Hillman Grad Records
Years with Company: 2
Address: 15821 Ventura Blvd., Suite 370, Encino, CA 91436
Email: [email protected]
Clients: Davion Farris, Siya, Jai’Len Josey
Television producer and Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe has had major success with shows like The Chi and Boomerang. By way of expanding her empire, she launched a record label in 2021. Along with its inception, she named Albert Cooke as general manager. Since the label is a joint venture with Def Jam, Cooke’s association with the legendary outfit makes his new role especially fortuitous.
On SoundCloud Nine
I was at SoundCloud when I connected with Lena and [Hillman Grad co-founder] Rishi [Rajani]. They let me know they were looking for a general manager. And I was letting them know I knew a lot of the staff there. We talked about musical tastes, the way we want to position artists, and what we feel artists need in today’s music landscape. After a couple fruitful conversations, they invited me to join the team.
At SoundCloud, I was working in the artist relations department. I was tasked with finding highly valued creators on the platform and letting them know about the SoundCloud ecosystem. Because of that, I got really close to artists and managers. The skills I was able to apply as an artist relations manager come up as a GM. A lot of it is conflict resolution, explaining strategy, as well as understanding how they want to position themselves in the marketplace. The ability to translate what’s happening in the music industry in layman’s terms is what I pulled over the most.
The Allure of Film and Artist Development
The opportunity to learn from Lena and Rishi on the television and film side was the big thing. At SoundCloud, we didn’t have much of a visual element to the platform. I understood that a lot of artists were being discovered through TV shows. And I wanted to learn more about that side, as well as be a champion of developing artists. So having the opportunity to do both at the same time really sold it for me.
The Artist Development Mission
At SoundCloud, there were a lot of artists who had music on the platform but didn’t know how to communicate in an interview or how to grow their audience outside the platform. They didn’t know how to take what they were doing online and bring it into real life. And those were all components that were really big back in the day with artist development. The goal is to have a career and not be a flash in the pan. For all of us, it was really important to give artists the opportunity to have the best training and skills that allow them to have careers.
I’m tasked with helping hit the goals that Lena wants in terms of her film and TV projects on the music side. I’m also overseeing the day-to-day aspects of having a joint venture with Def Jam: getting artist release dates, positioning artists, and meeting with different teams to grow and amplify artists.
It’s unique because of the TV and film side of things. Some days, I’m talking to anyone on the visual side to help amplify Lena’s vision. And some days, I’m knee deep in admin work. I’m looking at budgets, charts, and streaming numbers. Going from creative to business administration has been great.
Teamwork Making Dreams Work
Everyone’s pretty positive and optimistic even though we’re a small team, which makes the job a lot easier. We’re in it every day, supporting each other wherever we can. We’re not saying, “Oh, that’s not my role.” We see it as a group effort. Because we’re all passionate about developing artists and helping them emerge.
Def Jam has been a great partner in terms of amplifying what we’re doing. We come to them with a plan, and then we tweak it based on their recommendations. And we all progress together. We let the TV and film team help us find directors and videographers that make sense for the visual we’re trying to capture with the record. And Def Jam is pitching to the streaming partners, pitching for press... They’ve been really helpful getting our projects off the ground.
Collaborating With Hillman Grad Productions
We work hand-in-hand on certain projects. If there’s music Lena wants in her shows, we lean in there and work with the music supervisor to amplify the artist as well as the scenes. And then there are special projects. It’s been a good overall marriage.
Who Needs a Record Label?
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in terms of promotion. Some artists are able to do things independently. They have a vision. They’re able to fund it. They’re able to do all the things a label used to do.
Some people need help crafting the story they have. And some people want to be on the biggest platform possible. Being on the biggest platform provides an opportunity to excel in a way that maybe they wouldn’t independently. Being part of a label is a big decision, but understanding why you want to join one is big as well.
We launched our first EP this past May with Davion Farris. The storytelling on that project is pretty compelling. Jai’Len Josey is an R&B singer out of Atlanta. She originally was on Broadway, is an amazing songwriter, and decided she wanted to focus on music. We’re excited to get her project out this fall. And then Siya is a rapper who’s been on the scene. She has a unique storytelling style. We’re super excited at the possibilities.
We’re looking for artists that have vision. They want to be themselves and not like what’s already out there. Even if it’s a familiar sound, they want to do it in their own way. We want people that are eager to be successful and willing to work at it.
We believe in artist development. And the artists we sign, they have a unique point of view. We’re willing to support and amplify that. Hillman Grad is a space where you can be loved for who you are and be around people helping you communicate your vision.
Finding a Home
A lot of times, people sign to record labels to say they’re signed to a record label. But there’s a lot of work that goes into being signed. That’s the part a lot of artists miss. They think the A&R signs them and instantly they’re a priority. But there are other artists [wanting the same].
Know what you’re signing. Know why you’re signing. And lastly, be happy that you signed. It’s not going to be an easy road. There’s going to be bumps and it’ll hurt a little along the way. Just understand, everything that happens is part of your career trajectory.
Going Against the Grain
It’s kind of like a mantra for Hillman Grad. What’s the norm in traditional culture doesn’t necessarily have to be. We’re willing to do something different that’s not necessarily being looked for or received well all the time.