For Billboard‘s annual 40 Under 40 list, executives from all corners of the music business share their biggest successes from the past year — and how they’re responding to the unique challenges 2020 has brought.
Senior vp, international strategy and operations, Warner Music Group
Adeniji, 33, has ramped up activities in emerging markets like India and Africa, notably entering into a partnership with Africori, the largest digital music distribution company in sub-Saharan Africa. “The democratization of the playing field is bringing music from so many parts of the world to the forefront,” says Adeniji, though she laments how the pandemic has limited in-person meetings, which are “essential to building trust” in non-Western markets.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Attend all the [tennis] Grand Slams. Only two more to go: the French Open and Australian Open.”
Founded in 2016, Wave is a virtual concert company that draws on video game concepts to let artists like Tinashe and John Legend perform as avatars inside digital worlds. With touring in limbo, 37-year-old Arrigo says, “We’ve had the entire music industry reaching out to us,” including The Weeknd, who teamed with Wave in August for an otherworldly TikTok LIVE concert that reached over 2 million live viewers and raised $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative.
Key Advice From a Mentor: “Veteran game designer Gordon Bellamy [told me], ‘Don’t keep your idea secret. Scream it from the mountaintops because you’ll find key team members who will help you.’ ”
Services and Africa lead, Platoon
Apple-owned artist services company Platoon doubled down on its efforts in Africa this year, with London-based Ayoola, 32, leading the way. The company has expanded its roster to nearly 100 African acts, for which it provides marketing, distribution, A&R, promotion and now, for South African artists, health insurance. “I see my role as helping artists bring their vision to life,” she says, “and see myself as an extension of the teams they may already have in place.”
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “A corporate banker. Crunching numbers and working on accounts — similar to what I do today, but way less fun.”
The label (distributed by Interscope) has had major wins with 6LACK and Summer Walker — whose Over It LP scored the largest U.S. streaming week for an R&B album by a female artist last fall — but Balogun, 32, counts LVRN’s mental health initiative as its most important victory. “[We offer] free services to our employees, artists and their teams,” he says. “Our intention is to build a support system that grows along with our business.”
My Side Hustle: “LVRN is my whole life, but my partner Justice [Baiden, LVRN head of A&R] and I are thinking about starting a DJ collective.”
Executive vp A&R, RCA Records; Co-founder, Keep Cool
Balogun, 37, set aside a rap career for the music business after college, leaving him fluent in the creative process. “I compare it to the NBA,” he says. “A lot of the greatest coaches were players. They understand the game.” He has signed or helped sign game-changing talent to RCA — Bryson Tiller, Khalid, SZA, Childish Gambino — and counts the breakthrough of Doja Cat and the four Grammy nods for Lucky Daye (an artist on his Keep Cool joint venture with RCA) as highlights of the last year.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Write a television pilot.”
Partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron
From the Music Publishers Association to the estates of iconic songwriters, Baron’s counsel on copyright law, contract negotiations and related digital-rights issues is much sought after. Between December 2019 and February 2020, she closed deals with an aggregate value exceeding $250 million — all while in her second trimester of pregnancy. Since then, the pandemic has kept her busy with catalog acquisition work. “The influx of new entrants to the market and the [historic] prices being paid make this quite an exciting time,” says Baron, 37.
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Be a human rights lawyer.”
Overseeing the Miami-based talent incubator’s label, publishing, management and media divisions, Borrero, 34, has helped award-winning producer Tainy rack up a handful of top five Hot Latin Songs hits, including this year’s chart-topper “Un Dia” (with Dua Lipa, J Balvin and Bad Bunny) and “Agua” (a Balvin team-up featured in the latest SpongeBob SquarePants movie) — both of which Borrero executive-produced. It’s all part of his mission, he says, to use “media to impact the way the world looks at Latin content and its creators.”
My Side Hustle: “Running my Toronto-based restobar, Regulars.”
VP business affairs, Kobalt Music
Advising on predeal strategy, contract negotiations and broader company operations, Brown says he has the “most occupied couch in the office” with the number of colleagues seeking his counsel at the publisher and rights administrator. The 34-year-old describes his team as “pandemic-proof,” pointing to reupped contracts with producer Teddy Walton (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock) and DJ-producer Jax Jones as work-from-home successes.
