When Gina Tucci helped Atlantic Records re-launch their dance-focused Big Beat label in 2010, she faced an immediate problem. “We were a new label, but we had no new catalog,” she remembers. “I get promoted, I’m sitting at my new desk, and I’m like, ‘Where do we go from here?'”
Suffice it to say, she figured out way to move forward. Seven years later, Big Beat now boasts a versatile roster, with tentpole artists like Skrillex, club friendly acts like Hercules & Love Affair, and even disco legends like Cerrone. David Guetta, Galantis, and Clean Bandit rack up streams by the hundred-million; Big Beat’s staff has grown from 3 to 15; and Tucci was recently promoted, adding label manager to her duties as head of A&R. “Folding both titles into one can seem like a challenging thing, but I enjoy it,” she says. “I feel so proud and honored to be working alongside all these people and to be their fearless leader.”
Big Beat was originally founded by Craig Kallman in the late 1980s; the legend goes that he initially operated out of his parents’ apartment. The label is best known for its contributions to dance music: Kallman released the early Jomanda hits — “Got a Love for You” went to No. 1 on the Dance Club Songs chart in 1991 — as well as singles from house innovators like Marshall Jefferson, and a Kenny Dope, Stretch Armstrong, and Todd Terry collaboration dubbed The Bad Racket.
Big Beat was brought into Atlantic in the early 1990s, and its roster diversified to include lite reggae from Dawn Penn, as well as the Notorious B.I.G. affiliates Junior M.A.F.I.A. But the focus on dance music remained, as Big Beat signed a version of Robin S.‘ “Show Me Love” in the U.S. — which became one of the better known house singles of all time — and Kenny Dope’s excellent Bucketheads’ project, responsible for the 1995 Hot 100 hit “The Bomb (These Sounds Flow Into My Mind).”
Kallman continued to climb the ranks at Atlantic, and in the late 1990s, Big Beat ceased existing separately from its parent company. A few years later, a young Tucci got her first job in the music business serving as an intern at Warner Music. “I was a legal assistant, and then a radio assistant, and then finally got to work for Craig for three years as his assistant,” she recalls. “Then I had my first big hit while sitting on his desk assisting him.” That record was B.o.B.’s “Airplanes,” a collaboration with Paramore‘s Hayley Williams that climbed to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and has sold more than 6 million copies, according to the RIAA.
“After that became a really big record, Craig kind of sat me down like, ‘O.K., you proved yourself, what do you want to do?'” Tucci continues. “And that’s when I said I loved dance music, and I really want to resurrect Big Beat. He was like, ‘I’ve been thinking about that too,’ and then all the stars kind of aligned.” (Re-launching esteemed former labels has been in vogue in the last decade, like the music business equivalent of Hollywood’s search for old franchises to reboot; Casablanca and Geffen are two other famous institutions to enjoy recent rebirths.)
Skrillex was a boon during the early days of Big Beat. Before he became an electronic music titan, he released Gypsyhook as Sonny Moore on Atlantic; roughly 18 months later, he returned with Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites as Skrillex on Big Beat (also in partnership with deadmau5?’s mau5trap label at the time). The title track sold more than two million copies and cracked the Hot 100. “Essentially that was the beginning of us working electronic music,” Tucci says.
Around the same time, she convinced Kallman to let her work with an artist named Wynter Gordon. Though Gordon was more oriented towards R&B, Tucci admired her writing, and figured “maybe she can write a dance record.” This resulted in two Australian hits, and on a trip to Amsterdam to recruit producers to remix Gordon’s “Til Death (Do Us Party),” she ran into the French DJ/producer Martin Solveig, who played her a version of “Hello.” She picked it up, and it remains Solveig’s biggest U.S. hit by a mile. “[Big Beat]’s been growing ever since then,” she says happily.
When it comes to building the roster, Tucci took cues from Atlantic’s approach. “I realized very quickly that I wasn’t a Toolroom run by Mark Knight or a Mad Decent run by Diplo or an OWSLA run by Skrillex,” she asserts. “I’m simply an enthusiast attached to a major label. What can I be? What is my aesthetic? What is the ethos of what I do?”
The answer, she decided, was to “be the best in class for whatever it is we love.” “I really just took the model of Atlantic and applied it to Big Beat,” she adds. “Atlantic Records can have D.R.A.M. and Bruno Mars living on the same label; why can’t I have David Guetta and Hercules & Love Affair?”
With the growth of Big Beat’s staff, Tucci says the label will be better able to tend to — and expand — both sides of their roster. “Before, to get a project through the building, it took longer — we didn’t have as many people working on it, and we couldn’t sign a ton of stuff,” she notes. “I still don’t like to sign a lot of stuff; I like to keep it lean and focused. But now we can dabble in the underground stuff that I’m a fan of, sink our teeth into some of that, sign a couple more things. We have so much more power, and we have boots on the ground.”
Recently Big Beat signed the English producer Palmistry, previously associated with the small Brooklyn indie label Mixpak, and re-released his Pagan album. “It’s amazing to break new acts,” Tucci says. “It feels so good.”