Working behind the scenes of some of pop’s biggest hits—from Lizzo’s About Damn Time to Lil Nas X’s 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 forged through collaboration.
Rosen, who previously worked in the fashion and textile industry, has infused Electric Feel with that ethos from the start, blurring the distinction between musicians, writers, and producers to create an “all-encompassing” network of talent. With a roster featuring popstars like Post Malone to songwriters Louis Bell and Carter Lang—who have penned tracks for Justin Bieber and Doja Cat—Electric Feel has earned its hitmaker reputation. To date, Electric Feel’s talent has featured somewhere in the top 10 slots of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 100 straight weeks, and has racked up 19 Grammy nominations at this year’s award ceremony.
While the industry is increasingly shifting online, something Rosen embraces, his approach to business is all about the personal touch. The budding entrepreneur built the foundation for future success in New York’s recording studios and concerts, establishing the contacts and trust that one day allowed him to “connect the dots” as a talent manager. The COVID-19 pandemic severed the “connectivity” of live shows that Rosen thinks is essential for new artists to establish a committed fanbase. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, virtually all performance venues were forced to close their doors, wiping some $30 billion in revenue off the live events industry, according to estimates by Pollstar.
Nevertheless, the industry’s adoption of experimental technologies opened up alternative opportunities—the firm’s investment arm, Electric Feel Ventures, established in 2020, is backing companies that could complement its 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 of it,” Rosen says. One example is an entertainment brand called Superplastic, which creates animated celebrities and digital collectibles. “We’re managing a [music] group that they created which we’re launching very soon.”
TIME recently spoke with Rosen about the music industry’s dynamic future, the variety of fresh talent, and his team-oriented approach to business.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When did you decide to start Electric Feel Entertainment?
About 2013 is when I launched the company. It was a very natural progression where it was a hobby that turned into something fuller. I realized that I wanted to seriously find talent and nurture them and put them together and help them make it by giving them the resources and help they needed. I loved music, but I never thought it would be something I would be doing full time.
When managing musicians was more of a hobby for you, how would you come across people who you thought had a real talent?
It was so different back then, because there was no social media or anything, so it was all just by meeting people in person. I grew up in New York and so I would just be very active with meeting people in studios, and concerts, and small shows in the city. And then I created a small studio in New York, and that’s how I started to meet a lot of the talent.
Was it difficult to win the trust of people in the industry at the beginning?
Yeah, that’s why it’s taken a long time to even build to where we’re at today. It hasn’t been overnight. A lot of people are skeptical of smaller companies in the music business, and they attach themselves to the large, well-known companies. It’s definitely a struggle when you’re coming up and you haven’t proven anything yet. Now we’re in a much different position and the focus is about growing the company and just continuing to add the same values but do it at scale.
How has the way that you spot talent changed since starting out?
I think what’s cool with us is because of the type of company we are and the brand that we’ve built, there’s a lot of stuff we still find organically. Once in a while, we will find things off 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 wanting us to hear their music and reaching out.
So you don’t trawl through TikTok trying to find talent?
We don’t do any of that. I would like someone on our team to be focused on that stuff but we’ve just been so consumed with the way that we have been finding talent [since the business began].
But then a couple of the two younger artists on your label, 24kGoldn and Iann Dior seem to do pretty well with that younger social media audience anyway. Was that just luck?
We definitely want our artists to use the platforms and to be on them. Any artists coming up today, we definitely expect to be on TikTok and everything. People want short form content, they want it all together in one place. I think that TikTok has done a really good job creating that platform. It’s now like using YouTube or using Spotify—it’s just another form of getting your content out there. And being somewhere where there’s consumers that are consuming, they [24kGoldn and Iann Dior] have done a great job with that. I think it’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 deviate too much from each other—which works better on streaming platforms like Spotify rather than the choppy, fast content on TikTok.