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “Folding denim in Gap, working as a part-time office administrator and interning at a music law firm.”
Global head of music marketing, Spotify
When not overseeing the promotion of flagship playlists like RapCaviar and ¡Viva Latino!, Butler, 34, and her team are delivering 50-plus experiential activations for over 40,000 consumers annually. In 2020, Butler led a group of 50 employees to launch Phenomenal Black Music, a series on Spotify’s Black History Is Now hub featuring playlists, merchandise and more in one of Spotify’s biggest campaigns to date. “We all have to make an impact with the work we put out into the world,” says Butler.
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “A marketing manager at Microsoft with ambitions to work in music.”
Senior vp/head of creative, Pulse Music Group
Pulse has had a banner 2020, with three of Calhoun’s songwriters scoring Hot 100 No. 1s: Starrah (Beyoncé’s remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage”), Tyler Johnson (Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”) and OZ (Drake’s “Toosie Slide”). “All of our producers and songwriters have really been coming into their own,” says Calhoun, 29. “That’s what I’m most proud of: signing these artists and helping put them in positions to achieve these incredible numbers.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Have no backup plan. It was really just this.”
Steve “Steve-O” Carless
A&R executive, Republic Records; Founder, SC Company
Though his team wasn’t expecting the two posthumous Grammys his late business partner Nipsey Hussle won at this year’s ceremony, the 37-year-old says that “a lot of sacrifice, failure, trial and tribulations are attached to that success, so it’s more than gratifying — it’s surreal.” He didn’t take a break to rest on those laurels though: “My job is about never allowing the train to stop,” says Carless, who also co-A&R’d Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift and her remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Be an executive in the NFL.”
VP marketing, Warner Records
As the label’s self-described “point guard,” Corbett-Rice, 37, runs innovative marketing campaigns to create what she calls “sustainable visibility” for signees. Recent successes include a TikTok campaign with pop-up dance classes that helped propel Saweetie’s “My Type” to No. 1 on the Rhythmic airplay chart; a series of “Wale & Chill” fan activations that contributed to Wale’s “On Chill” topping Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop; and a Postmates giveaway for fans of rising rapper NLE Choppa.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Visit every continent and write a book on being a career mom in the entertainment business.”
VP artist relations, marketing and special projects, Capitol Music Group
Isabel De Jesús
Director of A&R and premium content, Sony Music U.S. Latin
As one of the few female A&R directors in Latin music, De Jesús, 34, helped Pedro Capó score his first Latin Airplay No. 1 last year (with the Farruko remix of “Calma” ) and a Latin Grammy in 2018 for the concert special En Letra de Otro, which she co-created and co-produced; the latter has since led her to develop other longform content with HBO, Facebook, YouTube and others: “The opportunities in the audiovisual space are something I’m very excited about.”
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “An A&R coordinator delivering my first massive project: a live album for Thalía, Primera Fila.”
Senior vp video strategy and content partnership, Epic Records
Steering the YouTube/VEVO strategy for Epic’s roster became an especially vital role during lockdown, and DeLuca, 39, has curated over 100 virtual performances in the last eight months. She also worked to keep Future’s “Life Is Good” video atop VEVO’s U.S. chart for 34-plus weeks and supported Travis Scott’s game-changing Fortnite event, applauding the industry’s “willingness to think outside the box on how you can make compelling visuals.”
Key Advice From a Mentor: “Sylvia Rhone told me, ‘Don’t take no for an answer.’ There’s power in hearing that from someone that has broken through so many barriers.”
Head of label licensing and partnerships, TikTok
After almost a decade at Warner Music Group overseeing licensing, business development and digital strategy, Gardner joined TikTok in 2019 to work the opposite side. She now cuts deals with labels so that the app’s 100 million monthly active U.S. users can play music in their posts. “It’s exciting to see how quickly the platform adapts,” says Gardner, 38, who also helped artists like Jason Derulo and Megan Thee Stallion pivot to livestreaming on TikTok with its #HappyAtHome series in March.
My Side Hustle: “I got engaged this summer, so my new part-time job is planning this wedding.”
