Jacob Millan says that managing Yung Bans is constantly surprising. “Right now we’re getting ready to release his first real project, so my day is filled with a lot of phone calls and working to clear songs,” he says over the phone. Millan is known online as Lil Jake, one of Lyrical Lemonade’s more prominent writers. He started off as a writer for the website before transitioning full-time to music management, although he still contributes to Lyrical Lemonade.
Now, the website has evolved into something more than a blog thanks to founder Cole Bennett’s work as a music video director, a powerful YouTube channel, and yearly festivals in Chicago. “I’m currently the president of A&R at Lyrical Lemonade and I help to find new talent to support on the platform everyday in addition to curating and running the Spotify playlist. Additionally, I’m working with the team on the second annual Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash festival, expanding it to a two-day festival.”
Millan’s got a lot on his plate. And it all started with blogging, a springboard to a wide range of career possibilities for someone with the right drive. He started blogging in college when he got accepted into the Columbia College of Chicago to study music business management. He wanted to immerse himself in the city’s music scene so he started his own blog before working for Chicago based blog, GoILL. Eventually, after befriending Elliot Montanez, another writer from Lyrical Lemonade, he got onto the site’s staff, which provided a launchpad for the position he is now in.
Although the digital landscape has evolved, the new age rap scene relies on curation and music sharing in a similar way to the blog era of the late 2000s, when websites like OnSmash and Nah Right were hubs for finding the hottest music. Today, there’s a new wave of scrappy, independent music blogs such as Lyrical Lemonade, Daily Chiefers, and ELEVATOR helping shape the contemporary rap landscape.
An ear for what’s popular with young people online makes this next generation of bloggers’ opinions highly valuable, especially to major labels. This means that a number of paths are open beyond sharing music on blogs or in playlists. There is no formal barrier to entry; being plugged in, passionate, and highly motivated can be the only requirements. What starts with simple steps can turn into something spectacular with the right career moves.
Joey Walker is the Editor-In-Chief of Daily Chiefers and has been with the website for more than ten years. He represents one potential path for a blogger–becoming an A&R. “I got started in journalism in college when I wanted to be a writer and personality on ESPN, but I got denied for an internship,” he says. Shortly after, he joined a friend at Daily Chiefers and became a partner. “Nowadays, I love to grow with new artists,” he says about his current work as an A&R for Alamo Records. He linked with Randall “Sickamore” Medford (currently Senior Vice President, A&R + Creative Director at Interscope Records) in 2016 and joined the label soon after, doing more of what he does best: finding the new guys.
The transition over to the music industry isn’t necessarily a hard one. Being able to find music that will connect, describe it, and help cultivate it, are three capabilities that are sought after at labels. These are also self-taught, certificate-less skills that many bloggers learn how to do in the process of writing. “Everything I did while running Daily Chiefers helps me now—I found talent, connected with them, and, most importantly, built relationships,” Walker says. Wayde Delancy, the Senior Vice President of A&R at DP WORLDWIDE (an imprint under 300 Ent.) similarly believes that the connections made as the founder of the foul hundreds helped him in his new work. “My experience was essential for this new venture because I was able to build a vast network with important people in the industry.”
A lot of people that want to be in the music industry don’t know how the business works and educating themselves first about what they’re getting into is importanT - Wayde delancy
Delancy's journey started through blogging before immersing himself in the music scene. “During my time doing The Foul Hundreds, I ended up managing some underground artists,” he says. “I moved to the New York City area in 2016 and partnered with 300 where I became the VP of A&R for the DP WORLDWIDE imprint.” He thinks that working as an A&R is more difficult than many people think. “A lot of people that want to be in the music industry don’t know how the business works and educating themselves first about what they’re getting into is important,” he says. Now, Delancy loves his job and the opportunists that come with it.
Lauren Nostro is currently the Senior Director of urban catalog at Universal Music Group and oversees Urban Legends, an imprint focusing on 30+ years of the label’s hip-hop catalog. In this role, she oversees content creation, the imprint’s content site, and an e-commerce platform that features editorial content and exclusive interviews around major hip-hop anniversaries in the UMG catalog and products such as YG’s My Krazy Life on vinyl for its 5th anniversary. Her past roles as Executive Editor at Genius and Managing Editor at Complex prepared her for a role with an extensive content focus.
“I went to graduate school at New York University for Magazine Journalism which is essentially longform writing,” she says. “During our second semester, we had to get an internship for credit and Complex was the only place that responded.” After graduation, she accepted a job at Complex as an Editorial Assistant. She built a strong career in music journalism over the next six years during her roles at Complex and Genius, along with freelance writing for publications such as Vice, Fader, Jezebel, and Paper Magazine.
The opportunity to move from the media to music industry happened while she was at Genius. “A former coworker of mine, Andre Torres, who is now VP of Urban Catalog at Universal, hit me up asking if I knew anyone who would be interested in creating an editorial platform for the label,” she says. “He launched the Urban Legends imprint and wanted it to have an exclusive content hub and e-commerce store and asked if I knew anyone. I suggested myself, even though I had no idea initially of how all encompassing this role would be. I really trusted his vision and knew that we could build this platform together and find new ways to celebrate Universal’s catalog in ways that hadn’t been done at a label before.”
Nostro says that her job is more content-marketing based, but much of what she learned in her journalism days also applies here. “I took the daily news grind and flipped it to make our site and our imprint a lot more fan focused, which is a strength I learned working in music media: how do you engage the fans in new ways when everyone seems to be talking and celebrating the same albums and artists? [I have a strong background in] traditional news, breaking news, and learning how fans gravitate to certain things,” she says.
This kind of transition, along with those of Jacob Millan, Joey Walker, and Wayde Delancy, are becoming more common. Streaming has the music industry in a healthy position again (In the United States, 2018 revenues from recorded music were up 12% on the previous year, and revenues have tripled since 2015, according to the RIAA.), and new roles are being created. Who better to fill them than content creators who already understand the marketplace?
“I wholeheartedly recommend that all journalists branch out and try new things, whether it’s managing an artist they really believe in, curating events, or even A&Ring,” says Millan. Leverage the connections, too. “I was able to connect with top tier producers in the industry that allowed me to place records with underground artists before they signed with major labels,” says Delancy about his blogger days when he also worked as a manager. These connections have been very important to my success in this industry so far.” Walker also cosigns the importance of finding like-minded individuals. “I have a ton of great relationships within the industry and they all stem from presiding over Daily Chiefers for ten years.” What often starts as a passion can turn into a career. It might all begin in a Google Doc.