Rolling Stone Future 25: Innovators, Iconoclasts in the Music Industry - Rolling Stone
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Introducing the Rolling Stone Future 25

Meet our inaugural class of innovators and iconoclasts leading the music business into its next golden age

RS25 Future

Illustration by Sean McCabe for Rolling Stone.

Photographs used in illustration by Krista Schlueter; Annie Tritt; Emily Nkanga; Boris Camaca; John Salangsand/Variety/Shutterstock; Maggie Shannon; Courtesy of Universal Music; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Graham Walzer

The music business is thriving once more. And it’s all due to a new generation of daring, disruptive leaders who aren’t afraid to upend the landscape with brazen ideas and innovations. Meet Rolling Stone‘s first-ever Future 25: a celebration of 25 talented, forward-thinking individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests, and skill sets who are poised to take the industry into tomorrow.

This annual series, which appears in print in Rolling Stone‘s October issue, will highlight 25 different individuals each year — from startup founders to budding hitmakers to entrepreneurial artists — who are leading reinvention in the business. Plenty of lists rank prestige and power in the behind-the-scenes of music; we wanted to focus only on the creative and the new. For our 2019 list, we selected a mix of veteran players and fresh faces who are making noise not just in executive offices but also in the studio, on the stage, on the road, and beyond.

Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender

Leo Fender, father of the Stratocaster, did not play the guitar. “But he was one of the world’s best listeners,” says Andy Mooney, the chief executive of Fender Musical Instruments — a company that, true to its founder’s legacy, is more adept at hearing and understanding its audience than anything else. [Read full story]

Anne Kavanagh, CEO of Steereo

Most residents of Los Angeles view their daily commute as a traffic-clogged nightmare. Anne Kavanagh sees all that dead time as opportunity. Kavanagh is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Steereo, a two-year-old startup that pays ride-sharing drivers to play independent artists’ music, effectively turning drivers into indie promoters. [Read full story]

Brooke Michael Kain, Chief Digital Officer at AEG Presents

Brooke Michael Kain spends a lot of time thinking about what annoys people in crowds the most. What do they find frustrating? Ineffective? Ridiculous? She then preaches the same question over and over to her team: How can we take these things away? [Read full story]

Caroline Diaz, Senior Director of A&R at Interscope

The future of major label A&R may be rooted in intense parental instincts. “I’m obsessed with my artists,” Caroline “Baroline” Diaz, Interscope’s senior director of A&R says. “They’re like my kids.” [Read full story]

Chris Kappy and Lynn Oliver-Cline, Luke Combs’ Team

Country-music management team Chris Kappy and Lynn Oliver-Cline are showing the Nashville establishment how to build an old-fashioned country-music career in a 21st-century way. With Luke Combs, they turned their focus away from the typical country-album-release models and radio promo cycles and toward social media and streaming. (Before Combs had a record deal, his song “Hurricane” accrued a million streams.) While this kind of strategy is common in pop, it’s groundbreaking in country, where physical product plays an outsize role and things have been done the same way for decades. [Read full story]

Dawn Ostroff

Dawn Ostroff, Chief Content Officer at Spotify

Dawn Ostroff had spent most of her career in the TV and movie business before stepping into her job in music streaming a year ago. But the veteran television and video executive is now tasked with pulling off Spotify’s biggest new gamble in years. [Read full story]

Dire Straits and Royalty Exchange

Dire Straits and Royalty Exchange

Dire Straits called it quits as a band in 1995. But in 2019, the back-catalog of the British rock band is reeling in more money than ever — thanks to an investment scheme that may help take the oft-in-turmoil music industry into a smooth financial future. [Read full story]

Dominic Houston, Head of Music at Netflix

Watch a few Netflix titles back to back and you’ll notice a common theme: They tend to be peppered with good tunes. Stranger Things made waves for its brooding electronic-Eighties score; the rom-com Someone Great cast a Lorde song before it cast any actors; and Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Bruce Springsteen have all dropped concert films on the video-streaming service in recent months. [Read full story]

Ethan Diamond, Co-founder of Bandcamp

“Don’t screw this up.” That’s what Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond hears over and over again from artists and labels about the company he founded in 2008. In the era of plummeting revenue from actual recorded music, Diamond’s service has evolved into the information-age equivalent of your favorite indie record shop, a place where hundreds of thousands of artists and around 6,000 labels sell music and merch directly to fans. [Read full story]

Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson, and Christine McCharen-Tran of Discwoman

First things first, says Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson: “We only work in guarantees.” Hutchinson is one of three founders of Discwoman, an artist collective, booking agency, and events platform for women and gender-nonconforming electronic artists. [Read full story]

Holly Herndon, Artist and Inventor of Spawn

Holly Herndon is not interested in creating her own replacement. The composer-musician saw the rise of machine intelligence in music as major labels and tech companies, hungry for cheap production, began pushing AI songwriters. But rather than fight it, Herndon decided to raise a robot bandmate herself. [Read full story]

