MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfill. Inspiring Women is supported by INgrooves Music Group, which provides impressive distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners.
Faith Newman is a groundbreaker.
She was one of the first five people to be hired at Def Jam, aged just 21, in 1987.
Four years later, in the second week of her next job at Columbia Records, she signed hip-hop legend Nas when he was a teenager.
These days, Newman is SVP of A&R and Catalog Development at growing publisher Reservoir in New York – and she’s still trailblazing.
Using her experience in the driving seat of hip-hop’s first arrival into mainstream culture, Newman has once again been ahead of the curve of the genre’s new commercial wave.
Amongst the writers she’s brought to Reservoir are Offset and Takeoff – two members of super-hot Atlanta trio Migos.
She’s also secured the signature of other majorly successful hip-hop acts for Reservoir including 2 Chainz and Joey Bada$$, as well as producers Just Blaze, Statik Selektah and XL.
These signings played a crucial role in a recent milestone for Reservoir – when it broke into the Top 10 US publishers by quarterly market share.
The success achieved across Newman’s career, however, hasn’t come without its challenges – as she explains to MBW in our first ever ‘Inspiring Women’ profile below.
Faith Newman’s first foot on the music biz ladder arrived after a chance meeting with Def Jam founder Russell Simmons on Manhattan’s Bleecker Street in the mid-Eighties.
Seizing the moment, she introduced herself and told him all she knew about hip-hop and that she wanted an internship at Columbia.
Simmons put in a good word, and Newman was soon stuffing envelopes in the Sony label’s dance music promo department – while spending her nights at the hottest hip-hop spots in New York.
The hard work and resourcefulness paid off: after hearing how impressed Columbia were with Newman, Simmons’ business partner Rick Rubin called her in April ’87 and offered her a job at Def Jam.
An A&R admin role soon morphed into more senior A&R responsibilities. Newman became involved in classic early projects like LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out album, as well as music from Oran “Juice” Jones and Black Flames.
It was a golden era for Def Jam, which was earning its legendary status thanks to acts like Public Enemy, Slick Rick and Beastie Boys.
Today, Newman remains full of praise for her Def Jam bosses.
She comments: “Working for Rick and Russell was awesome! Russell was a larger than life personality with amazing instincts, Rick was and still is a musical genius. They both really supported me.”
“I have the fondest memories of being at def jam, feeling like we were on the edge of something really big happening, but also enjoying the fact that we had our own clique.”
faith newman, reservoir
She adds: “I have the fondest memories of being there, feeling like we were on the edge of something really big happening, but also enjoying the fact that we had our own clique.
“We knew the same people, we hung out at the same clubs. Our social network was literally our social network – we didn’t have cell phones, we had to be out to see each other. That’s what made it really special.”
Newman’s Def Jam era ended after Rubin and Simmons split, and she joined Columbia in ’91.
After putting the word out that she wanted to sign a young Nas, she was given his demo weeks into the new job and spent the next two years A&Ring his seminal breakthrough, Illmatic.
Jamiroquai was the second act Newman signed at Columbia, and she also worked on the only album from the late Big L.
Later, Newman brought her hip-hop nous to imprint Jive, where she worked with the likes of UGK and E-40 and oversaw the recording of one of 2Pac’s posthumous albums.
A break from the music business in Philadelphia followed – but the old world soon beckoned.
Newman returned to New York where she started working in publishing, joining Reservoir six years ago.
As well as signing active writers, producers and artists, she helms catalogue acquisitions and recently secured deals with the estates of Al Green co-writer Willie Mitchell, Philadelphia soul writer Norman Harris, and R&B writer-producer Leon Ware – as well as bringing in the catalogues of The Commodores’ Thomas McClary and Walter Orange.
Here, we chat to Newman about working in the major and independent music business, the value of A&R and – naturally – her experience as a woman in the industry.
[Main picture of Faith, above, by Jackie Roman.]
What is the definition of good A&R in your mind?
Vision. Before stats, streams and follows come into it, before an act is fully developed, and you see that spark of something.
