At Work With Rhea Pasricha, the Publishing Exec Putting More Women in Music Studios
In Rolling Stone‘s weekly 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.
The moment Rhea Pasricha was legally allowed to drive — which, in the state of Michigan, was age 14 for a learner’s permit — she was traveling from her suburban home to Detroit to help post flyers for bands playing in underground clubs. By high school, Pasricha was certain she wanted to work in the music industry. An education at NYU’s music business program led to a love of artist development, which she pursued at in her first job at Atlantic Records.
Pasricha — who’s also lived in New York, Singapore, and India — is now head of A&R for L.A.-based music publishing company Prescription Songs, where she’s responsible for signing and advising songwriters and music producers. The company recently celebrated Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” (written by Prescription writer Emily Warren) hitting Number One on pop radio for six consecutive weeks. Other successes include Doja Cat’s “Say So” and Arizona Zervas’ double-platinum breakout hit “Roxanne” (written by Lauren Larue). Producers and songwriters on Prescription’s roster are “literally like our extended family,” Pasricha tells Rolling Stone.
How did you get your start in the music business? And did you always know that publishing was the sector you wanted to be involved in?
I had done various internships throughout college. Some were in proper recording studios, and for a second, I wanted to be an engineer. I found that aspect really interesting, because I loved being so close to the creative process. Later, an internship turned into a part-time job doing music supervision for a small ad agency. Along the way, I kind of realized what A&R was — especially A&R at a major label. I realized that’s what I loved doing. I love going to shows, I love discovering new talent, connecting with young artists, and helping them grow.
Once I found out what A&R was, I had tunnel vision, and I ended up getting an internship at Atlantic Records my junior year of college. That turned into a full-time assistant position during my senior year of college, which was one of the hardest years of my life. I was working full-time and going to school full-time, which I do not recommend. I went from being an almost 4.0 student to barely graduating, but thankfully I did. I became an assistant in the New York office of Atlantic Records for about a year and a half — and then an opportunity came to move out to the Los Angeles office.
I’d always been interested in L.A., because I knew that was where a lot of the studios, writers, and producers were. It was amazing because I got to meet a lot of the OG Prescription writers through that job, as they would write for various Atlantic projects.I joined the Prescription team early on. At the time [seven years ago], I was the first A&R to join the squad, and it’s been so crazy to see it grow since then.
Are there a lot of other women in the engineering space?
There are more and more coming up now, which makes me so happy to see. I’m seeing more and more women learning how to engineer, learning how to produce, and learning how to cut their own vocals. It’s so exciting. It’s such an empowering thing to be able to do, and women are really good at it. I just can’t wait for the day when it doesn’t have to be “female engineer.” It’ll just be like, “Yea, she’s an engineer, and she’s dope.” And we’ve actually really been trying to push that at Prescription, because we are a very female-heavy company. There’s my counterpart Katie Fagan, who runs our Nashville office, and our head of film and TV sync Sara Walker is a female.
We partnered with She Is the Music at the end of last year and did a really awesome all-female writing camp. For three whole days with three rooms going, it was all females — female writers, female producers, female engineers, female vocal producers, female artists. Bebe Rexha and Kim Petras came by. To just walk into those rooms — I know it sounds cheesy, but I think it was one of the best weeks of my career thus far.
Has anything been released from those camps?
It was more of a creative brainstorming kind of thing, but it’s funny that you ask that because we just confirmed that one of the songs will be released, fingers crossed, and by a male artist. That’s really cool.
Is that uncommon — an all-female team creating a song for a man?
Yes. It’s becoming more common. We’ve known it all along that women are more than capable of doing everything and more than a man can. I think it’s awesome when male artists don’t even see it as a factor — like, “Did a female produce it, or did a man produce it?” It’s just, “Is it a good song? And if it’s a good song, let’s put it out.”
Did you have any songwriting camps lined up that had to be postponed or changed?
We were trying to do another in-person writing camp. In lieu of that, we really want to do something that’s kind of like a master class where, on Zoom, we can teach male and female writers how to record their own vocals and get their own home setups, and stuff like that. We’ve been very much on it with our writers, and our engineers have been working overtime to really get all of our writers set up.
“For better or for worse, we don’t have the massive back catalog that a lot of these majors have, so we’re not looking after like The Beatles’ catalog and Led Zeppelin’s catalog. I think that gives us the capability to talk to [our roster] every day. We’ve been to their baby showers, we’ve been to their weddings. They call us when they’re going through breakups. They’re literally like our extended family.”
So what does your overall job entail?
The A&R team looks after a roster of writers, producers, and artists. Since we are a boutique company, we have a smaller, more intimate roster that we’re able to really be hands-on with. We have just around 100 writers, producers, and artists, and we have seven A&R people in the Los Angeles office, which I look after.
