How To Make It In The Music Industry With Roc Nation's "Lenny S"

Listen to how Roc Nation’s Lenny S Went From Selling Records on the Street to Working With Jay Z.

A senior vice president at Roc Nation, the New York entertainment company founded by rapper Jay Z, Santiago regularly collaborates with some of the brightest stars in the music industry.

“It was all about music—how can I get in music industry, how can I meet music people, how can I go to music seminars?” Santiago reflects. “I was pursuing it and chasing it.”

He chased the dream of landing a job in the music industry until he was hired as a street promotions rep—that’s a fancy way to say that Santiago was handing out cassette tapes, distributing flyers, and hanging up posters. “I was doing whatever I could to promote the artists I was working with,” he says.

“We are an entertainment company, we are dealing with publishing, management, streaming services and all facets of entertainment. That’s how we differentiate yourself from other record labels”

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  1. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. Don’t sign any contract with a label without going through it with an attorney. Those details often tell you how the label intends to recoup the advances you will be receiving plus interest and a percentage. You need to know everything before you sign so you will know exactly how much you’ll be paying them for every service they provide.

  2. Choose your friends and business associates carefully. The people you have around you are important because they influence you.

  3. Don’t mix business with friendships. Just because you’re friendly with someone, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protect your interests. Always get the details down during agreements. It helps to manage expectations and makes sure that everyone in the agreement understands the rules. In the music business, you’ll be working with lots of people who you’ll become friends with but make sure you don’t ruin that by leaving the details out of your negotiations.

Do you believe it makes business sense for artists to stay independent?

The strategy for artists to remain independent seems to have become popular lately, e.g. Chance the Rapper. He has no record label, no distribution deal, nothing.

I would encourage any artist to do so if they could. I don’t think it’s for everybody, but I certainly think you should try. Literally with a computer, you can send your music to the world. You can build an entire fan base and send out a flyer to where you’re going to perform. You can tour and sell merchandise and records without a record label.

I think there are some artists that need the 100 employees that come with a record label. Some artists need the different departments of promotion, publicity, and branding to amplify what they’re doing. The reality is, Chance is amazing—but unfortunately, not everybody’s going to be Chance.

How did you go from doing street promotions to making records? 

Santiago: I was sort of hitting my head on the ceiling when it came to street promotion. My bosses at the time were Damon Dash and Jay Z. They asked me one day: “What do you want to do? You seem like you’re kind of bored with this.” And I was like, “I actually want to make records. I want to get in the studio with artists.” The next day I was in the studio with Jay Z, Memphis Bleek, and a producer by the name of Mahogany, and we made the record “It’s Alright.” And from there, I was making records, and I never turned back.

You’ve known Jay Z for more than 20 years. What was he like early on in his career and how has he evolved into the business person he is today?

Early on, I was just a fan—a fan of the music and a fan of the business mind. One time, there was a car show in New York at the Jacob Javits Center. At the time, Jay Z was just starting out. He had a single called “In My Lifetime,” and [he and his team] was in front of the Javits Center giving out the singles with little Moët bottles. And I had never seen anything like that. I thought it was genius from a marketing perspective. The people who didn’t know them were just intrigued to know: Who are these guys, and why are they giving out Moët bottles as if they’re bottles of water?

I just had a gut feeling that he was one of the best. I felt that in my heart. I wanted to be a part of a team that I thought was going to make a real mark on this industry, and I was pretty right.

It was announced that Jay Z is launching a venture capital fund. What do you think about Jay Z as an investor and his ability to identify these up-and-coming companies?

As mentioned in Fortune