I’ve come a long way.”
David Klein, 38
Agent, music leadership; UTA
Klein, who joined UTA in 2017 after spending 12 years at Creative Artists Agency, re-signed Australian alternative and electronic duo Empire of the Sun this past year and has helped guide the success of American Idol alumnus Alejandro Aranda. “He has sold out every show we’ve put up, with 3,000 tickets sold for his upcoming L.A. shows this fall,” says Klein of the artist who is touring under the pseudonym Scarypoolparty. “He is so original.”
Brock Korsan, 39
Senior vp urban A&R, Warner Records
Korsan helped ScHoolboy Q reach No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with CrasH Talk in May, but big sales and accolades no longer drive him at this point in his career. “I want a bunch of No. 1s, but impactful music is what I’m after,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to get to this place, so it feels like a dream realized.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “It’s happening. This article, this was a goal. Mama, I made it.”
Annie Lee, 39
CFO, Interscope Geffen A&M
Thanks to a superstar roster of acts including Billie Eilish, Imagine Dragons and Lady Gaga, Interscope has had “a huge amount of growth” in both revenue and the bottom line, says Lee, a reflection of reshaped budgets in a new era of single and album cycles. “There has been a shift in the way we manage the costs and financials here,” she says. “It’s a good problem to have.” A 13-year veteran of the label, Lee says her promotion to CFO in March still feels “a bit surreal.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “The truth is, before I turned 40 my dream was to become CFO, and I actually accomplished that. I just want to live here for a minute and take everything in and grow before the next thing.”
Kacie Lehman, 29
Senior vp partnerships, MAC Presents
Focused on getting “emerging artists into markets they haven’t been before,” Lehman landed rapper MadeinTYO’s image onto some 10 million cans of Sprite that could be scanned for exclusive content as part of the soda company’s “Fresh Face Series.” She also orchestrated Khalid’s global campaign with Forever 21, which featured him as the face of the retailer’s #f21xmusic summer and #wearforever initiatives. “Retail is the new media,” says Lehman, whose clients received exposure in nearly 1,000 retail stores nationwide over the past 18 months, she continues. “I encourage brands to integrate artists into every facet of their massive marketing machines.” That allows them “to tell impactful stories and increase sales for all.”
Most Pressing Issue: “Racism, sexism, ageism — all the ‘isms’ — affect the inner workings of our industry on a daily basis. I feel honored to be part of a workforce that is [addressing that]. And for the last time, your female colleague/boss isn’t aggressive or emotional — she’s assertive and passionate!”
Tiana Lewis, 31
Head of pop and R&B programming, Pandora
In April, Lewis launched the genre-spanning Pandora Now, the first channel available on both Pandora and its new owner, SiriusXM, which acquired Pandora last year. “There was a real need for a rhythm station where we can play the hottest songs and break new artists,” says Lewis, who works with curators to create 100% of the channel’s programming. She also oversees Today’s Hits, which leads all Pandora channels, averaging 120 million weekly spins, she says, and guided its Black Music Month campaign, this year honoring artists such as Lil Wayne and Mary J. Blige. “My ears have been the most important part of my career,” says Lewis.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Travel to 40 countries (layovers do not count), work with the next ‘greatest artist of all time’ and do everything possible to usher in more women of color in the music and tech space.”
Matthew Limones, 33
Manager of artist and label relations, Soundexchange
At SoundExchange, which collects royalties from programmed digital music services like SiriusXM, Limones reports he has “significantly increased our reach and our product’s value within the Latin market.” He identified rising stars like Maluma, Bad Bunny and Karol G early in their careers and ensured that established Latin acts received a greater portion of SoundExchange’s nearly $1 billion royalty payout in 2018. Billboard’s 2019 Latin Music Awards nominees — Ozuna, J Balvin, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee — “saw a 102% increase in combined payments from 2017 to 2018,” says Limones.
Most Pressing Issue: “The centralization of data: There is no central hub where people can find out who owns what.”
Miguel Lua, 39
Head of International management and marketing for Maluma
In partnership with WK Entertainment president Walter Kolm, Lua has helped build the career of Maluma, the Colombian superstar who has notched three consecutive No. 1s on the Top Latin Albums chart. “Besides his continued commercial and critical success, we made bold moves to move him outside of the Latin realm [and] onto the mainstream stage,” says Lua, citing his collaboration with Madonna on “Medellín” and an upcoming acting debut in the film Marry Me, alongside Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson.
