Ask Kevin Liles where he sees himself in, say, 10 years and he’s not exactly sure. But he does expect he’ll be just as active as he is today.
The 46-year-old music executive, who went from an unpaid intern to label president in less than 10 years, knows a thing or two about the industry: from getting started to making money and building a brand.
“I can’t say what business it will be in,” Liles told CBS News. “But in my soul, I love the business of music. In my heart, I love innovation. In my mind, I love to think about things differently,” he said.
He combined all of those attributes when conjuring up the idea to partner with Mariah Carey and Jay Z’s 40/40 for Go N’Syde, a new beverage line available at Walgreens and Duane Reade. Carey has a pink lemonade drink called Butterfly, and the Jay Z 40/40 beverage is an Arnold Palmer-esque tea. Via augmented reality technology, fans who can download the Go N’Syde app and scan the beverage labels via their smart phones to receive exclusive artist-related content as part of what Liles calls a “network.”
Needless to say, the former Def Jam president and Warner Music executive VP is quite busy. He currently runs KWL Enterprises, which includes a management company that oversees the careers of sports stars and music artists, including D’Angelo, Trey Songz, Estelle and Nelly.
And in addition to managing artists such as D’Angelo (Liles promises a new album is coming soon), Liles is also helping head up 300 Entertainment, a content company that signs acts and brings them to marketplace with lead investors YouTube and Google on board.
“It’s really a feeling to me,” Liles said about spotting new budding talent. “It’s seeing how they’re not waiting to build an audience. They’re not worried about an opinion. They want to go out and find that one fan, turn that into two fans and two fans into three fans…and then you end up with a 1,000 fans…You build your own audience.”
Liles says he looks to reward risk-takers. “We don’t want to have the cookie-cutter build anymore where everyone deal should be like this. No, what’s the deal that works best for you because you went out and did what’s best for you?”
But many budding acts want to know: How do you make money in this business? To that end, Liles says, “Tour. Build your brand…We call it a blended model right now – whether it’s streaming, whether it’s dow nloads…digital, sales…merch…all these things make up a number.”
Liles went to school for engineering, but ended up in the music industry because, like many people, he initially wanted to be an artist. He soon realized he was probably more cut out for the business side of things.
“I always tried to be prepared for opportunities…You have to be open to see if they are there,” Liles said. “I would encourage any young person or any a person going through a transformation themselves to really ask yourself, ‘What is is that your really passionate about? What is the thing you’d do without getting paid for?’ I love this business. I love taking nothing to something…Find your passion and work harder than anyone else.”
With the music industry and technology rapidly changing, it’s hard to predict what’s next — and how listeners we’ll take in music.
Liles jokes that in 10 years, music “might be playing in your head,” adding, “Nah, I still think it will be portable. The stronger the PDA device becomes, the more content you’ll be able to hold. You have the clouds. Streaming will continue to be great. Downloads have leveled off to some point, but streaming I bet will be the w