Over the last decade, the music business has undergone significant changes. And most people would agree that the industry’s heyday, when you had authentically talented superstars and equally influential executives who were stars in their own right, is now over.
However, with any game change comes a new set of players equipped with a new rule book and the knowledge of lessons learned from the mistakes of those who came before them.
One of these new players is 25-year-old Kevin Storey. Kevin, who started out with an unpaid position at Epic Records a few short years ago, was recently promoted to brand manager at the label. He is responsible for what he describes as “building a connection between the Epic brand and influential people and companies in the marketplace.” Oftentimes, big labels focus only on mainstream partnerships or opportunities but another important part of Kevin’s role is to make sure that the label isn’t overlooking the people and culture in more niche spaces.
Earlier this month, I talked to Kevin about his new role at Epic, how he got his start in the music business, new artist mistakes and the people and things that inspire him the most.
Hashtags + Stilettos (H+S): How did you get your start in the music business?
Kevin Storey (KS): I actually got my start by promoting parties in college. And then one day I got tapped on the shoulder to promote the Stomp On The Yard step show in Philadelphia. That was a pretty big deal for me. We had a radio partner, and the station loved the way I was promoting the step show and they offered me an internship.
After my internship [with the radio station], I started doing street team promotions. And then I decided to move back to NYC to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of the [music business].
H+S: You’ve been able to move up the ladder pretty quickly. How were you able to accelerate the process?
KS: You have people like Diddy who he took over the industry at a young age. And Kevin Liles who went from intern to president in 10 years. So, I think I’m right on track. These are the people I look up to and hope to reach their level of influence.
I know that success is a lifelong journey and you can only work one day at a time. But my passion drives me and I’m fortunate enough to have people in my corner that are committed to mold me into the best executive that I can be.
H+S: Which Epic label artists do you work with?
KS: I touch most of the projects on the label, but mostly Hip Hop and R&B. I’m currently working with Future, Yo Gotti, Ciara, Deon Young, Vinny Cha$e, Gilbere Forte, Kat Dahlia, Travi$ Scott, Casey Veggies, Leah LaBelle, and more.
H+S: The business isn’t what it used to be, when a talented artist could earn a living from a hit record or album. Now to be successful requires so much more. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that new artists have about the industry?
KS: I think the biggest misconception that new artists have is that success is secured when they sign with a major label. Getting signed is only the beginning of the journey. New artists have unrealistic expectations. No one is flying you out in a private jet. We give each artist the formula and resources, but it’s up to them to make it work.
H+S: What types of things should a new artist do to get attention and/or access to record label executives?
KS: Artists should really focus on building their brand and if they’re seeking the attention of record label execs, they’re in it for the wrong reason. They should lock down their home market first and if they can successfully do that the word will spread.
H+S: What are the biggest mistakes aspiring artists make when they’re trying to get into the music business?
KS: I think the biggest mistake new artists make is trying to get meetings prematurely. They started rapping on Monday and want to meet with an A&R on Tuesday. They don’t realize that you have only 30 seconds to make an impression.
H+S: If you could work with any artist (dead or alive) who would it be?
KS: Wow. I would really love to work with R Kelly, The Dream, and Jay Z. Those guys are geniuses and I’m sure I would learn so much from them. I’ve studied Jay Z’s career and his story inspired me. Jay Z came up from the same conditions I was raised in. I played in the parks he used to hustle in.
H+S: Everyone seems to want to work in the entertainment industry nowadays. What advice would you give for someone who is looking to follow in your footsteps?
KS: I’d give them the same advice my dad gave me, “you have to respect everyone.” Your relationships are the keys to advance in this industry. Respect can take you far.
H+S: In addition to your role at Epic, you are working on changing the party culture in NYC with Surprise Party. Can you tell me more about these ventures?
KS: Surprise Party is an event I throw with my business partner Jabari [Johnson]. We actually started Surprise Party because a bouncer would not let us in the club. We always had issues; one day it would be because we were wearing hats, another because we didn’t have any girls. We were furious and decided to throw a party for people like us, people who just wanted to have fun without spending [$2,000] on a table. Surprise Party is the best party in NYC. It’s a middle finger to pretentious NYC nightlife and I think that’s why people love it.
H+S: How do you manage everything you have on your plate?
KS: My boy Gilbere sent me an article about being present. The article is about living life one moment at a time. You’ll be overwhelmed if you worry about everything you have to do. I handle one thing at a time and live life one day at a time. I’m not a good multi-tasker so I learned how to prioritize. That was my lesson of 2012.
H+S: So far, what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
KS: My biggest accomplishment was moving out of the projects to my own apartment. Living in the projects can swallow you.
H+S: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in your career?
KS: The biggest obstacle I faced was adjusting to working in a corporate setting. I’m an entrepreneur by nature and I was used to ripping and running. In the corporate world you have to work within parameters and follow protocol. There’s big money on the table. I understand now that there are rules in place to protect us. I get it.
H+S: That’s great. I love that perspective. Who or what inspires you?
KS: My friends inspire me. When they do something great it motivates me to do something great. Brooklyn inspires me. I’m from Bed Stuy, a neighborhood that used to be known for crime, and now [there are] homes here selling for millions of dollars. It’s kind of crazy because I see myself changing with my neighborhood.
H+S: Do you have any mentors in the industry?
KS: Yeah, I’m fortunate enough to have Benny Pough in my corner. He’s a beast. I’ve watched him work for a year and learned that our job is to execute. We don’t take no for an answer. We make the world do what we want it to do.
H+S: Do you think mentors are important? Why or why not?
KS: I do think mentors are important because of the wisdom and insight they offer. This business is a game and you need a coach.
H+S: What’s the best business or life advice that you’ve ever received?
KS: My dad gave me the best advice that I apply both in the office and in life: respect everyone. In this industry it’s easy to get an inflated ego. A lot of people drink their own juice because of their title or affiliation. There were people who didn’t acknowledge my presence because I was an assistant. I’d never do that, I believe in karma.
H+S: What is your personal definition of lifestyle branding?
KS: Lifestyle is about culture. It’s the music we listen to, the art we consume, the fashion we wear and even the food we eat. Lifestyle branding is when you position a brand to be culturally engaged and culturally relevant. The goal is for your brand to spark dialogue, thoughts, invoke feelings and exist in these cultural spaces through brand integration and collaboration.
H+S: And lastly, what is one big goal you hope to accomplish this year?
KS: I really hope to learn the business behind song composition and publishing. That’s where the money is.
To keep up with Kevin Storey, follow him on Twitter @KevStorey.