For better or for worse, we don’t have the massive back catalog that a lot of these majors have, so we’re not looking after like The Beatles’ catalog and Led Zeppelin’s catalog. I think that gives us the capability to talk to [our roster] every day. We’ve been to their baby showers, we’ve been to their weddings. They call us when they’re going through breakups. They’re literally like our extended family.
From the minute I wake up, I’m chatting with our writers. I’m asking about their sessions the day before. We’re helping chase songs. We’re telling them about updates on pitches and cuts. And a lot of our day is spent brainstorming, strategizing, and just making sure that our writers are getting into the best rooms as possible and that the songs are finding the best homes.
That’s a big chunk of the work with our existing roster, but then obviously, another big part of it is constantly keeping our ears to the ground, listening to new music, and really trying to find new and exciting folks that bring something different to the table to add to our team.
What’s the first thing you do every day?
I tend to do most of my demo listening and brainstorming between the hours of 10 p.m and 2 a.m. So, I tend to go to sleep later and wake up later, at like 7:00am, 7:30-ish. My fiancé wakes up at 6:30 every morning, so at least I feel like I’m sleeping in. I wish I wasn’t one of these people, but the first thing I do is look at my phone to check my text messages and emails. I just dive right into it. I’m trying to be better about that, even just by taking 10-15 minutes to walk my dog Noodles around the neighborhood and just breathe. I’m definitely the type who will all of a sudden look up and go, “How is it 4 p.m. already?” I can’t not drink coffee. I do a lot of work with London, so most of my UK calls are normally earlier in the morning.
Have there been exciting recent developments at Prescription?
Honestly, this time in quarantine has been one of the most productive and successful times for us. And I feel so weird saying that because I know it’s so devastating for so many people. I’m not trying to diminish anything that’s going on in the world and all of the people that are hurting, but I do feel really lucky that we’ve been able to still keep the ship afloat. If anything, I feel like we’re busier than ever, because it’s just been all hands on deck.
It was so bizarre, but at the start of quarantine, Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” went Number One. It was pretty exciting because one of my writers, Emily Warren — who was one of my first signings when I started at Prescription — had written it. It ended up being Number One at Top 40 radio for almost six weeks. And then our artist Doja Cat hit Number One on the Top 40 and Hot 100 charts with “Say So” (ft. Nicki Minaj), marking the first time that a collab between two female rappers reached Number One.”
And about a year and a half ago, one of our A&Rs, Hannah Montgomery, signed this amazing writer named Lauren Larue out of Nashville. Lauren had written Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne,” which was a massive success at the beginning of this year. It was such a cool moment too because it shows the bridge between the two cities. Katie had moved from L.A. to Nashville to open up our Nashville office about three years ago, and around the same time, Hannah had moved from Nashville to L.A. and started in our L.A. office. I feel like we have such a strong connection between those two different markets.
Lauren was such an instrumental signing. She’s had cuts with Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini, and was an amazing staple as a Nashville writer. So, to then have the success of a [hip-hop] song like “Roxanne” was incredible. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do: Not put anyone in a box.
What’s your favorite success story to come out of a session?
When I signed Emily Warren super early on, she was still in college, and I had nothing to my name either. She’s always been a writer who’s not afraid to push the envelope, take the risk, and say things that other people may not say. She wrote Dua Lia’s “New Rules” with Caroline Ailin and Ian Kirkpatrick, who produced. They were all going through relationship stuff. And I hate saying this part of the story, but it was funny. Emily and I were talking and I gave her some bad relationship advice, which was, ‘You know, the only way to get over someone is to get under someone else,’ or something like that. I remember her being like, ‘Ooh, that’s good. Can I write that down?’
That line kind of became a part of the chorus, which was really cool. I can’t take any credit for it. It’s all their genius — I’m just happy to give bad relationship advice and spark inspiration where I can. It became a female empowerment anthem.
What makes Prescription stand out as a company?
I love that we don’t sign people off of research. We don’t chart chase and sign someone because they have a percentage of a hit song. We sign because we truly believe in them. There have been so many examples of us signing people early on — before they’ve had any real cuts or success — just because we love their writing, we love their production, we believe in them as artists. And I’ll be honest with you, sometimes it’s a longer road to success.
Sometimes it takes a few years to really start gaining that momentum, but we really pride ourselves on being in the trenches with our writers. It’s always great when you can have a cut with a big artist, but I think it’s even more rewarding to have a song that helps break an artist and helps define what their sound is going to be.
That’s reflected by our staff too. Jillian Rutstein is the head of our digital side of things, and she’s also a director on our sync team. She started as our receptionist — and was just such a superstar even then — and has worked her way up into building whole social media campaigns, and has really carved out a lane and a voice for us.