CEO/manager, Isla Management
Since founding his company in 2018, the Toronto native, 29, has built up a roster of some of hiphop’s biggest producers, including Boi-1da and OZ. In 2020, he also guided R&B upstart Giveon to his first Hot 100 hit (with Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle,” a collaboration Gebrelul set up after passing along a voice memo of Giveon singing) and launched Isla Publishing, a joint venture with Sony/ATV. “I feel like it got busier [during the pandemic],” he says. “Everyone is asking for beats.”
My Side Hustle: “Fashion. I [used to work] with athletes on personal shopping, creative direction, styling, wardrobing.”
VP A&R, Universal Music Latin Entertainment/Capitol Latin/Machete Music
A key talent scout in the reggaetón scene, Gonzalez, 38, helped propel Karol G to global stardom with her second album, Ocean (No. 2 on Top Latin Albums), and her Nicki Minaj team-up “Tusa,” which topped Hot Latin Songs for four consecutive weeks last fall. He has also signed rising stars Guaynaa and Cauty to the UMLE roster. “Latin music is trending worldwide,” he says, “and our label was instrumental for that movement. It kick-started this amazing new momentum in Latin music that’s here to stay.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Watch the aurora borealis in Iceland.”
Joojong “JJ” Joe
Head of North America, YG Entertainment
Agent, music, UTA
Crucial in building the live careers of hiphop powerhouses like YG, Tierra Whack and DJ Khaled, Jordan, 33, has spent the past few months finding opportunities for clients in “parts of the business that may not have been a possibility before the pandemic,” he says. In April, he booked Young Thug for Offset and Friends, a virtual concert on Oculus and Facebook that featured UTA clients and raised enough money to cover close to 325,000 meals for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “About to begin my journey as an assistant at WME.”
BMG surpassed $670 million in revenue in 2019, and London-based Katovsky has his hands full keeping it growing as it expands its services for artists and songwriters, including a now-unified global digital team, new data analytics tools and a neighboring rights service. He also chairs BMG’s COVID-19 resilience committee. “It has been incredibly intense adding crisis management to the day job,” says Katovsky, 39. “But it has also been incredibly rewarding.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Relax. I’d love to travel on a really nice holiday.”
VP synchronization, Concord Music Publishing
When she’s not pitching the catalogs of iconic songwriters to music supervisors, Kirkpatrick, 32, works with Concord’s A&R team to develop synch-friendly acts like Ruelle (the No. 2 synch artist of 2019, according to Tunefind). In the past year, her team secured placements on HBO (Big Little Lies, Watchmen), Netflix (Black Mirror) and Hulu (the Big Time Adolescence trailer) — including songs that came out of a yearly Nashville synch camp she organizes for 70-plus songwriters.
Key Advice From a Mentor: “Carla Wallace [cofounder of Big Yellow Dog Music] told me, ‘Focus on the writers you work with. Opportunity and success come when you put them first.’ ”
Senior director of A&R, Warner Music Nashville
Calling himself a “musical midwife,” Kohli, 34, says, “I see projects through until they are ready to meet the world.” His biggest “births” since last year include Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours” with Justin Bieber, a multiplatform smash, and the breakthrough success of Ingrid Andress with “More Hearts Than Mine.” Says Kohli: “We’re seeing a resurgence of female artists at country radio. About damn time.”
Key Advice From a Mentor: “The first day I started at Warner, [executive vp A&R] Scott Hendricks said: ‘Never for one second feel pressure to sign an artist or agree with us. We’re hiring you for your opinion.’ ”
Executive vp business and artist development, SM Entertainment USA
After being tasked two years ago with helping establish a U.S. division of South Korean entertainment giant SM, Lopez has played a major role in introducing American audiences to K-pop acts like supergroup SuperM (who topped the Billboard 200 in 2019) and NCT 127 (who reached the chart’s top five). “Our goal is to remove the ‘K’ from K-pop,” says Lopez, 36. “We want these artists to be the biggest pop artists in the world.”
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “Completing my fourth and final year at Westlake Studios, where I juggled being a full-time runner and assistant engineer.”
Executive vp global digital strategy, Warner Chappell Music
During quarantine, Mackay’s chief concern has been continuing to close the best deals for the publisher’s roster of songwriters, whose recent signings include Quincy Jones and Duran Duran. With the company’s third-quarter digital revenue up 41% year-over-year, Mackay, 39, and his team have been laser focused on the livestreaming market, where they’ve simplified the licensing process for songs, and a newly streamlined plan for podcast clearances.
