Ghazi Shami was building computers long before he championed hit records.
“Tech and music have always been simultaneous for me,” says Ghazi, who operates his own music distribution company and record label, Empire, responsible for hits from Money Man, Migos, and Tyga. “I got my first real job right after high school, building large-format servers — but I was still going to the studio every night working on records till four in the morning.”
That was at the end of music’s analog era. “People recording on a computer wasn’t a thing yet,” he recalls. “Most people were still recording on two-inch reel or, if you were in the cheaper studios, on ADATs or DA-88s, which were basically VHS tapes. I remember arguing with my teachers, who were like, ‘Computers will never be fast enough, and they’ll never have enough memory to record music!’ I was like, ‘Bullshit, you guys are crazy.’” Ghazi would take the scrap parts from his day job and build himself computers, and he was soon using them to record 16 tracks at a time — when most people could only record eight with analog devices.
Ghazi has shepherded thousands of releases since he launched Empire in 2010. The San Francisco-based company has jump-started the careers of Kendrick Lamar, Migos, Cardi B, and Anderson .Paak, and celebrated hits that include Tyga’s “Taste,” DRAM’s “Broccoli,” and XXXTentacion’s “Jocelyn Flores” — all of which are now seven-times platinum in the U.S.
Over the past six months, Ghazi has also built custom software for internal use at Empire. Covid-19 has highlighted people’s abilities to work from home — so, with the goal of staying one step ahead of the rest of the industry, Ghazi set off to “streamline communications” in his company. He declines to share specifics, but says he has created a system that “creates a symbiotic relationship between all the departments” by making things like invoicing, recoupment, and contract systems much more fluid.
The CEO is obsessed with efficiency. That’s why when his client Money Man wanted a remix of his song “24,” Ghazi direct-messaged Lil Baby on Instagram to ask for it. “I leapfrogged my finance team, logged into the system, and sent the wire myself so that he would get it the next morning,” Ghazi admits. “I called them and said, ‘Just so you know, I sent out the wire. Make sure the recoupment is set right.’” Baby sent his version back within 36 hours, and Ghazi went into Empire’s studios himself to mix the arrangement. “If we didn’t move in that fashion, there’s a strong possibility that we would have lost momentum,” he says.
In the past three years, the Empire staff has tripled to 100 people. Ghazi has paid close attention to talent diversity, hiring employees from Eritrea to El Salvador to Indonesia, and ensured an even gender balance. “That was something I was always cognizant of,” he says. “It’s not typical in our industry.”