Imran Majid, 37
Executive vp/co-head of A&R, Columbia Records
Majid — whom new label chairman Ron Perry named (with Justin Eshak) in April 2018 to head Columbia’s A&R department — recalls the day he walked into Perry’s office: “I was like, ‘I got to play you something.’ ” That “something” was Lil Nas X’s smash hit “Old Town Road.” Perry “saw the future when he heard that record,” which has since become the longest-running No. 1 in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. Majid, who started as an intern at Universal Music Group in 2003, continues to focus on superserving a global audience raised on social media. “The power’s always going to be with them,” he says of those fans. “So how do you identify and break new acts in this world? Because [that audience] is here to stay.”
Ten Years Ago I Was…: “Director of A&R for Republic Records, putting every ounce of me into this business.”
Mike Marquis, 37
Agent, Paradigm Talent Agency; Co-head, Photo Finish Records
Marquis helped guide the breakout of electro-pop trio SHAED, which landed its first No. 1 on the Alternative airplay chart in June with “Trampoline” after signing with Photo Finish Records two years earlier. “The band has gone from no fan base to this year playing Lollapalooza, Firefly [Music Festival], Hangout [Music Festival] and Governors Ball, and will sell out probably all the dates on their tour,” says Marquis. At Paradigm, his booking roster also includes Bleachers, Alice Merton and Bishop Briggs — but he emphasizes not overreaching: “If you don’t sign a ton of artists, you can stick with them longer.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Figure out the best work/life balance. I just don’t want to miss important things in my kids’ lives.”
Maggie Martin, 36
VP creative marketing, film and tv; Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Martin is one of the co-founders of Sony/ATV’s annual group songwriting sessions, held in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and Toronto, to create specialized songs for film, TV, trailers and commercials. One of the sessions yielded “Last Goodbye” from The Hot Damns (featuring Smokey Jones), which was No. 5 on the 2018 ranking of Billboard and Tunefind’s Top Film/TV Syncs. “We’re creating new revenue for the company and helping unsigned artists pay their rent,” says Martin, who placed “Last Goodbye” in the TV series The Originals. “I’m really very proud of where we’ve come. They’re total synch smashes.”
Andres Nieto, 33
Program Director, SiriusXM
With an ear to the future of dance music, Nieto worked with DJ/producer/remixer Diplo to create his exclusive channel, Diplo’s Revolution. “We’ve given a platform to artists [that] listeners might not have heard of,” says Nieto, who also programs SiriusXM’s downtempo Chill channel, which has attracted club DJs. “They’re constantly asking, ‘Who’s this? Can you connect me?,’ and then you see collaborations happen, which is pretty cool.”
Jake O’Leary, 30
Global head of artist and industry marketing, YouTube
Handpicked by Lyor Cohen two years ago to build YouTube’s artist marketing department from scratch, O’Leary has since recruited a global team of some 100 staffers. “It was a totally new muscle for YouTube,” says O’Leary, who has created over 150 artist campaigns for clients like Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and J Balvin. Contributing to the launch of YouTube’s subscription service in over 50 countries and helping drive 100 million installs of YouTube’s music app, O’Leary was part of the team that increased YouTube premium paid subscriptions 60% in the 12 months ending March 2019, he says. “I wake up every morning and think about two things: growing subscribers and making YouTube an amazing place for artists and partners.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Spend my life skiing and chasing winter.”
Lonny Olinick, 38
With revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30 expected to be up over 80%, topping $100 million, AWAL is “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, independent labels on the planet,” says Olinick, who has led the unit, a division of Kobalt, since 2016. That growth has come through partnerships with labels including Glassnote Records and such artists as Lauv, Cold War Kids and Billie Eilish’s brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell. Says Olinick: “AWAL has created a modern music company with the ability to sign, develop and take artists to the top of the charts.”
Brandon Phelps, 37
Manager, Full Stop Management
Phelps says John Mayer calls him “the facilitator of his visions,” whether that means helping his star client hijack the internet with the viral video for “New Light” (scoring 48.6 million YouTube views) or launching Current Mood With John Mayer, booking musical guests like Halsey, Maggie Rogers, Diplo, Alec Benjamin and Daniel Caesar for the Instagram-based talk show. As the day-to-day man on Mayer’s management team, Phelps also helped guide Mayer’s 2019 world tour, which started with dates in New Zealand, Australia and Asia. “Without being in an album cycle,” says Phelps, “we still sold out shows at Madison Square Garden and places he had never played, like Jakarta [Indonesia], Bangkok and Singapore.”
