Uto work behind the scenes of some of pop’s biggest hits – from Lizzo’s For the damn time by Lil Nas X Montero (Call Me By Your Name)— New York native Austin Rosen is quietly disrupting the music industry. As founder and CEO of talent management firm Electric Feel Entertainment, Rosen believes that the best businesses, like the best music, are created through collaboration.
Rosen, who previously worked in the fashion and textile industries, imbued Electric Feel with this spirit from the start, blurring the lines between musicians, writers and producers to create a “comprehensive” network of talent. With a roster that includes pop stars like Post Malone to songwriters Louis Bell and Carter Lang – who have written songs for Justin Bieber and Doja Kat – Electric Feel has earned its reputation as a hitmaker. To date, the talent of Electric Feel has been somewhere in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 100 consecutive weeks and has 19 Grammy nominations at this year’s awards ceremony.
As the industry increasingly shifts online, something Rosen embraces, his approach to business is all about the personal touch. The fledgling entrepreneur built the foundation for future success in recording studios and concerts in New York, establishing the contacts and trust that would one day allow him to “connect the dots” as a talent manager. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the “connectivity” of live shows, which Rosen says is essential for new artists to build a dedicated fanbase. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, nearly all performance venues were forced to close their doors, wiping out about $30 billion in revenue from the live events industry, according to estimates by Pollstar.
Nevertheless, the industry’s adoption of experimental technologies has opened up alternative possibilities – the firm’s investment arm, Electric Feel Ventures, launched in 2020, backs companies that could complement artists’ careers in a digitized future, from a virtual entertainment brand to a crypto fintech startup. “It’s been so amazing to invest in new things and bring value to the music side,” says Rosen. One example is an entertainment brand called Superplastic, which creates animated celebrities and digital collectibles. “We run a [music] a group they created that we’re launching very soon.”
TIME recently spoke with Rosen about the dynamic future of the music industry, the diversity of fresh talent and his team-oriented approach to business.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
When did you decide to start Electric Feel Entertainment?
Around 2013, I started the company. It was a very natural progression from when it was a hobby that turned into something more complete. I realized that I wanted to be serious about finding talent and nurturing them, bringing them together and helping them succeed by giving them the resources and support they needed. I loved music but I never thought it would be something I would do full time.
When managing musicians was more of a hobby for you, how would you find people you thought had real talent?
It was so different back then because there was no social media or anything like that, so it was all just through meeting people in person. I grew up in New York, so I would be very active meeting people at studios, concerts, and small shows around town. And then I set up a little studio in New York and that’s how I started meeting a lot of the talent.
Was it difficult to gain the trust of people in the industry in the beginning?
Yes, that’s why it took a long time to even get to where we are today. It wasn’t overnight. Many people are skeptical of the smaller companies in the music business and stick to the big, well-known companies. It’s definitely hard when you’re coming up and haven’t proven anything yet. We’re in a much different position now and the focus is on growing the company and just continuing to add the same values but at scale.
How has the way you find talent changed since you started?
I think what’s cool about us is that because of the type of company that we are and the brand that we’ve built, there’s a lot of things that we still find organically. Every once in a while we’ll find things off of social media or just from research, but a lot of it still really comes from relationships and meeting people in such an organic way. Or people who want us to hear their music and reach out.
So you’re not digging around on TikTok trying to find talent?
We do none of that. I wish someone on our team would focus on those things, but we were just so caught up in how we were finding talent [since the business began].
But then a couple of the two younger artists on your label, 24kGoldn and Iann Dior seem to be doing pretty well with that younger social media crowd anyway. Was that just luck?
We definitely want our artists to use the platforms and be on them. All the artists coming today, we definitely expect them to be on TikTok and everything. People want content in short form, they want everything in one place. I think TikTok has done a really good job creating this platform. Now it’s like using YouTube or Spotify – it’s just another form of getting your content out there. And since they are somewhere where there are consumers consuming, they [24kGoldn and Iann Dior] they did a great job with it. I think that’s very important in music today.