I think with him, he’s definitely more music first and not thinking about TikTok. A lot of the ways kids are creating today is with TikTok in mind. Post is just pure artistry, and it’s really coming from a whole different place. Now that the world is coming back, and you’re going to be able to see his shows live, see him perform the songs, and see how it’s supposed to be visualized, I think it’s going to be incredible. It’s definitely more of like a live experience where you listen through the whole body of work as opposed to a short-form type of content.
I think now genres have kind of gone away and it’s more about bridging a lot of great, different types of music. It’s so much fun to work with Post because he’s so versatile. Kids are growing up now to play music of all different types of genres, and the artists that are coming from that are really exciting.
You co-manage Post Malone with Dre London. How does it work having two different managers?
It’s great, because we both very much have the same mindset. We both have built our own companies, and have done it in a very natural way. I love collaboration and partnership. And that’s a lot of what we do as a company, more so than what you usually see in the music business with other managers. That’s why a lot of times people are shocked, like, how is it working with other managers? I love it and I always like to collaborate in any type of way.
Dre was already working with him. As soon as I met Dre and Post, I instantly knew that I had to work with them. So I was just pretty persistent, just trying to show them the value that I could help bring to the table by connecting them with a lot of writers and producers that are still the writers and producers that Post works with today.
Why do you think collaborating with other labels or managers is beneficial?
When you’re working in the music business, it’s much more fragmented, everybody’s kind of running their own businesses, in a lot of ways. And so it’s very hard to get people to all join one company. It’s very hard to mold certain businesses and force them to be something they’re not. You have to just take the industry for what it is and learn how to work within the world that it’s created. But it’s not always about having to be in the same company to be able to work together. I just think if great people are working together, more success is going to happen as opposed to them being siloed and fragmented away from each other. I learn things every day from working with all the people I work with, and I love seeing different styles of working and seeing how different people operate and how they think.
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What seems to make Electric Feel unique is that you have as much weighting on your writers and producers as well as the artists. Do you think that’s quite different from other labels in the industry?
Yeah, I think there aren’t many companies that are fully encompassing unless they’re publishing companies. Because record labels, they don’t really have the producers and writers. And management companies usually manage artists but not writers and producers, or vice versa. And that’s why we’ve morphed into a large part of our business being publishing. And we have about 20 clients under the roster now on the publishing side of the business.
So as the CEO overseeing all of these different aspects and wings of the company, how do you make that work? How do you shift your mindset from one thing to another?
They’re all very integrated into each other. It’s very hard to mold 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’re finding talent, we want to work with them, regardless of [the service we provide for them]. So if we find someone that’s really special that’s already managed, but isn’t in a publishing deal, then we would figure out how to get the publishing deal done.
It’s like you’re a coach to the player. A player could be really good, but he might not be able to withstand all the training and all the practice and everything that goes into it. And that’s a challenge. You have to test artists and it takes a lot of effort and time. And the way we work is like a team with each person having a different role. I was never really a big sports guy, but I think a lot of the fundamentals relate to music.
You said in an interview with Billboard that your choices of people to sign are particular and strategic. What did you mean by that?
I just look at things in terms of what we’re looking for in our team. We don’t want to just sign people to add to a huge roster. We want to bring people in 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 the clients before signing them to make sure that it’s the right fit for both sides. Because we don’t want the reputation of just signing people and it not working out or not delivering. For us, less is more.
What kind of new challenges do you think there are now for entrepreneurs starting out in the music industry?
It’s interesting, because there’s some things that are positive about [the industry] now. It’s a lot easier to penetrate now where you can catch something and it blows up overnight, a lot quicker. But it also makes it more challenging because there’s just so much stuff out there that it’s about getting in front of the clutter. The best way is to focus on creating the best music possible and not thinking about what’s going to work in short form content. Our company now has 19 Number 1 songs and over 50 top 10s and that really stems from the quality and timelessness of the music.
The Leadership Brief is taking a break next week. We’ll be back on Sept. 4.
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