An artist is so much more than just the music. You’re looking for the complete package.
It’s different now to what it was like when we were making Illmatic.
“Illmatic took us two years to make and I don’t think anybody today would have the luxury of that long range development.”
That album took us two years to make and I don’t think anybody today would have the luxury of that long range development.
We are in a place when people need immediate gratification and a constant flow of content.
Artists work at their own pace but I think that for the young ones in particular, their vision of development is about constant content being put out there.
They know that they have to continually have things out in the marketplace and that is their development process.
How do you gain the trust and respect of the artists that you’ve worked with to suggest collaborations, or tell them you don’t like a direction in which they are going?
It’s about being supportive of what they want, what their sound is and what is authentic to them.
As a publishing A&R, it’s my job to show them that I am supportive and understanding of their artistry and to help them to execute their vision.
We suggest collaborations and you never know – especially with 2 Chainz and Migos (pictured) – what they are going to say yes or no to. They’ve done some pretty eclectic things!
Anything that comes across my desk that I can bring to them, I will, and let them make the call.
You have history in record labels and now work in publishing. What do you think is more important for an emerging artist today, a publishing or record label deal?
I’d say a publishing deal is a great place to start because it’s really easy to get music out and heard on your own, but you need someone to help you collect the money.
“A publishing deal is a great place to start because it’s really easy to get music out and heard on your own, but you need someone to help you collect the money.”
As a publisher, you can get your songwriters and artists in a room with other writers to co-write and collaborate and you never know what is going to come out of that.
Publishers can help you get a record deal. Somebody like Julia Michaels was a huge success as a songwriter for years and now she is breaking through as an artist because of all the collaborations and being in the room.
Reservoir just broke into the Top 10 US publishers by quarterly market share for the first time. What’s behind that run of success?
If you look at who is on our roster now—2 Chainz, Migos, Ali Tamposi, Lauren Christy, Dave Bassett—these are huge talents who write hit songs.
They are all here because we are really committed to our creative department, and to building a team with people who sign exceptional talent and nurture it.
Hip-hop now outsells pop music. What are the pros and cons of this new commercial era?
I don’t see any cons to it because it’s popular music that’s constantly evolving and pushing into new and exciting things.
There is no one hip-hop scene, there is room for different sub genres.
Kendrick Lamar (pictured) and Migos are two very different kinds of artists but still have huge singles and are considered pop music.
Hip-hop will continue to be the dominant force because it has so many different artists and so much variety to it.
You were one of the first women to be hired at Def Jam. why do you think there are so few women in leadership positions in the global music industry today?
Since the big boom of the record business in the ‘90s, the industry has really shrunk and when that happens, it’s usually the women who get pushed out first. Especially on the recorded side.
What’s interesting is that during that time, most publishers were women, it was a really female-centric industry and it’s not now.
I also think that if there aren’t enough women in positions of power, there aren’t enough women mentoring other women.
“There is a subtle way that power is distributed in the music business that women just aren’t a part of. There is still a boys club, maybe it’s not so overt as it once was but it’s definitely there.”
Maybe women have to start their own companies, be entrepreneurs and create their own opportunities that might lead them through the door of working for a label or a major publisher.
There is a subtle way that power is distributed that women just aren’t a part of. There is still a boys club, maybe it’s not so overt as it once was but it’s definitely there.
I experienced it when I was at a label — there is only so much I could do until I hit this ceiling because I can’t be one of the guys.
You’re not going to go golfing, to a strip club, or whatever it is to make those connections that take your career to the next level. That was the reason for me leaving that particular job.
How do you advise people deal with sexual discrimination like that in the work place?
Find a woman in a senior position and look for mentorship and guidance from that person.
But it’s hard for me to know how to navigate that now because I’m in a much different environment.
We are a very female-centric company at Reservoir, four of our top executives are women.
The president and founder of our company, Golnar Khosrowshahi, is a woman, and it’s amazing.
How often have you felt that gender has had an impact on your career?