The new York times describes Post Malone’s new album as having a “tonal consistency” — basically that the songs don’t stray too far from each other — that works better on streaming platforms like Spotify than TikTok’s choppy, fast-paced content.
I think with him he’s definitely more music first and not thinking about TikTok. Many of the ways kids create today have TikTok in mind. Publishing is pure art and really comes from a completely different place. Now that the world is coming back and you’re going to be able to see his concerts live, see him perform the songs and see how it should be visualized, I think it’s going to be amazing. It’s definitely more like a live experience where you’re listening to the whole thing as opposed to a short piece of content.
I think now the genres have kind of disappeared and it’s more about connecting a lot of great, different kinds of music. Post is so much fun to work with because he is so flexible. Kids are growing up now to play music from different kinds of genres, and the artists that come out of that are really exciting.
You manage Post Malone with Dre London. How does it work with two different managers?
It’s great because we both have a very similar mindset. We both built our own companies and did it in a very natural way. I love cooperation and partnership. And that’s a lot of what we do as a company, more than what you usually see in the music business with other managers. That’s why a lot of times people are shocked, like, how do you work with other managers? I love it and always love to collaborate in any way.
Dre was already working with him. As soon as I met Dre and Post, I knew right away that I had to work with them. So I was pretty persistent, just trying to show them the value I could bring to the table by connecting them with a lot of writers and producers who are still the writers and producers the Post works with today.
Why do you think collaborating with other labels or managers is beneficial?
When you’re in the music business, it’s a lot more fragmented, everybody’s kind of running their own business in a lot of ways. And so it is very difficult to get all people to join a company. It is very difficult to model certain businesses and force them to be something they are not. You just have to accept the industry for what it is and learn how to work in the world it has created. But it’s not always about having to be in the same company to be able to work together. I just think that if great people work together, there will be more successes instead of being isolated and fragmented from each other. I learn things every day from working with all the people I work with and I love seeing different work styles and seeing how different people work and think.
What seems to make Electric Feel unique is that you have as much weight on your writers and producers as you do on the artists. Do you think this is quite different from other labels in the industry?
Yeah, I don’t think there are many companies that fully cover unless they’re publishing companies. Because record companies don’t really have producers and writers. And management companies usually manage artists but not writers and producers, or vice versa. And that’s why we’ve made it a big part of our business to be publishing. And now we have about 20 clients on the list on the publishing side of the business.
So, as a CEO overseeing all these different facets and wings of the company, how do you make it work? How do you shift your thinking from one thing to another?
They are all very integrated into each other. It’s very hard to shape the music business into what you want and you have to go with the flow. That’s why we’ve created all these different verticals along the way, because when we find talent, we want to work with them regardless of [the service we provide for them]. So if we find someone who’s really special, who’s already managed but not in a publishing deal, then we’ll figure out how to get the publishing deal done.
It’s like you’re the player’s coach. A player may be really good but may not be able to withstand all the training, all the practice and everything that goes into it. And that’s a challenge. You have to test artists and that takes a lot of effort and time. And the way we work is as a team, with each person having a different role. I’ve never been much of an athlete, but I think a lot of the basics have to do with music.
You said in an interview with Billboard that your choice of people to sign is specific and strategic. What did you mean by that?
I just look at it in terms of what we’re looking for in our team. We don’t want to just sign people to add to a huge list. We want to bring in people who we know as soon as we sign them, where we’re going to put them and who they’re going to collaborate with. We spend a lot of time getting to know clients before we sign them to make sure it’s a good fit for both parties. Because we don’t want the reputation of just signing people and it not working or not delivering. For us, less is more.
What new challenges do you think there are now for entrepreneurs starting out in the music industry?
It’s interesting because there are some things that are positive [the industry] now. It’s now much easier to infiltrate where you can catch something and have it explode overnight, much faster. But it also makes it more challenging because there’s so much out there that you have to deal with the mess. The best way is to focus on making the best music possible and not think about what will work in short form content. Our company already has 19 number 1 songs and over 50 top 10s and that really comes from the quality and timelessness of the music.
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