with: Le’Roy Benros
We had the opportunity to interview one of the best “Ears” in the music industry; Le’Roy Benros. Not only is he the man responsible for booking emerging talent for SOB’s, the legendary launching pad for artists such as Kanye West and Drake to name a few. Le’Roy Benros has a resume of artists starting with breaking Charles Hamilton, Bishop Nehru, Kwamie Liv who is being nominated for Break Out Artist of the year in Denmark this week, Angel Haze and most recently Lion Babe, who just announced a couple tour dates with Disclosure on their Caracal tour. The whole team is actually rolling out on tours and you can catch them live; Bishop Nehru will be on the World Domination Tour and Angel Haze has a world tour – Back to the woods
Le’Roy Benros gave us one of our most insightful interviews to date. Let him tell you about his journey and industry insight your bound to learn a thing or two. Check the interview below.
What’s the vision behind Turn First artists? Has the vision changed with the development of industry tools available to artists?
Turn First is a team of individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit. We all have versatile / strong skill sets that are made for identifying and building new artists that we believe in, at the earliest stage. We take pride in identifying and maximizing strategic initiatives in all areas of an artist career (branding / recording / visual/ touring / fashion / TV+Film) The vision doesn’t necessarily change but it does evolve just as the industry does and as the artists’ career grows.
Describe your background in music? What made you decide that you wanted a career in the music industry?
During my final year of college, I landed an internship at Sony Urban in the A&R admin department, where I assisted on Beyonce’s “Bday” and John Legend’s “Once Again” albums which lead to me simultaneously interning at TVT Publishing & Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music / HUSTLE in the management & marketing departments during his “Graduation” album campaign.
3 months into TVT, they found out I wasn’t going to school anymore so they terminated the internship. I was devastated so I decided to co-direct a video for one of their artists KeKe Wyatt’s first single “Ghetto Rose” on my own and presented it on my last day. They loved it and hired me as a receptionist. This is where I discovered Charles Hamilton, cruising through Facebook and MySpace while I was answering phones. Became his biggest fan and he said that I should manage him. I Had no idea what that meant but said sure, why not… I understood the potential of the internet as a music discovery platform, created an online campaign, executed it and caught the attention of VIOLATOR’S Chris Lighty. Chris invested in Noizy Cricket!! as a management division of VIOLATOR the same week that TVT folded as a label. That very same week, I signed Charles to Interscope records with his own imprint via Jimmy Iovine.
Ultimately that didn’t work out the way we hoped. From there I took on a group called Das Racist, executive produced “Sit Down, Man” then put together my first Euro / Asia tour. Eventually the group split up which led me to taking the Director of booking position at SOB’s in NYC. I had a magical era introducing some of the hottest new music in hip-hop for a couple years. Developed and managed Angel Haze during my time there and signed her to a worldwide deal with Universal Music, which led me to meeting Sarah Stennett at Turnfirst. Sarah believed in my vision of starting a global label / management company and secured a joint venture with me through Universal Music Group that allows me to invest into an artist to expedite the development stage before partnering with a major. I currently work with Bishop Nehru, LION BABE, Angel Haze & Kwamie Liv with Noizy Cricket!! offices in LA, NY, UK & Denmark with teams also based in France and Germany.
What made me decide??
Well, I love music and I love exciting challenges. I didn’t realize I could make a living with what I was doing, until I started seeing that I was making a living with what I was doing. I couldn’t believe that I could make a career doing what I’d do as a hobby. I’m just having fun. Every day is a continuation from what you’ve built the day before; New challenges, new progress that you have to build on top of, every single day.
Describe the time when you signed your first artist. What has changed from then to now in regards to getting a new artist discovered and signed to a major label?
Charles Hamilton was my first artist. It was such an amazing time in music because it was the start of the blog era. We were ahead of the game when it came to understanding the power of the internet and how to utilize it. We were one of the pioneers when it came to executing digital campaigns with the support of the blogs. There was less clutter back then because people were still figuring out how to maximize the digital platforms. Now there are thousands of blogs and even more artists submitting music to them. In this day and age, you have to build and cultivate relationships in order to help cut through the noise more than ever before. Many bloggers who’ve supported me when I started, are now major players in the digital world and still support me till this day; Big ups to Lowkey & Meka! Still, the quality of the music has to be even more undeniable in order to get real recognition regardless of who’s in your corner. I only work with music when I 100% believe in it and these relationships trust my ear.
Was it a difficult decision to leave school to pursue your opportunity at TVT?
Not at all, it was actually one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I think there is more than one way to graduate from college. By the time I decided to leave, I had made up my mind on what I wanted to pursue and how I was going to pursue it. Spending my time in college gave me the opportunity to figure that out. I also knew, that because I didn’t finish school, meant that I HAD to make my decision work in my favor. I was doing multiple internships my final year ( G.O.O.D Music, TVT & Sony Urban) and realized that I was learning more in that field than I’d ever learn in a classroom. So I graduated myself a little early in order to take advantage of the opportunity.
Who have your mentors been while developing your career in the music industry? What are some traits and gems you’ve learned from them that you still remember to this day?