Brittney Ramsdell, 31
Senior vp film and TV synch, Island/Def Jam/Republic/Verve (Universal Music Group)
In her cross-label role, Ramsdell — who manages a team of nine — reports that she has grown her division’s TV synch revenue by $1 million in the past year with placements like the Jonas Brothers’ “Cool” in The CW Network’s summer campaign and Bishop Briggs’ “Hold On” in ABC’s The Good Doctor. She landed Alessia Cara’s “Out of Love” in After, and it has logged 69 million streams. She also helped break Republic Records’ The Score by orchestrating over 200 synchs for the alt-rock duo. “It’s like making mixtapes for a living,” says Ramsdell. “Everything else is really the hustle.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To… “Travel and make my way through every continent, Anthony Bourdain-style.”
Oana Ruxandra, 37
Executive vp new business channels/chief acquisition officer, Warner Music Group
A former senior vp of digital strategy and partnerships at Universal Music Group, Ruxandra joined WMG last December to lead digital acquisitions and strategic negotiations in a newly created role, overseeing business development and managing a team of 25. While the deals she has brokered so far are still “on lockdown,” she says, Ruxandra credits her success to the enthusiasm she has adopted in a second career. (She started out as a quantitative trader for a hedge fund.) “I eat, breathe, sleep music,” she says. “I’m grateful to Steve [Cooper, WMG CEO] for trusting me to lead the company in an area as important as digital.”
Most Pressing Issue: “Making sure that our artists are paid well and supported by the platforms that leverage their music.”
Gabe Spierer, 37
Global vp of content, Beggars Group
For Beggars Group — home to 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade, XL Recordings and Young Turks — Spierer has led the expansion of a global creative content department, with staff stateside and in the United Kingdom. For content including promotional and longform videos, Beggars aims to be “smarter about the way we invest and more integrated with our record campaigns,” he says. Spierer guided a partnership between the cloud service WeTransfer and Matador, as well as a video series (now ended) between Tidal and Car Seat Headrest.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Be part of producing a longform, feature-length piece of content that’s not a concert film.”
Sascha Stone Guttfreund, 30
President, ScoreMore Shows
Ten years ago, Stone Guttfreund was waiting tables to support his concert promotion company, ScoreMore, and struggling with substance abuse. Then he got clean and sober. “I got healthy, and I put everything I had into the business and into attempting to find the balance between mind, body and soul,” he says. “I am grateful beyond belief for what life looks like today.” Since going national with a Live Nation partnership in 2018, he says ScoreMore has sold 475,000 tickets to hip-hop shows, tours and seven festivals (including Travis Scott’s Astroworld and J. Cole’s Dreamville). Says Stone Guttfreund, who also manages Tory Lanez: “We’re just scratching the surface.”
Jenny Swiatowy, 36
VP/head of creative sync licensing, Capitol Music Group
In one of two “huge Apple campaigns,” Swiatowy placed SHAED’s “Trampoline” in an October 2018 MacBook Air ad, which helped propel the song to No. 1 on the Alternative airplay chart and generated 136 million streams. The synch led the alt-pop trio to become the first group led solely by a woman (vocalist Chelsea Lee) to top the Rock Airplay chart. “They started as a super-indie band, but this commercial really launched their career,” she says. Swiatowy also placed Sam Smith’s “Palace” in Apple’s 2017 holiday ad campaign for the iPhone X.
Most Pressing Issue: “Gender equality and the representation of women across all areas of the music business, specifically in A&R, production and engineering.”
Lauren Thomas Fowler, 35
Director of national promotion, Sony Music Nashville
While Luke Combs and Kane Brown have reigned on the Country Airplay chart thanks, in part, to Thomas Fowler’s promotion work, the success of Miranda Lambert’s “It All Comes Out in the Wash” — which debuted at No. 19 on Country Airplay in July — holds special significance for the executive known as LT. “The Revolution album from Miranda was part of the reason I decided to move to Nashville,” says Thomas Fowler. “I feel motivated every day to kick butt for our artists.”
Phil Thornton, 39
Senior vp/GM, RCA Inspiration
A champion of gospel music who was inducted into the Stellar Awards Hall of Fame in March, Thornton guides veteran and rising artists alike. While he worked on Snoop Dogg’s first gospel album, Snoop Dogg Presents: Bible of Love, and Kirk Franklin’s 13th studio LP, Long Live Love, Thornton says a highlight of his year was his first RCA Inspiration signing, The Voice finalist Koryn Hawthorne, whose single “Won’t He Do It” spent 41 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Gospel Songs. “We don’t have a lot of young, vibrant artists in our space,” he says. “I’ve been a leader in breaking a lot of the younger talent, [and] that I defined as success.”
