This essay is one in a series of profiles showcasing musical luminaries who will be honored in the 2019 National Sawdust Gala, to be held on May 7 at Sotheby’s in New York City. For more information, see nationalsawdust.org/gala.
“Most radio stations research for women. Most clubs market to women. A lot of products market to us, right? Because most people know that in many decisions, where the women go, the men will follow. There’s a bunch of pretty women at the club, the men’ll pay to get in.”
Juliette Jones is explaining why it’s crucial to have women in positions of power and influence in the recording industry—like so many other businesses, a bastion of male authority. As the Executive Vice President of Urban Promotions at Atlantic Records, Jones is in a position to know: she’s one of the most prominent and influential figures in the industry, with both the accolades and the sales figures to substantiate that claim.
“A lot of times, women are really making or breaking the front lines of the success,” Jones continues. “If everyone they want to sell to is us,” she says, “why don’t you let us in on the process?”
It should come as no surprise that Jones would adopt a female-forward philosophy to making and breaking records; after all, a woman helped her find her way into music promotion in the first place. “When I was in college, I was an accounting major, more because I was good at math than anything else,” she explains. “I worked at MCI in the evenings as a customer-service rep.” One of her coworkers there, a record-promotions veteran who had left the business and was in the process of re-estabishing herself, proposed an internship.
Jones was told that the job would entail handing out cassettes and promotional material at the nightclubs she already was frequenting. “Now that I was doing it – and realized that now I was doing quote-unquote promotion, I would get into the clubs for free – I was like, ‘This is way better than doing people’s taxes!’”
She laughs at the memory—but also discovered, once she’d worked her way up to promotions positions in the recording industry, that the work might actually have as much to do with her former college major. “I liked the fact that it’s like math,” Jones explains. “It’s very definitive; there’s a right and wrong answer. Number one is number one.”
Yet even in a field that can be dominated by a handful of boldface names – Puffy, Kanye, Drake, and the biggest breakthrough success Jones worked on recently, Cardi B. – she recognizes the importance of always looking for the next discovery. “I’ve always understood that as an executive, that is what makes or breaks me: breaking new talent.” She recalls the story of a gifted rapper whose ascent had stalled after an unsuccessful debut at another label. That artist’s next step was Jones’s assignment—and her efforts contributed to a single that went to No. 3 on the charts. It might have hit No. 1, were it not been eclipsed by the same artist’s Grammy nominated follow-up.
“I would always tell people that’s the closest probably I’m going to get to being nominated for a Grammy,” Jones says. “When you start from scratch like that and really work through the whole process, it’s so fulfilling and rewarding to see it all work out.”