Ryan Brady, a 2008 Northwestern graduate, is Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic Records and one of the co-founders and co-hosts of the hit Beatles podcast Take It Away: The Complete Paul McCartney Archive. We talked to Ryan about his time at Northwestern, his career trajectory, and some of the biggest lessons he’s learned.
Q: As a 2008 Northwestern graduate, how did your background in economics, music technology, and sound design prepare you for your future?
A: My background was the perfect blend to enter into the music business at the time and I didn’t even realize it. With economics, you figure out how people work, how marketplaces work, and how people interact and exchange value. That’s important in a marketing or sales position, which I’ve always been in.
With music technology, not only has it allowed me to produce a podcast and music, but it equipped me with the vocabulary to communicate with directors, artists, producers, execs and that’s invaluable.
At Northwestern, you learn rigor, how to drill things down and how to mine the most valuable information out of what you’re studying because you’re up against very intelligent people. That competitive edge helps you learn what it takes. You need do-or-die drive to the finish line energy to succeed in the real world.
Q: Were you always interested in the music industry? When did you realize this was the career path you wanted to pursue?
A: Yes, I was always interested in the music industry and wanted to pursue it with certainty in high school. Very simply, I love music, everything about it and what surrounds it.
Q: What do you remember fondly about your time at Northwestern?
The thing I remember the most fondly is taking a moment to step back, to be in the moment, and to look at the beautiful campus. You’re stressed out, you’re going from class to class, and you’re putting all of this information in your head, so you need to take a moment to pause and to look out on Lake Michigan or the Chicago skyline. Beautiful.
The people and the professors too. I still have Northwestern friendships and those have opened up career opportunities down the road.
Q: Walk us through your tenure at Atlantic Records. It seems like you had some great pioneering moments on the digital marketing side of things.
A: From the executive assistant position at Atlantic, I went to a digital marketing lab — I worked with people like Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, Ed Sheeran, B.o.B, and many more. You’d work on their websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media and you’d help build audiences. After a while, I wanted to branch out and start something new.
A VP at Atlantic and I wanted to start our own label. We made this presentation to start an artist development department, or incubator, within Atlantic. We gave the presentation and they said, “no, absolutely not.” Three or four months later, they came back and said, “we have this idea and we think you’d be perfect for it. It’s an Incubation Department ….”
So, we started this department and it was as simple as, “here is X amount of dollars per quarter, per artist. Good luck!”
We had to figure out how to do marketing the right way, how to make music videos, how to work radio, a publicity campaign. We learned every single job at a major label, from top to bottom. What a ride.
Q: And how did your role at Nice Life Recording Company come to be?
A: I had a pretty good career trajectory at Atlantic, and then Nice Life comes in and they’re like, “we have this indie label, do you want to be the head of marketing?” The long and short of it is I said, “well I’m not really interested in that job but what if you made me head of the label?” The lesson is, don’t accept anything less than what you think you deserve and keep asking. Every time I asked, I got what I asked for.
Q: What have some of the highlights been working in this industry?
A: There’s nothing quite like the rush of watching an unknown artist break through into the cultural consciousness and achieve success – from struggling to having more money than they know what to do with. I remember seeing Ed Sheeran play in some little club in New York. He got off the stage, went to the middle of the crowd with no mic and started singing on an acoustic guitar. He moved the whole audience from heaven to tears and back. There’s a big rush in that process and I’ve seen that a few times. I’m always chasing that feeling. You also get to be around other creative people and to make things from out of thin air. Is there anything better than that? If there is, I don’t want to know about it.