Early 2017, Ericka Coulter, entrepreneur and VP, A&R at Epic Records came up with the idea to produce a live event series in Los Angeles titled TheBasement via her Instor3 management company. The event would center around giving signed and unsigned artists an opportunity to perform in front of a curated crowd of industry executives, influencers, tastemakers, and brands.
On Nov. 14, Coulter successfully produced the 8th successful iteration of her idea which brought out the likes of Shawn Gee, Head of Live Nation Urban and manager of The Roots and Jill Scott, Actress/Writer/Director Issa Rae, 1500 or Nothin’, and Author Rob Hill, Sr. to downtown LA to experience burgeoning acts in the market. Actor/comedian Terrence Green hosted and DJ Casanova provided the music for attendees. Bay area newcomer Myles Parrish opened the show and was followed by Epic Records’ signee A.Chal, Capitol Records’ Rico Pressley, and Jordan Ward. The night was sponsored by Beats by Dre, Hennessy, Champion, Lyft, Triller & Rap Snacks .
Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, Coulter grew up singing in the church and left for LA after graduating from high school intending to make a career as a singer-songwriter. However, after interacting with various people in the industry, Coulter recognized she had a deeper passion in music. “I realized there were other ways of being in the industry and it didn’t necessarily mean me being an artist,” adding that, “I liked closing deals and I liked to help people.”
Billboard spoke to Coulter over the phone to talk about her involvement in the industry and more about the creation and growth of TheBasement including what’s in store for the event series in the future.
What was your first industry job?
My degree is in fashion merchandising, so after college I was doing that but music kept calling me. I was helping out at a fashion event and there was a guy who had came and checked in and he worked for Interscope Records. I remember thinking, “Dang. I would like to work at Interscope Records” and my friend suggested I ask if he needed an intern. So I walked over and asked, and he said “I actually do.”
So I signed up for the internship program and [at the] end of 2007, I was an intern, but I treated it like a job. If they were going to Atlanta for an event, I would call my mom and be like “Yo, I need some money to get to Atlanta because I got to go.” I wanted them to know that I was dedicated. By the top of 2008, I was hired. I started off in rhythmic radio as an assistant and eventually transitioned over to being the executive assistant to Step Johnson who at the time was the president of urban music. That’s where I got to see everything. DJ Mormile is the person that really taught me about A&R and also management and just how to really work with artists one-on-one and Vincent Hubert was the person to really give me a shot at being a junior A&R.
What was the impetus for TheBasement?
It started because I kept meeting artists, and for me, I can’t sign something without seeing them perform and building a relationship. I kept meeting acts that weren’t performing in LA. Then, I felt like I had went to an event where everyone was standing around. We were standing around for maybe two hours and for us, not to know who the artist was or what we were doing at the event, I thought that there’s no way this is helping an artist.
I think sometimes it gets overlooked that although it may be a great hit record and the artist might be dope, there’s a form of artist development they have to go through. That’s what I felt was missing. I was wondering what if there was a place where there was the right people in the room and we could all see these artists, they may or may not be ready, but there are people in the room who can help them get ready.
Right now, there’s literally artists that are putting their music up on Soundcloud and DSPs, and they don’t have a manager or they don’t have an attorney. They don’t know song structure because there’s used to working on things in their room, not to say there’s any wrong way to write a song, but there’s a way to write a hit. And sometimes that takes a team of people to help you.
What did it take to put on the first show?
I came up with the idea early 2017 and had told my brothers, Eric and Steve, about it. I got both of them involved to help me put it together as far as talent and finding venues as well as figuring out who was going to pay for it. I also had an amazing woman, Zoey Davies (head of operations for TheBasement), who came into my life through a mutual friend and she helped me put the pieces together.
