Soulection is something of a rare breed in the music world. While the industry has spent much of the last decade in stratospheric decline, this Californian label has flourished in a big way. With an international touring operation dubbed TSOT (The Sound of Tomorrow), a Beats 1 radio show, and a burgeoning merch line, Soulection has become a cultural force.
The label was started in 2011 by co-founders Joe Kay and Andre Power in Los Angeles. Kay started to gain notoriety with a humble podcast put together in his grandmother’s den, which then found a larger audience as he became student program director for KBeach Radio at Cal State University in Long Beach. Eventually, Kay and his growing company developed partnerships with the likes of noted music hubs Rinse FM and Red Bull Studios.
Native Instruments spoke with Soulection’s director of worldwide bookings/partnerships and DJ of 15 years, Julio Galvez, about running a music label, the challenges of expansion, and maintaining cultural relevance in 2017 (and beyond).
What would you say has been Soulection’s secret to success?
Part of our philosophy has always been about diversifying ourselves and growing with the times, and that requires us to experiment with many different things: touring the world and producing events, designing clothing and merchandise, finding new ways to innovate. The beauty of Soulection is that everyone comes from very diverse backgrounds and skill sets; The management consists of head of A&R Joe Kay, host of the weekly radio show; creative director/ DJ Andre Power; label manger Montalis Anglade, and Andres Javier who assists in bookings and production. When we form like Voltron, we can really move mountains. Everyone’s able to keep fresh by expanding their respective brands, hustles and do their own thing — whether touring, photography or humanitarian work, starting a clothing line, and even modeling. Staying creative and balancing the workload are important to our mental health, which in turn is good for business. We love to stay busy, so there’s always something going on. There’s always a ton of meetings, emails and business to attend to, gratefully so – staying hungry and never settling is the motto.
We’re also fans of the same things our fans are fans of. I hate to overuse the word “culture”, but I’m an ’80s baby, from a time when culture was really blossoming. I do think there is a resurgence in that today. But I don’t think we follow trends so much as just embrace a particular lifestyle, and now, with the blessing of being able to travel the world, it’s important to bring those sort of different perspectives back to the label. That’s a critical thing that allows us to turn the success we have seen into more productivity — we are constantly trying to expand our minds and become better people, learn new disciplines and ways of living.
For me personally, I’m just flattered and honoured that folks tune in and are really motivated by what we do, and trust, the feeling is mutual. People, our fans and followers, even new friends and strangers, are my favorite, period. To be able to be so in touch with people of all races and backgrounds and truly connect with them — that’s the ‘why’. Connecting with people puts me on to life.
To keep the business running, and then find new talent takes a lot of work; everyone is on the squad because they have good music taste
How does running the label today feel different from running the label five or six years ago?
The biggest thing for us internally over the past few years has been communication. Any way we can improve and effectively communicate with one another — especially with our hectic travel schedules and day to day life — we’re fully embracing that and realizing everyone can do better. We’ve all experienced more traveling and touring and life changes, and always like, “What’s the best way to get a hold of one another?” Now, many of us have our clocks on 24-hour time, everything is much more scheduled, and we try to be mindful of where everyone is in the world. Communication and finding the right groove can be challenging, but every day we are getting closer and closer to perfecting it.
How we can do this now, is embracing new technology, and keeping up with how it has changed over time. We utilize new updates in social media, and stay up-to-date with communication and organization apps. And with our artists, even embracing whatever kind of new technology they want to use. Let’s empower them, and set them up with the right people, the right brands and companies, educate them. We’re purists at heart and stay true to dope, raw, honest, sexy, organic, deep, soul music. That’s the kind of music we love. And when it comes to our artists using all forms of technology and producing what they feel, that’s something we really enjoy seeing and supporting.
Is there a standard “day in the life” that you can describe, or is it always changing?
