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A Talk With Brian St. John from Atlantic Records

Brian St. John is an industry veteran whose humility and talent have helped him develop some of the top artists in the game. St. John has been with Atlantic records for over thirteen years. Tank, A boogie, and Cardi B are some of the many incredible talents he overseas on the label. In this interview, Senior Director of Artist Development at Atlantic Records sheds the light on what has sustained his career, what can make yours, and the challenges that present themselves in one of the most fast paced industries

Jourdan:
How did you get your start in this industry?
Brian:
Through Interning, I started interning at LIB for Gary Bird’s show in the morning, I worked the boards and I also worked in the promotion department of WBLS as well, so I did dual internships. I was also going to school at the same time and somebody I knew happened to introduce me to Rosini Williams, who was Chrissy Murray’s (VP of Publicity) assistant at Atlantic and I came to Atlantic and interned there. One thing Rosini told me was that when you’re interning, act like you’re trying to take my job. So, I stood behind her and learned what she wanted me to. And the good thing about her was that she had a lot of responsibilities to take care of, so once she knew I could handle the work that she had given me, I got to be a lot more hands on. From there, Richard Nash who was also working here in Atlantic was getting ready to move to Elektra Records because Sylvia Rhone was getting ready to run Elektra Records. Richard needed an assistant right away and that’s how I got started in the business.

Jourdan:
Do you expect or have a goal for your current position?
Brian:
Because times have changed we did a lot more promotion with the urban artists back in the day because that’s usually how we used to promote the artists. We would package them together do radio, meet and greets, etc. to push the artists, but now with touring being so big, we started to educate and switch up a lot of artists to be driven into the touring market. So, that’s really what the change of this department is now, we push more the touring aspect of it more so than the promo tours so that the artists can go out there and become even bigger artists.

 

Jourdan:
What is the most challenging task you have to deal with being an artist developer?
Brian:
I would say keeping everybody happy, because there’s so many departments who always want to get things done. So, scheduling wise you just have to super serve everyone to prioritize the requests that come our way, you want to keep everyone happy as well as educate new artists and managers on touring as well. Because they’re so used to getting money from clubs that a lot of them don’t understand or are educated on the longevity of the larger picture of getting smaller money and doing smaller tours in the beginning, which will then lead to more consistent and bigger tour opportunities in the future. They can make more money than just getting 50 or 60 thousand from a club gig in the long run.

Jourdan:
The music industry has a lot of people with egos, what is your theory on dealing with artists/other executives in this business?
Brian: 
Never take it personal. There’s a lot of people with a lot of egos and attitudes, but there are a lot of people that are good as well. A lot of my friends haven’t succumbed to the industry standard of being an industry type person, it’s a job. You can’t let the industry swallow you up and you can’t let it define who you are, you have to define yourself individually.

 

Jourdan:
How have labels changed since streaming has become a viable entity?
Brian: 
We deal with Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music because they equate with the bottom line of our sales figures. A lot more people stream than physically buy music. So, a lot of conversations we have in our meetings, the streaming companies are always apart of those conversations. We make the artists go to those streaming companies and play their music ahead of time so the companies can understand it, because this generation streams. And now it’s rare that people will buy albums, there’s only a few people that can sell such as the Adele’s, the Bruno’s, the Ed Sheeran’s, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, are a few artists who can still sell big with physical albums. But for a lot of the new and upcoming artists streaming is a very important. The labels make money through streaming as well because the deals that have been cut throughout the years benefit the labels and artists as well.

Jourdan: 
Describe how you think you work differently from others who do what you do?
Brian: 
I’ve been doing it a long time and having experience in promo/publicity have helped me understand how to prioritize, because they are two very intricate parts of promoting an artist. So, because I came from both worlds, I have an understanding of the importance of what those departments bring to an artist’s career.

Jourdan: 
Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
Brian:
That’s a tricky one, people ask me that all the time. I’m an R&B person, I grew up with singers, but I like Ro James, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kendrick, it’s kind of trick question.  I feel like a lot of today’s music is watered down, I may like a single here and there, but it’s hard for me to say that I have a love for one particular artist over the other, with the exception of the people I just named.

“You can’t let the industry swallow you up and you can’t let it define who you are, you have to define yourself individually”
 

Jourdan:
What advice would you give to people on trying to get their big break in this business ?
Brian: 
Be humble, be patient, never take anything personal because it’s not easy. I think it was a lot easier when I was coming up. There were mentors, there were more labels, there were more avenues to get in and I think there are less now. You have to always find the right person and there are people who aren’t willing to open the doors and help people, but you just have to be patient. Something will always come; you just have to stay networking and maintain relationships. If you’re good at what you do and you keep putting yourself in the right position, there’s always going to be someone that takes notice and gives you that opportunity and takes a chance.

Jourdan:
What would you say are some of your weaknesses and strengths?
Brian:
Some weaknesses are that I can become complacent; I’ve been here for 22 years and if I’m not around people that are challenging me than I can get settled in what I do and not push myself to learn new things. And my strengths would be communication, I’m detailed oriented, and I’m a person of structure. I like to make sure things are done a certain way, and I like to take control of things myself, I know that if I do that I’m going to do it in the way that I want. That could be considered a weakness as well, because sometimes you have to learn how to relinquish control to other people, but it’s all a balancing act.

 

Jourdan:
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
Brian:
Hm that’s a good question, but I hope that I can continue to grow here and get to the next level of where I want to be here at the company and expand my department into a stronger touring department to build more opportunity for our artists and for the company. I also want to help the company advance and grow in other ways. I eventually may want to try to do something else in entertainment, maybe film, television, or fashion because those are also my passions. I think the hard part would be starting over, I think that’s the challenging and scary part because I’ve been at Atlantic for so long, but for right now I want to contribute as much as I can here.

By: Jourdan W.