I have a full-time job as an A&R and I have projects that I’m very passionate about that I have to make sure I’m committed to as well, and I felt like this showcase could help with new acts I’m involved with. For the first one, Tanqueray was one of the first sponsors to come in. I remember telling them about the idea and them being like “I don’t know what it is you’re trying to do but we love your energy and we know you’re passionate so we will help you.” That’s really how all of the sponsors started to come about. Even for Champion, they saw that it was something to help artists that was missing so they wanted to help me. I didn’t know what the first one was going to be, I didn’t know if people were going to show up or think this was corny, but I didn’t care. I had to take a chance on myself. And then also I felt like it was my duty as an A&R. I can’t talk about the culture if I’m not in the culture.
What is the key, important piece of an event like this that people don’t think about?
It starts with the talent. As much as there’s a lot of unsigned artists, there are a bunch of new artists signed to labels that you still don’t know about. They could be signed to a label for awhile but are still on that development side. I think it’s about putting the right artists on the lineup and taking a chance on them to put them in front of people.
Here’s the thing — because some of these artists aren’t as seasoned as others and I’m putting them in front of very credible people — I also have to be confident in that. So I think it takes confidence, trust, finding the right acts, and making sure you put the right people in the room. TheBasement is not a party. It’s not for people to just come, have drinks and leave. It’s for you to really network, vibe, and discover, it’s for you to bump shoulders with people that you haven’t been able to cross paths with, but you feel like you need to in order to get to that next step, and it’s really about leaving and feeling like, “Wow. I didn’t know about these artists performing.” It’s really about the exposure about it. You never know who is in that room and who might be able to change your situation for the better.
Since its inception, in what ways has the showcase grown and been successful?
It was one show where Tone Stith and Asian Doll performed. The whole week it was supposed to rain but we couldn’t move the date. That morning it was pouring raining and I thought no one would come. We still had over 200 people and that’s what made me know, “OK. I have something where people will still come out in the rain and support.” That’s when I knew, “OK. We have something that there’s a need for.”
Also, we started out with 75 people coming to the first show and ended up hitting 300 people. The capacity at the venue we had since the beginning was only 200 and that’s when I knew it was time to move and upgrade. Although I loved the venue, it was a great problem to have to move.
Troy Carter used to always say to me, “Don’t move onto something unless you get pushed to have to go do something.” For example, you don’t need a personal assistant until you get to that limit that you need a personal assistant. So it was time for us to go to a new venue.
Where do you see TheBasement growing in the next year?
TheBasement’s going on the road. Outside of LA, you also have Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, London, Toronto, North Carolina, and Kansas City where there’s artists. I want this to be a safe hub where artists can know if they touch the stage at TheBasement, they have something people are attracted to which means they’re going in the right direction. They also know they can get the help they’ve been looking for because everybody needs help. Regardless if you’re signed to a major label or if you are independent, you still need a team and there’s still resources you need to get to. So I would love for TheBasement to be that resource for artists to come to and leave being able to elevate. For 2019, we will be on the road in different markets finding great talent. We also may have some artists who have already performed that may end up at other cities just to make sure they’re known everywhere.
Last question. How has this showcase helped you become a better executive or other ways professionally?
It helped me to realize that the art of A&R has changed. You’re also helping the manager, working with the marketing team, and really seeing it through. You have to if you want these projects to work. When music drops on Fridays, there’s so much that there’s no way some of these artists will get discovered that way. So there has to be other outlets and other ways of exposure. So for me, I feel like TheBasement is becoming that way of exposure.
It’s also other people being in the room from different brands that have great activations they want to put artists in. Now when I’m putting out some of my artists, there are other outlets that I can help with my team that I already work with to help get this music out. And so it’s just make me understand that there’s more to it. It doesn’t just stop in the studio. You’re the artist’s friend, their confidant, and you’re the person that helps them fill space inside and outside the label to let them know they’re not in this by themselves. That’s a real thing.
Any final thoughts?
I love the fact that I work for a Black woman (Sylvia Rhone) who understands the type of A&R I am and also supports the things I’m doing, but she comes from a marketing and A&R background to also understand the art of artist development. So it actually helps with what I’m trying to do as well because it’s not to work against anyone, it’s really to help everybody. And I want that to be known. It’s to help exposure for any artist from any label or company. I want us all to work together to really break these artists, new artists.