In Rolling Stone‘s series At Work, we go behind the curtain with decision-makers across the fast-changing music business — exploring a range of responsibilities, burgeoning ideas, advice for industry newcomers, and more. Read earlier interviews here.
Tony Bracy started his music industry career at an amusement park. He helped out radio stations broadcasting at the now-defunct Six Flags AstroWorld (now of Travis Scott fame), and from there went to work in sales at Houston station KRBE, in label promo at Virgin Records, and at Capitol Records. In 2018, he became vice president of marketing and promotions at SB Projects — helmed by mogul Scooter Braun — where he runs radio campaigns for the music management company’s roster of artists.
In quarantine, he’s helped shepherd successful radio campaigns for Dan and Shay’s “I Should Probably Go To Bed,” Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber’s “Stuck With U,” and Bieber’s recently released “Holy,” featuring Chance the Rapper. Bracy says he considers his career more of a lifestyle than anything. “Some nights are tough nights — if there’s a release, you’re up till 1 a.m. looking at the different platforms,” he says. “It doesn’t stop. And I’m okay with that.”
Bracy spoke with Rolling Stone about the changing nature of modern radio promo, his role as a bridge between labels and Braun’s management company, and excellent advice he once received from a fortune cookie.
How do you start your days?
Even when I was going into the office every day, I was an early riser. I’ll start working at around 6 o’clock. The East Coast is already moving, so I like to look at our streaming numbers and airplay. I’ll check the numbers on the Mediabase charts, and by 6:45 I’m sitting at the desk, looking at our streaming numbers, checking on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, I’m printing out all the radio airplay on all the formats, all the spins, just to see where we stand. If there’s a reason to, I’ll reach out to the head of promotion at a radio company or streaming folks at the label and just check in and see where I can help.
And the rest of the day?
It’s filled with Zooms. A lot of it is the strategy and rollout plans. We manage 30-plus artists and a lot of big names. There’s a lot of internal meetings, meetings with our label partners, but I’m also setting up meetings with our DSP partners to go over our priorities and see how we can work together. I bridge the gap between everybody. So it’s lots of meetings — lots of hand-to-hand combat. I’m in the trenches all day. I call Corpus Christi, Texas radio, I call Tidal and Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora, I call everybody.
I don’t hear about many promo heads on the management side. It’s a job most often associated with the record labels.
I don’t think it’s very common at all. I consider myself a luxury because I oversee radio and streaming. I’m talking to playlist editors and radio stations, and it gives us a good read as to where our projects sit because at labels, there are a lot of projects moving, and I can make sure we’re keeping an eye. I consider myself an extension. I don’t look at what the labels are doing wrong — I’m looking at how I can help amplify what they’re doing. I’ve got great relationships with our partners.
Why does SB Projects need someone on promo when the labels typically have several people in their own promo department?
We have a lot of artists on a lot of different labels. I’m here to offer a big-picture outlook to all of our artists. I’m coming in on an objective point of view on how I can better assist and be an asset. You’re right — a lot of management companies don’t have a “me.” It allows me to make sure our artists are front and center [at their labels]. I’m talking to radio too.
This is no disrespect to label partners, but there’s a lot of artists on their roster, I want to make sure our artists are positioned just right. I’m the third set of eyes. But the radio folks use me as a tool because I speak their language. And the people that work here can come to me when they have questions about radio or streaming and get answers faster, because they don’t have to go through a network of people.
Is there a difference in the way you approach promo from the management side from when you were at a label?
Interpreting data and information is key. It’s about making information understandable for both sides. Coming from the label side, the jargon can be confusing. I take that information and can tell the people we work with here what it means. I can go “Hey, we’re growing well, but we have to hit this milestone, and the difference between 10 and 5 on the chart is this, and here’s why.” And I’m available to our artists and management team 24/7, so if there’s ever quick analysis or a deep dive, I can get it to them quickly and they don’t have to wait very long.
Where do you feel like the focus needs to be with radio and streaming? Is it split 50/50?
Different artists require different strategies. I put as much into streaming as I do into radio.
They’re both important. When a record is streaming well, sometimes we’re teeing it up to push it over to the radio side. Let’s take a brand-new artist for example that we’re trying to develop — a lot of times it’s not on radio’s radar yet. I’m feeding them information. When we get there, radio is very well aware of every milestone we’ve hit and what’s happening now.
How has lockdown affected the way you do your job? Is it harder to get a song played?
Nothing has really changed that much. I’m just not on a plane going from coast to coast. I think it depends on where you are and your relationships.
It’s always going to be tough, whether it’s face-to-face or a Zoom meeting where clients meet artists for the first time to let them talk about their project. I miss sitting in a room with people without distraction around them to focus on an artist — but we’ve been FaceTiming for a long time. Not every artist is able to jump on a plane when you want to introduce them to a new partner.
Tell me about getting a song near the top. What does it take to get a song to Number One in the Top 40?
Justin Bieber, Ariana, or Dan and Shay are fortunate enough to get that first look from radio. But the newer artists are harder to get going. Most recently, Avenue Beat — we don’t manage them, they’re at Big Machine and I stepped in to help — they went top-25 on the pop chart in the pandemic when a lot of superstar artists came and went around them, which is astounding to me.
At the end of the day, even with a superstar artist, you can get on the radio, but the song has to do the research to talk back. The song’s like a baby. It has to stand up and walk on its own eventually and earn its way up the chart.
I don’t believe it’s right to just say you can “get” a song in the top 20. Getting a song on the radio in itself is an art in storytelling and making sure partners are aware of every step a song is taking. You want clients to invest in artists they’re excited to support. But every partner has metrics that you have to hit to see if a song is a hit or not. And it’s also about timing. There’s only so many slots. Pieces of the puzzle.
What advice have you gotten in your career that stands out?
The best advice I ever got was from a fortune cookie. I’m in the sales world of telling an artist’s story, and a big part of that is sincerity. The fortune cookie said: “Sincerity is the finest point in communication.” I taped that to my computer. If you’re honest and sincere and excited about the product you’re working with, that translates into the story you build.
There’s no reason to be anything other than transparent on a project, and to be [anything but] honest with each other. I find you get a lot more help and people buy in more when you’re as honest as you can be. Not every project is going to break, but you share that transparency and sincerity, your relationships appreciate it.
You’ve seen the promo game change considerably over the years, as has the industry at large in the streaming era. What do you think the industry will look like in five years?
The evolution has been going from CDs to streaming, digital radio, terrestrial radio, we have to keep evolving with the times. I really couldn’t tell you what the next thing is going to be and I’d hate to predict it. We’re in a field that’s ever-changing. We can’t be complacent and we should be aware. Who’d have known that TikTok would be what it is? You have to keep your eyes open. I don’t know what’s going to happen — but I’ll tell you what, I’m going to be here with it.