Jacob Pace

Jacob Pace, CEO of Flighthouse

When Jacob Pace moved from his native El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles to jump-start his career in the music business, he was greeted with bewilderment. Pace had been helping artists promote their music on YouTube while working out of his parents’ house. The label executives who’d hired him to run PR for their artists were expecting a seasoned industry pro — not a 16-year-old kid. [Read full story]

Jody Gerson, CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group

Jody Gerson knew she had a knack for identifying future stars even when she was just “Xeroxing sheet music and lead sheets” for a publisher in her first post-college job. She went on to prove it at major publishing companies like Warner/Chappell and Sony/ATV, signing 14-year-old Alicia Keys in 1996 and Norah Jones in 2003, among other promising young talent. [Read full story]

John Stein, Co-Creator of Spotify’s First Genre-less Playlist

On September 7, 2018, Spotify quietly unveiled Pollen, a playlist based around a radical premise: It was not organized by genre. The late-night house of South Korean producer park hye jin existed in the same space as the sparse guitar pop from Clairo, head-nod hip-hop from YBN Cordae, and bossa nova-kissed R&B from Tei Shi. [Read full story]

Jon Platt, CEO of Sony/ATV

Jon Platt was in New York one day in 2009 when he heard it. Platt — then at EMI Music Publishing, where his signings included Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Drake — likes to say he looks for a spark that can be fanned into a flame. It can be a beat, a chorus, a bit of a verse. “I don’t need it fully packaged,” he says. “I just listen for a moment of greatness.” [Read full story]

Kay Hanley and Michelle Lewis, Co-Directors of Songwriters of North America

Michelle Lewis and Kay Hanley, two songwriters who double as the executive directors of advocacy group Songwriters of North America, describe their roles as “first responders to a fire,” their organizational missive as “building an army for when the big fights erupt,” and their career trajectory as de facto union leaders as “falling ass-backwards into a vacuum.” [Read full story]

Mr. Eazi, Artist-Entrepreneur

Africa is the second-biggest continent on the planet. Yet “there is no company in the world solely committed to servicing African music,” says Mr. Eazi, the Nigerian star who has collaborated with Beyonce and Diplo. The singer is aiming to plug this hole with emPawa, a company that identifies talented artists, funds their studio time and music video production, connects them with mentors in the music industry, and provides low-cost distribution around the globe. [Read full story]

Noah Assad, Manager and Co-Founder of Rimas Entertainment

Eighteen months ago, Noah Assad, who manages the Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny, was driving in L.A. when he heard his client’s music blasting from a car in the next lane. “I look to the right, and it’s a lady not understanding what Bunny’s saying, but she’s rapping, murmuring the words,” Assad recalls. “That’s when I found out: People who don’t even know Spanish are very interested in what we’re doing.” [Read full story]

Pharrell Williams, Artist and Festival Founder

In April, when Pharrell Williams put together Something in the Water — an event in his hometown Virginia Beach, Virginia, that featured performances by Travis Scott, Anderson .Paak, and Pusha T — he went out of his way to emphasize that it was not, in fact, a music festival. [Read full story]

Rebeca Leon, CEO of Lionfish Entertainment

Latin stands triumphant today as one of the most popular genres of music. Rebeca Leon is a big part of the reason. In 2007, Leon launched the Latin-music division for concert promoter AEG, which she started from scratch and built into a more than $150 million business over 10 years. She opened new markets (“I was doing shows in Kansas City,” she says) and developed a national-tour routing network, proving Spanish-language artists could pack arenas. [Read full story]

Sam Taylor, EVP of Creative at Kobalt

Publishing has historically been full of horror stories about artists or songwriters signing away their copyrights for eternity. But Kobalt, an independent outlet, promotes a different model: more flexible deals in which writers retain ownership of the songs they have written, keep more income from their songs than they might elsewhere, and enjoy a high level of transparency, so that writers always know how much money they are bringing in. [Read full story]

Shawn Gee, President of Live Nation Urban

Of the top ten grossing tours in the first half of 2019, just one hailed from hip-hop. But of the top ten songs, ranked by on-demand audio streams, eight were rap singles. That disparity between people’s concert interests and their home-listening preferences is partially the result of longstanding biases in the music business. “African Americans traditionally haven’t had the opportunities that others have had in the live music industry,” says Shawn Gee, President of Live Nation Urban. [Read full story]

 

Steve Martocci, CEO of Splice

Subscription music-streaming has ushered in new growth for recorded music. But you can’t keep up that growth without also making it easier in the first place for artists to create new songs — the very products that power this new economy — argues Splice, a tech start-up that wants to not just help artists create more music, but make its creation much easier. [Read full story]

Tunji Balogun, EVP of A&R RCA

When Tunji Balogun was young, a series of black superstars soared through mainstream pop music — Michael and Janet Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston. “I remember growing up with tons of black faces on my screen,” he says. “But then something changed in the late 1990s, early 2000s: It just kind of stopped. I have young nieces that haven’t grown up with a Beyonce or a Janet or a Rihanna.” [Read full story]

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