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Be getting paid to read people’s tarot cards or be in the circus, like my grandfather.”
The Asia-focused label/management company made a splash in 2020 with new albums from singer-songwriter NIKI and alt-R&B star Joji (whose Nectar LP debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200). Miyashiro, 39, also formed an artist-development partnership called Paradise Rising with a Filipino telecom. Next up: launching a multimedia project celebrating hip-hop legends, with 100% of proceeds from new music — including a collaboration with members of Wu-Tang Clan — going to racial-justice initiatives.
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Be in the studio making a major motion-picture soundtrack for an action-packed global blockbuster.”
VP philanthropy, SB Projects
VP marketing, The Orchard
Working across genres and 45 territories, Noyes oversees YouTube channel management for Latin heavyweights like Daddy Yankee and Ozuna, and she recently supported the release of BTS’ latest album with initiatives such as the launch of the group’s Soundcheck Sweepstakes; winners gained special access to the band’s biggest livestream event to date. “Artist-to-fan engagement has strengthened in the last [eight] months,” says Noyes, 36. “The interaction, while fully digital, has become more authentic.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Be working with people with developmental disabilities.”
VP creative A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Nunez, 34, made his mark quickly after joining the publisher in late 2019, having signed one of his favorite artists, Playboi Carti, as well as Dominic Fike, Bugz Ronin, Fivio Foreign, Brandon Finessin and TM88. Nunez typically travels three weeks out of every month, but during the pandemic he has found other ways to keep himself and his roster busy: “We’ve set up multiple songwriting camps through Zoom, secured placements virtually and maintained relationships the best we could.”
Before I Turn 40, I Want To…: “Contribute to a song that wins a Grammy.”
Head of A&R, West Coast, Prescription Songs
The 33-year-old compares the publishing company’s roster to a family: “We talk to them almost every day and are with them through the ups and downs this crazy industry brings.” Even amid a pandemic, there have been plenty of ups: KBeaZy co-produced 24kGoldn and iann dior’s Hot 100 chart-topping “Mood,” while Emily Warren co-wrote Dua Lipa’s No. 2 smash “Don’t Start Now.” “Instead of doing double sessions every day,” says Pasricha, “writers have taken this time to home in on the people they do their best work with.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Work at NASA. I even went to Space Camp in middle school.”
Head of marketing, Apple Music/Apple Podcasts
Plotnik, 34, is charged with driving growth and increasing listenership, and though the tech giant hasn’t released Apple Music subscriber numbers this year, one market research firm claimed double-digit year-over-year gains in an April report. One of Plotnik’s campaigns, for the Rap Life playlist and radio show, has featured Cardi B, Future, Roddy Ricch and Gunna. “Our creative shoots started just before the pandemic,” he says, “and our teams quickly pivoted, blending filmed footage with a new animated solution that allowed us to bring artists to life without filming those artists live.”
My Side Hustle: “Volunteering for a nonprofit called Think Elephants International and studying to get my real estate license.”
Senior director of tour marketing, U.S. concerts, Live Nation
Last year, Plumley stood mesmerized inside Chicago’s United Center as Billie Eilish played one of her first arena shows; this year, the 37-year-old helped execute the marketing strategy for what would have been Eilish’s biggest North American trek to date. “We don’t often have the ability to reflect and evaluate,” she says of work amid the pandemic. “While my day-to-day is different, it’s rooted in the same entrepreneurial hard-working spirit of serving artists.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Work in theater or Broadway. My first marketing job was for touring productions in Tucson, Ariz.”
Senior vp business and legal affairs, 10K Projects
10K Projects has scored wins with a string of buzzy artists this year — including Surfaces, Internet Money and iann dior — and Price, 39, has been the “fixer” making sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. That means negotiating contracts, clearing features or sorting out rights as opportunities come up. “Business and legal are at the center of everything the label does,” she says. “It’s a lot, but I love it.”
Key Advice From a Mentor: “Dina LaPolt, who was my former boss when I was in private practice, gave me the best advice during the 21 Savage [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention] crisis: Trust your gut.”