There are definitely routines I have in place and I try to stay true to my schedule, but like life, a lot of unexpected things can happen that I have to readjust and just keep it moving. I’m troubleshooting something every day. There’s always a promoter that doesn’t follow instructions, that wants to promote something I didn’t approve, or we’ll show up somewhere and the lodging isn’t what we booked. Minor or major, name it and it’s happened. There’s always something I’m waiting on that I’ll then need to redirect my focus, especially in the bookings world, but patience is key and being ready to execute when the ball is in my court can make or break a situation. It’s all love though and the team is resilient – everyone is coming from a good place, we’re only human. Management can even jump the gun or things fall through the cracks. But with a genuine conversation, with compassion, there’s always a solution. Accountability is everyone’s responsibility. Im driven by solutions. My ‘day in the life’ is to always move forward.
Soulection has a lot going on these days — what’s been the main thing that’s sustained the business in recent years?
Soulection Supply, Soulection Records, TSOT, our touring, and partnerships — every entity is very important and has sustained the business over the years. If one department isn’t producing, it affects the whole business. I’m grateful everyone is always working, all hands on deck, at all times. The touring has definitely seen a lot of success in the past five years, and I’ve built, with the assistance of my team, a solid, beautiful department with artists traveling the world to over 100 cities worldwide. Again, balancing work, mental and health is so important to sustain not only the business, but ourselves, I can’t stress that enough – always listen to your body. Financially, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to minimize expenses both here at home and on the road, all the while strategizing on keeping our show experiences unique, fresh and full of energy.
I was ecstatic when I finished math in college; I remember a couple of friends and I even popped bottles of champagne [laughs]. I was so happy, thinking I didn’t ever have to do math again… And now, math is probably 90% of my job [laughs]. Every day I’m dealing with numbers, budgets, expenses. None of us have formal education for starting a record label, so it’s a lot of trial and error, and a lot of trust. Transparency is the name of the game – Im saving for the future and solidifying the business.
Do you guys have a formal A&R department, or is that a responsibility you all share?
It’s pretty organic, but we’re all A&Rs in a sense. We’re all music heads. To keep the business running, and then find new talent takes a lot of work; everyone is on the squad because they have good music taste, bring something to the table musically and exciting, plus of course, being compatible individuals, mindful and socially and politically aware. I think that really dictates the type of music you’re into and respect. In terms of new music and even older stuff, we’ve all discovered artists and shared them with Joe; there have been times where I’ll drop something in my DJ set for example, and then I’ll hear it on Soulection Radio the following week. We have a music channel in Slack, and we drop new music in there a lot. Joe and Monty have a done a great job of curating discovered talent, finding new artists and amplifying that particular department, that takes a lot of digging and patience. But it’s dope, and we’re always sharing music with one another.
Soulection has had a pretty rapid rise. What was the moment when you guys realized you had something that was going to be able to sustain itself?
The label started in 2011, and it was a couple of years into it, early 2013, when we started reaching new heights. But with that being said, to be quite honest, we’re still getting there. We’re all just natural-born hustlers. I don’t think anyone on the squad is comfortable with settling, so it’s hard for me to say, “Oh man, this is it or that tour was the one” I mean, I’m here sitting in my hotel, looking out and seeing all of Singapore: we’ve worked really hard to get here and I”m very proud of the accomplishments we’ve made, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Building a business is really interesting because you can do it in so many different ways. We built the community first — that was always number one. How do we connect with these people that are tuning in everyday? How do we connect with these people at our shows? How do we connect in real life? And then we’ve slowly started to see it all unfold: we’d be in Jakarta, and see somebody wearing our Soulection hat, in Cape Town and someone has an OG Soulection jersey… it’s really humbling, but we’ve embraced that growth… “Okay, what paperwork do we need? Accountants? A lawyer?” To get all that definitely took some time. We are forever evolving and we are forever doing our best and working diligently. I’m just really excited for what the future holds for us as a business, but more importantly, as active, conscious individuals of this beautiful, ever-changing world we live in.
Header – Jack McCain
Office – Joe Kay
Meeting – Austin Horton