I’ve had some great people in my corner from day 1: Damien Alexander, who gave me my first internship at Sony Urban. Leotis Clyburn, formerly of TVT Publishing; Chris Lighty Violator, who was the first person to invest in Noizy Cricket!! Larry Gold at SOB’s who trusted me with his company of 30 years and Sarah Stennett from Turnfirst, who believed in Noizy Cricket and gave me the opportunity/freedom to develop it into a multi faceted business. I learned many many things from all of them. From Damien, I learned to be patient and the importance of understanding my path. From Leotis, I learned to trust my ear and be very aware of my surroundings. Chris carried himself in such a way that commanded respect in every room he stepped into, he knew how to utilize the people around him. When you get thrown into a tank of sharks, you either get eaten by one or you become one. Larry gave me the opportunity to sink or swim, I had a huge chip on my shoulder when I was hired because I had a lot to prove in an unfamiliar department of music – live booking. He taught me to treat the company as if it were mine, meaning if the shows lost money, take it personal. Make decisions as if I owned the place.
Sarah taught me that no matter how talented you are, you need the right team in order to grow and that a mark of true leadership is to empower people you believe in.
Internships have come under fire in the music industry due to the fact that new interns are working far more hours than they are supposed to. What are your thoughts on this? What ideas do you have for millennials looking to create a career for themselves in the music industry?
To be honest, I don’t think the phrase “than they are supposed to” applies in this industry. For anyone who wants to make it in this industry, you have to make yourself valuable. Sometimes it means staying longer than the next intern, sometimes it means going on coffee runs and picking up lunches. The more time you’re at your internship, the more you’re exposed to what you need to do to make it and the more you absorb information that you observe. Kobe Bryant has a reputation of staying in the gym shooting foul shots much longer than most. It’s a drive to learn, a drive to become the best. The interns who complain about “long hours”, I can assure you wont make it in this game. When I was an intern, I had to be sent home every day. When your foot is in the door, don’t give anyone a reason to get you out. An internship is your foundation; Never lose that intern work ethic.
You mentioned the name Noizy Cricket!! came from Charles Hamilton. Were there any other names you were thinking of at the time? What goals do you have for Noizy Cricket in the near future?
When I first started working with Charles, we created such a buzz and momentum that we had started taking a lot of meetings (before he was signed) I had a tendency of preparing him for these meetings the same way every time. One day, during one of these prep “sessions” he cut me off midway and said “damn it, leRoy… you’re like a Noizy Cricket!!” .. I was like, “oh word? I’m naming the company after that then…” I wasn’t necessarily looking for a name, it just happened that way. You really can’t ignore a noizy cricket, just like the buzz and momentum of every new artist we work with. I have some exciting plans for Noizy Cricket!! That I can share later this year but Noizy Cricket!! has expanded into a company that now will also be identifying/growing new businesses and ideas outside of music. Patrick Castelo, who I’ve met and worked with since the VIOLATOR days and has been a part of NC!! since the very early beginnings, serves as the Noizy Cricket!! COO.
What are your thoughts on the major label industry? What changes do you feel need to be made to ensure these companies sustain themselves for the future?
I think major labels need to do a better job of investing in the foundation of the artist properly. Don’t be so focused on an immediate return. Building a fan base is so critical and it takes money, time and patience.
Do you feel that the role of an A&R has become a dying art?
Not quite sure, there are plenty of great A&R’s in the game but I do think artist development is the dying art form. With the state of the music industry, labels are looking for quicker returns on their investment before they decide to “cut their losses”.
What traits do you look for in someone to join your team?
Passion, dedication, great taste in music, versatile, hustlers and no ego.
You’ve mentioned free EP’s/albums are a great way to gauge your artists’ audience. Do you have some tactics that worked for you to grow a fan base?
Consistently create quality content and find the best team to help generate awareness, exposure and momentum, globally… then tour.
With the decline of CD’s, and the emergence of Digital downloads and streams; Do you think this levels the playing field in terms of distribution?
Absolutely. The independent artist is able to get music into the marketplace at a very affordable cost. Its what you surround the music with that is going to make the difference (visuals, marketing plans, touring). It gives the independent artist the opportunity to create even more leverage when it comes time to meet with the majors.
What distribution tools would you advise emerging artists to use; to put out their music?
Tunecore, The Orchard, CD Baby are all great and simple platforms that service your music to all digital retail outlets at an affordable cost. They each also have plenty of tools that can help grow your fanbase, you just have to take the time to do your due diligence.
How do you feel about the digital music industry? What do you think needs to be put in place so that it’s in favour of the artist?
I’m not mad at the digital industry. Just like the evolution of the music industry, you have to adapt and evolve with it. You have to identify or better yet, create the new trends, adjust and maximize each opportunity. Not sure if I have the answer to that million dollar question yet.
From your experience what are some key points/steps to developing an artist from the start?
First you need to identify the goals of the artist. Once you have that, you create and finish the music + assets. Make sure you have the basics (bio/press shots/ social networks) Assemble a team to help build a campaign and press go…
The role of a manager is always changing; In today’s day and age what are some key things a manager should know how to do?
A manager should be very resourceful and strategic. A manager should know who the right people are to bring into the team. A manager should know not to be a yes man. Most important, a manager should always know how to find a solution.
Le’Roy Benros on Social: Twitter