Twelve years ago, Taylor James was hired as Justin Bieber’s tour DJ for the then-YouTube star’s second-ever show. Bieber and James, along with two dancers and a road manager, played waterparks as the young singer began his ascent to pop’s apex.
Now, James has risen to Bieber’s inner circle in his new position as the superstar’s personal A&R. This role, James says, will “allow me to bring my DJ experience into the studio and look for songs that work with Bieber’s style and sound.” James will work closely with the team at SB Projects, including Bieber’s longstanding managers Scooter Braun and Allison Kaye. It was in fact Braun himself who hired James for that early Bieber show.
“Tay James has been a support system for this team since day one,” Braun tells Billboard. “His energy has always lifted all those around him.
“What is more is his ability as a DJ to understand what moves an audience and that translates in to A&R,” Braun continues. “To see him come in to his own during this album process has been a true highlight. This body of work would not have been possible without his input. He is just scratching the surface of his record making abilities and I personally could not be happier or prouder of my friend. “
James entered the personal A&R role while Bieber was recording his latest album, Justice, during 2020 and early 2021. “As an A&R,” James says, “I am part of the first line of testing and decisions, which proceeds into becoming singles and or albums.” He also served as personal A&R for expanded edition of Justice, along with Bieber’s new Freedom EP, both of which have dropped since Justice‘s release on March 19.
“For this album,” James says of Justice, “I was continuously on the search for new beats and artists that I thought would work well with Bieber’s vision. When I have a good sound or recommendation I would send it to a group chat with the Bieber team — Justin, [longtime studio engineer] Josh [Gudwin], Allison and Scooter — and we would all decide on what would go ahead in the album that best represents Justin.”
As A&R, James’ daily duties include researching new opportunities, sitting in on studio sessions, listening to new beats and interfacing with myriad members of Bieber’s team — including his band, his music director Bernard Harvey, Gudwin, guest producers like Skrillex, and others who contribute to the process.
“Bringing Tay in on the A&R process made it easier for me to execute delivery for the album,” Gudwin tells Billboard. “Communication and reliability are two big things that are needed when dealing with artists, producers, songwriters and their managers. There is also a lot of dealings and internal affairs that happen behind closed doors, so there is a big factor of trust involved. Trust on the artist’s side and trust on the teams side. He has both covered.”
Along with serving as DJ for all of Bieber’s world tours over the past decade-plus under his stage name, DJ Tay James, James has also DJ’ed all of Bieber’s birthday parties, private parties and company parties, and was also behind the decks at Justin and Hailey Bieber’s 2019 wedding celebration. He’ll also hold down his original role of tour DJ for Bieber’s upcoming Justice tour, which is expected to hit the road as soon as public health permits. In the meantime, he’ll keep his ears to the ground for future hits.
“The great thing about the Bieber team,” James says, “is that we are always working and looking for inspiration, and new possible singles or different strategies to execute music.”