In July 2013, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed created the Office of Film and Entertainment, a first for the city, with the aim of developing and streamlining film productions and permits within the city to attract new projects and facilitate their completion. Now, almost three years later, that office is getting a leadership change in the form of longtime music industry executive Chris Hicks, who plans to expand that purview to the city’s thriving music community as well.
Hicks has a long resume within the industry, working as the head of urban for Warner/Chappell from 2007-2009 before moving to Island Def Jam as executive vice president, where he helped launch the career of Justin Bieber, among others. A 20-year resident of Atlanta, the newly-appointed office director wants to build bridges between the artist community and the worlds of branding, licensing and marketing within the city itself. “I’m a developer by trade and this is a developing city,” Hicks tells Billboard. “It grabbed itself up from its bootstraps in the late ’90s and developed an industry here from a musical standpoint. I want to use my developmental chops to assist this city in continuing that musical legacy in Atlanta.”
With a vibrant music scene that seems to produce new must-watch artists weekly, Billboard spoke with Hicks to find out what his appointment means for Atlanta’s creative community.
I wanted to get a sense of what you could bring to the job with your experience in the music industry. How do you see that informing the work you’re taking on?
The initial reason for this office being set up [was] to serve the film and entertainment community as it pertains to the movies that are shot here in the city. We will continue to instill that model and drive that model; it’s working for us, obviously. I think where we will pivot a bit, or add on a bit, is that we’ll try to make a concerted effort to be hands-on with the talent, the opportunities that exist here in our city, and try to pool all our resources, specifically in the music community as you spoke to, to kind of help them establish their footing here. However we can help, however we can leverage our resources here, however we can assist.
How did you get involved with this position?
I’ve been in Atlanta for 20 years, I’ve made my bones here in a lot of ways as an executive, as an independent music publisher, a record maker, a manager, and so on. I have a good relationship with the Mayor of the city. I think he has a vision for the city of excellence and he wants to stay proactive with our approach in how we move the city forward. From my perspective, I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity. One, I wanted to be able to serve my city. But I see as I look around — I serve as a panelist on different things, and I watch our community — I think that they could benefit from my insight, from a person like me who was once one of their own having this platform and understanding. I know how to speak their language, I know how to help them connect the dots; I’ve been where they are.
In terms of “connecting the dots” — what does that look like, specifically?
That we have reached a space here where music sells everything except for itself. That’s my own opinion. I think that we have a plethora of large brands here who exist in the city and have not necessarily leveraged the musical stakeholders in the city, so I want to create relationships there. I think that music is more three and four-dimensional in the space of being visual and being interactive, so I’d like to work harder to help this community find inroads from a distribution standpoint for that content, be it a Tidal, be it a Netflix. I just feel like music is a real driver of the culture, and I want to help it live in the forefront where the sole responsibility of its existence is not based on a record sale.
So an organizational type of role? Or more an option for guidance?
I would move away from an organizational role. It’s an additional resource that comes with this office, specifically with me being here. I’m a developer by trade and this is a developing city. It grabbed itself up from its bootstraps in the late ’90s and developed an industry here from a musical standpoint. And also, we want to really focus on bringing more brands here, more content-related brands, music-related brands to this city, and to do that we have to create synergy. We have to give them a reason to be here beyond just the talent. We have to help them understand how it can work and to bring the different audiences together to help them understand how they can help each other and grow each other’s brands. So that’s a real primary focus for us.
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You’re only a couple days on the job, but are there any specific initiatives or proposals you’re eyeing right now?
The Mayor has recently launched the City of Atlanta Entertainment Training Program, and it gives locals an opportunity to build a career in the film industry. We really want to drive the message of home-grown talent being a part of a lot of the major activations that happen here. We want to be able to assist in that way organically. A lot of times, the major productions bring crews from out of state and come here and then go home.