Only in the one instance that I mentioned, and that was a wake up call.
I’d never thought of myself as a ‘female’ executive, I just thought of myself as an executive, an A&R person.
Coming face to face with [sexism] can change everything about how you view yourself, the company you work for and the people in power there.
“Coming face to face with [sexism] taught me a lot about who I wanted to work for in the future and what I would tolerate and what I would not.”
It certainly taught me a lot about who I wanted to work for in the future and what I would tolerate and what I would not.
The hip-hop community, interestingly enough, was more of an equalizer. If you understood the culture and appreciated it, it didn’t matter who you were.
I contrast that to my first internship at Columbia records, aged 19/20 years old, being hit on by the older guys in the promo department in a place where almost all the women were assistants.
I took that all in and realized if I tried to get in through a major label I’d never get to where I wanted to go.
By going somewhere like Def Jam, this great small start up label, I could learn and not have to worry about being hit on by the promo guys!
Based on your past experience, how would you advise someone to respond to being hit on in the office?
Don’t keep quiet, you have to make it known to the head of the department and have it dealt with.
I don’t think you should suffer and think that it’s a rite of passage for getting into the music industry because it shouldn’t be, ever.
Is that how you dealt with it?
I just laughed at them. I was so intent on being in the music business and being a success that I didn’t give them any mind, I just dealt with it and pushed them away.
I interned for one of the few women in the promo department and on my last day she called me into her office to talk to me and she started crying.
“She said, ‘This business is no place for a woman, you should save yourself a lot of heartache now and find something else to do with your life.’
She said, ‘This business is no place for a woman, you should save yourself a lot of heartache now and find something else to do with your life.’
I’m mentally rolling my eyes like, You’re crazy because I’m going to be a huge success in the music business and I’m not going to do anything else so I don’t need your advice.
But it was a very poignant moment at the same time, because I knew that I wouldn’t ever let myself be in that same position.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned during your time in the music business?
Trusting my gut. Most of the time I really believed in something it’s turned out for the best.
I still follow my heart and get very emotional about artists or producers I want to sign, or a catalogue that I want to bring in.
I’m pretty confident in my ability to trust myself with making those decisions.
Can you pinpoint the most useful lesson Rick and Russell taught you?
Rick (pictured) taught me the meaning of amazing A&R.
He had the vision and ability to craft sounds for very different artists like Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Slick Rick, and to realize that hip-hop was morphing into more than just one thing.
There were different sounds and messages and very different kinds of artists. He could see all of that; I really feel like he could see into the future as an A&R, and he was just as talented as a producer too.
“Rick [rubin] was the musical guru and Russell [simmons] was the what-happens-once-the music-is-done guru.”
Russell taught me to look at the project as a whole from a marketing aspect, not just at the music but from the artist as a personality, and how you broke a record.
Rick was the musical guru and Russell was the what-happens-once-the-music-is-done guru.
You’ve spoken about the worst parts of major label culture, what were the best things?
The best things in the ‘90s were the budgets and the expense accounts because there was so much money! That meant so much freedom to sign things and spend time developing them.
They would let you sign things from a very early development stage, and metrics weren’t being used to decide who should be signed and who shouldn’t.
When you had big budgets to make albums that was great too.
I got to travel around the world making records. It was a great high-flying time in the record business!
What would you change about today’s industry and why?
I’d still like to see more women in positions of power. I hope it will change because it’s easy for younger women to look at some of the names I mentioned earlier and think that’s a very real possibility for them.
It was the wild west and things are calming down a bit now, but it’s good to know that there are people working to make sure that rightsholders are supported. That is very important to me.
Main photo credit: Jackie Roman
Inspiring Women is supported by INGrooves Music Group, which powers creativity by providing distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners. INgrooves is a leader in the independent music distribution and marketing industry, provides independent labels, established artists and other content owners with the most transparent and scalable distribution tools including analytics, rights management services, and thoughtful marketing solutions to maximize sales in today’s dynamic global marketplace.
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