Most Pressing Issue: “The lack of African-American executives running major record labels despite hip-hop and R&B being the dominant genres.”
Katie Welle, 37
Senior vp A&R, RCA Records
Becky G’s ascending star — promoted in tandem with Sony Music Latin, the artist has passed 1.4 billion streams and appeared at the 2019 Amazon Prime Day concert alongside Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and SZA — is a beacon of what Welle believes is the industry’s future. “I love being in the middle of Latin artists working with English-speaking artists, mixing it up and seeing what the future holds for multilanguage music,” says the A&R executive, who majored in international relations in college. Welle also has helped woo Destiny Rogers to RCA and is working on Kesha’s and Leikeli47’s upcoming projects.
Ten Years Ago I Was…: “Thinking it would be impossible that I would ever have kids and work in this business, and now I have two.”
Ashley Winton, 36
Senior vp creative services, Warner Chappell Music
“My team focuses on telling the incredible stories within our catalog, as well as helping writers explore innovative avenues across new media and brand partnerships,” says Winton. She’s part of the team behind the partnership of Warner Chappell and Warner Music Group with Build-A-Bear Workshop to create Build-A-Bear Records, with plans for original singles, albums and soundtracks — and those sound chips that make the bears talk. “There’s a lot of elements to that deal,” says Winton, but it demonstrates the music publisher’s efforts to “look beyond the music industry to find innovation, inspiration and synergies.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To… “Visit the Galápagos Islands and learn how to fly-fish.”
Contributors: Rich Appel, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Tatiana Cirisano, Leila Cobo, Camille Dodero, Jenn Haltman, Steve Knopper, Katy Kroll, Carl Lamarre, Joe Levy, Geoff Mayfield, Brooke Mazurek, Taylor Mims, Gail Mitchell, Paula Parisi, Alex Pham, Annie Reuter, Richard Smirke, Colin Stutz, Nick Williams, Xander Zellner
Methodology: Billboard editors and reporters weighed a variety of factors in determining the 2019 40 Under 40 list, including, but not limited to, Billboard’s 2018 Top Artists and Top Tours rankings; nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors; impact on consumer behavior as measured by such metrics as chart, sales and streaming performance, social media impressions, and radio/TV audiences reached using the latest data available as of July 23. Data in profiles is current as of Sept. 12. Career trajectory and overall impact in the industry are also considered. When available, financial results are taken into consideration. Where required, U.S. record-label market share was consulted using Nielsen Music’s market share for album plus track-equivalent and streaming-equivalent album-consumption units and Billboard’s quarterly top 10 publisher rankings. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music are the sources for tour grosses and sales/streaming data, respectively. Nielsen is also the source for radio audience metrics. Unless otherwise noted, album streaming figures cited represent collective U.S. on-demand audio totals for an album’s tracks, and song and artist streaming figures represent U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.
The Song That Sums Up My Philosophy
Tiana Lewis: “Formation” from Beyoncé. When you hear the first second-and-a-half of that song, you’re at attention. It’s literally a women’s anthem. It’s like: “Pull it together, we’re going to slay.”
Maggie Martin: Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” I’m this little white girl from Texas. It empowers me, makes me feel like a badass even though I’m a mom.
Brandon Davis: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. I grew up obsessed with Rocky. That song is very inspirational and about overcoming adversity and staying focused.
Josh Berman: The Monty Python song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” When I started in 2002, people said labels were dead. Lo and behold, 17 years later, we’re still here.
Causes Of Concern
This year’s 40 Under 40 executives cite the charities that inspire them to give back.
MusiCares: “The music community needs to take care of our own. Making sure artists have access to health care, financial assistance and mental-health support as they dedicate their lives to [music] but without safety nets other careers provide.” — Lonny Olinick
Planned Parenthood: “Regardless of your stance on all these issues, women’s reproductive rights are under attack, and we have to do what we can to help support women getting accessible and affordable health care.” — Jenny Swiatowy
The Ally Coalition: “[It’s] Jack [Antonoff]’s charity. He goes out and partners with local shelters for LGBTQ youth and tries to put things into action, and the results are very direct. With Bleachers and all Jack’s touring, we always do a buck a ticket [in donations].” — Mike Marquis
The Innocence Project: “I find it atrocious that we live in a world where innocent people can be put behind bars. I’ve had limited experience with helping exonerees, but I hope to be able to so do more so in the future.” — Sascha Stone Guttfreund