If you haven’t heard of Allison Kaye then you’ve definitely heard of her work. As the president of Scooter Braun’s SB Projects and partner in Ithaca Holdings Kaye oversees the careers of entertainment’s biggest stars including Justin Beiber and Arianna Grande—so, yeah, you’ve definitely heard of her work. You can thank Kaye for having Grande’s Thank U, Next stuck in your head for most of 2019—the singer set a new record among female artists with 11 simultaneous top 40 hits on the Hot 100. Talk about changing the gender dynamic in a male-dominated industry.
This success has seen Kaye become incredibly well respected as one of the top music executives, being honored as Billboard’s Most Powerful Women in Music not one, but six times, including this year. So, how did she get there? Read on to hear how Kaye went from lawyer to partner, what she learned along the way and her advice for those who want to follow her path.
CREATE & CULTIVATE: As the president of Scooter Braun’s SB Projects and partner in Ithaca holdings, you oversee the careers of some of entertainment’s biggest names including Justin Bieber to Ariana Grande—so it’s no coincidence that you have been named one of Billboard’s Most Powerful Women in Music six times including this year. How did this opportunity come about? What does your role entail? And what advice do you have for people reading this who want your job?
ALLISON KAYE: “I started in the music industry as an attorney. I worked for two independent record labels in the legal and business affairs departments and I wasn’t getting very much satisfaction in that role. So, when an opportunity presented itself to work directly with an artist, namely Asher Roth, I took it. My job today has a lot of components. There are still several clients for whom I am intimately involved in their day-to-day management and others that I oversee the day-to-day manager and help with planning and overall strategy or when they otherwise need me.
“Our company has also grown to be much more than music and so a lot of my time is now spent building those verticals as well. The best advice I can give anyone who is looking for a job that touches as many different things as mine is that you need to master any skill or task before you ask someone else to do it for you, otherwise you lose credibility with your team.”
The music space is incredibly competitive. What are some of the biggest hurdles or challenges you’ve faced in your career? How did you turn them into opportunities? What traits do you need to succeed today?
“I feel like the biggest hurdles I have had to overcome always start with the word ‘no.’ Whether it was in my role as a lawyer trying to do things outside the box and having my ideas shot down, to conversations we have with labels and other partners where they don’t initially see our vision for a particular client—we get a lot of ‘no’s’ in the operation of our business. The way to turn those into opportunities is by not accepting the ‘no.’
“I will always do everything in my power to find a different way to make something happen—there’s almost always a way around to get your client or the project the things needed for success. To that end, in order to succeed in an environment like this, you definitely need patience, understanding, flexibility, and adaptability.”
There are a lot of people reading this who would love to be signed with you. What makes a musician stand out above the rest? What do you look for when signing new talent? Why? What advice do you have for upcoming talent who want to get your attention?
“The best way to stand out is to know who you are, who your fan (or potential fan) is and what you want to do. There are so many people out there with so much talent and no one knows better than you how to make you stand out. We’re here to amplify that and make as many people as possible to see you and fall in love with you and your art. But ultimately it starts with you and having a clear sense of who you are, who you want to speak to and how you want to be shown is the first step in providing that you have what it takes.”
There are also a ton of people who want to work with you. What traits do you look for in an employee? What can women do to get ahead at work, especially in a competitive space like the music industry? Why?
“I always look for the person willing to do what needs to be done to make things happen. It sounds so straight forward but as people advance in their careers, they start to feel like certain responsibilities or requests are beneath them. I am of the mind that as a manager, any task that needs to happen—from getting my client coffee to building a stage to commissioning a music video—is ultimately my responsibility so I will do whatever needs to happen to make sure the job gets done. So, I will help the people tasked with those jobs get it done however I can. This is a team sport and so I look for people who will lead by example and play any position to see the team win.”
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you #FindNewRoads + switch gears to find success?
“I look at it all as a challenge—there’s always a way around. I feel the most accomplished in my job when I am able to pivot and still achieve my goals. I find those times motivating despite the accompanying frustration.”
What do you love most about your job and what do you love the least? Why?
“There are so many things I love about my job but ultimately, music is one of the things that makes me happiest in this world. So, the fact that I get to help in sharing my clients’ music with people and in turn bringing that much happiness to others is the part I love the most. The part I like the least is that I’m always on call 24/7 but those are the sacrifices you make to do a job you love.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Why? How have you used it in your life and career?
“A long time ago, my mom told me to follow the river, not to push things to an unnatural point and that things will always end up the way they should. So when an opportunity presents itself, even if the timing doesn’t make the most sense, I try to take it and similarly when something doesn’t feel like the right fit—I don’t force things because I know things will come back around when the time is right.”