Label relations manager, indies, Amazon Music
A former educator who taught high school history, Stuart, 30, helped Amazon Music launch its Breakthrough program for emerging artists in July, giving exposure to musicians from country star Gabby Barrett to R&B singer Kiana Ledé. “We use the full weight of Amazon to support these artists through many, many months,” says Stuart, who also helped create resources for artists and labels to establish themselves on Twitch during the pandemic.
My Side Hustle: “I play drums in an indie band in Seattle.”
Senior director of A&R, Island Records
A self-described “artists’ champion fighting to protect their integrity,” Thomas, 37, guided Skip Marley and Toni Braxton to No. 1 R&B singles in the past year and celebrated Jessie Reyez’s No. 4 debut on Top R&B Albums in April. He’s also actively nurturing the next wave of Black executives: “So much of our contributions drive the culture, and that needs to be reflected in equity, ownership, compensation and visibility.”
Ten Years Ago, I Was…: “Working as an A&R assistant at Columbia Records and co-managing R&B legend Faith Evans.”
Executive vp, SAL&CO
Ten years ago, when Unwin joined CEO Wassim “Sal” Slaiby’s team as an intern, he was just about to sign The Weeknd. Today, when she’s not striking deals on behalf of a management roster that now includes acts like Doja Cat and Bebe Rexha, the 34-year-old is trying to champion diverse voices: “Our management team is now 85% women, and we’re working to strengthen the pipeline of women and people of color coming up in the music industry.”
If I Didn’t Work in Music, I Would…: “Be a doctor of naturopathic medicine.”
Senior vp corporate development and strategy, Universal Music Group
Specializing in acquisitions and investments, Voillemot, 39, played an integral part in UMG’s late-2019 deal with Tencent Music Entertainment, which gave the Chinese streaming giant 10% of the world’s largest record label in exchange for $3.36 billion. “It was stressful, but not in a bad way,” he says. “It was very transforming in terms of what Universal needs in Asia.”
Key Advice From a Mentor: “This one’s coming from my dad, who passed away a few years ago: ‘Never underestimate your opponent or judge. Don’t be impressed by them, but respect them and who they are.’ ”
Co-founder/COO, Create Music Group
The rapidly growing distribution/rights management/ media company, which collected over $100 million in revenue last year, saw client 6ix9ine top the Hot 100 this year with the Nicki Minaj team-up “TROLLZ” — the chart’s first independent No. 1 in two years. Feats like that are contributing to a “mass exodus of major artists finding more lucrative homes with independent labels,” says Williams, 32, who also spearheaded the company’s Splits app for songwriters.
My Side Hustle: “Day trading in companies that are disruptive in big ways. Tesla has treated me well!”
VP booking and strategy, AEG/Goldenvoice
A talent buyer for several California venues and festivals, Yacoubian — also part of Coachella’s core booking team — delivered standout years for spots like L.A.’s Greek Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in 2019. As she works to get touring pros back to work, Yacoubian, 36, is also supporting GV BLACK (a resource group for Black employees) by helping develop “distinct pathways for current and future [minority] vendors, entrepreneurs and creatives.”
Key Advice From a Mentor: “Samantha Kirby Yoh [cohead of UTA Music] told me, ‘Be tough but kind.’ I think about that every day.”
Contributors: Alexei Barrionuevo, Dave Brooks, Anna Chan, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Leila Cobo, Stephen Daw, Griselda Flores, Gab Ginsberg, Josh Glicksman, Steve Knopper, Joe Levy, Jason Lipshutz, Joe Lynch, Taylor Mims, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman, Jessica Roiz, Claudia Rosenbaum, Dan Rys, Colin Stutz, Andrew Unterberger, Christine Werthman, Nick Williams
Methodology:Billboard power lists are chosen by Billboard editors. Nominations for each power list open not less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For our editorial calendar listing publication dates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives and/or honorees of companies previously featured on any Billboard power list, as well as those who send a request before the nomination period to email@example.com. Nominations close and lists are locked not less than 90 days before publication. Billboard’s 40 Under 40 list was chosen by editors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. In addition to nominations, editors weigh the success of each executive’s company or affiliated artists as measured by chart, sales and streaming performance. Career trajectory and industry impact are also considered. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music/MRC Data 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/artist streaming figures represent U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.