Money Didn’t Motivate Drew de Leon, So He Left His Job in Finance for the Music Industry

When he was 25 years old, Drew de Leon waved goodbye to his high-paying finance job and pricey Manhattan apartment in an apparent quarter-life crisis. Money didn’t make him feel fulfilled, so he quit his job to search for his purpose. He found it in music.

In taking that leap of faith, there were a lot of factors de Leon had to consider — one of which was exiting a steady job as a trade analyst at an investment bank during the 2008 recession. No amount of money could overpower his lack of passion for his role in banking, but he didn’t exactly know what he wanted to do next — only that he wanted to help people — so he took some time off and traveled for a few months to regain clarity. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this,” he says, especially during a time of economic hardship. Shortly after his return, a realization hit him: his “why” was a passion for advocacy and empowerment in music. de Leon began his journey in the music industry as the manager of a DJ friend and the founder of the management company Blank Label, which eventually blossomed into a music creative agency. The Filipino-American exec ran digital campaigns and brokered brand partnership deals for artists up until 2018, when he moved to his first official record label job at Def Jam Recordings. While there, he oversaw campaigns for the likes of Nas, Pusha T, Teyana Taylor and DaniLeigh. Then, he moved over to Alamo Records as the head of digital in 2020, and at the end of 2021, he began serving as a partner at boutique music distribution company MPR Global, teaming up with his friend J.R. McKee to help amplify the careers of artists like recent GRAMMY winner Muni Long.

Between running Blank Label and working for Def Jam, de Leon co-founded The Digilogue at a Wix co-working space in 2016. There was a strong collaborative energy between the entrepreneurs and creatives focusing on website design, fashion, content creation and music, at the office de Leon worked out of, and their monthly meet-ups inspired him to set up something similar for the music industry. As someone who didn’t have a method of access in the business, de Leon and the rest of The Digilogue team focused on equipping that entry point. They took the time to understand the needs of their community, and used their findings to build a platform that offers resources for young graduates and mid-career professionals looking to begin a career in music. “Not only is The Digilogue a starting point for the music community,” de Leon, who is now the Chief Community Officer, of the platform, says, “but it’s also a haven for artists and professionals to be seen and heard.”

“At the end of the day, the music industry is centered on genuine relationships and collaboration.”

In three words each, how would you describe your job to someone who isn’t familiar with the music industry?

Building. Educating. Advocating.

What is the scope of your job as the co-founder and CCO of The Digilogue?

Externally, it’s about being the loudest advocate for The Digilogue, whether it’s breaking down what we do as a community to a new member at an event or just sharing our programming and resources on socials. Internally, it’s about empowering the team to have the autonomy to lead their respective verticals. I oversee and guide my teams but give them full reign to take ownership in what they do.

Can you run us through a day in your work life?

When I wake up, I dedicate 30 mins to an hour to myself. Honestly, I only learned this during the pandemic. “Drew Time” includes stretching, listening to music, eating a big breakfast and reminding myself how grateful I am.

Each day is different, but I’ll run through what I worked on during a recent day. In the morning, I’m checking my calendar, preparing for meetings and deadlines — shoutout to Google Calendar for organizing my life. I’m old school and like to write things down; I prioritize what I need to do for myself outside of work and then make a checklist for The Digilogue and MPR Global.

Since The Digilogue is centered on collaboration, I’m usually working on decks with our Head of Brand Partnerships. We have two activations scheduled this month in Nashville and LA, so I’m coordinating the production of these events. We’re also gearing up for Digilouge Days, our NYC music and tech summit in October. Last year, we had over 500 attendees and were able to provide an affordable and accessible conference for the music community. In conjunction with my Digilogue work, I’m running digital marketing campaigns and overseeing release plans for our artist partners at MPR Global, Amari Noelle and Mannywelz. They are outrageously talented.

“Don’t just network to do it, be intentional.”

The Digilogue is very community-oriented. How would you describe the role of community when it comes to building a career in the industry?

Community is everything when it comes to building a career in the industry. It’s not easy being an artist and a music and tech professional. Many people don’t know where to start. If a community can offer support, people don’t have to feel alone in their journey. Their journey is difficult enough. At the end of the day, the music industry is centered on genuine relationships and collaboration. Ultimately, you can’t be successful doing it by yourself.

What would you say is the most important aspect in artist development? How do you ensure that the artist is successful?

When it comes to artist development, I believe in the 4 Ps: product, point of view, positioning and people. The product (a.k.a the music) has to be great. I don’t care how viral you get, great music will always stand the test of time. Great music aligns with the artist’s point of view. It’s important to identify the artist’s point of view when it comes to lyrics, content, messaging, narrative and brand aesthetic. With a clear message and vision, we need to establish the artist’s position within their genre of music and in relation to similar artists/peers. Lastly, it’s the people, the fans. Who are the fans? Why do they consume the artist’s music and content? How do we convert casual fans to super fans?

Did you always know you wanted to have the career you do now, and did school play any part in inspiring you to this path?

Schoolwas a foundational piece for me, but you don’t need a degree to be successful in music. When you go to college, you get to explore different subjects but you don’t really know what you want until you actually practice it. There’s an expectation that you have to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life in four years, but that’s not realistic. I encourage students to get internships and work on passion projects to actually practice what you learn and want to explore. When I went to college, I started out as an accounting major and quickly pivoted into marketing. I really enjoyed my marketing classes, especially when it came to ideating on campaigns for our class projects. I can say those classes set the foundation for my career. Major shoutout to Baruch College in New York City!

What are the necessary first steps someone should take to enter a career in music as an exec?

The journey is very different for everyone, but I always advise on the following:

Never stop learning. The music industry is constantly changing and you’ll get left behind if you don’t adapt.

Manage your relationships. Don’t just network to do it, be intentional. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t, be accountable and transparent.

Do the work. You don’t have to be the loudest in the room but let your work speak for itself. Your reputation will precede you because of the great work you do.

Don’t lead with your title but lead with your character. Be respectful to everyone from the intern to the CEO. No one likes assholes.

“There’s a time and place for everything to happen in my timeline…I have to remind myself daily that everything I want doesn’t have to happen now.”

What was the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far, and how did you overcome it?

Managing success, because you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve accomplished. I used to question myself if I was doing enough for my career and it compromised my time with loved ones. I was always focused on what’s next. I’ve learned to pace myself and be more present. There’s a time and place for everything to happen in my timeline. I have to remind myself daily that everything I want doesn’t have to happen now.

What is one thing about your job that most people would find surprising?

The optics of working in music don’t tell the full story of the amount of work and dedication you need to put in. Don’t get me wrong: I love the perks of going to shows, festivals, release parties and all that, but there is so much time and effort to executing marketing campaigns, getting artists to buy in on what you’re working on and coordinating with people from partners, to your team and the artist’s management. You need to over-communicate and also know how to deliver messages clearly and concisely. Lastly, you need to learn how to read different rooms.

Is there a secret to career longevity in this industry?

It’s easy to get jaded, but I encourage people to not to lose their love. I always go back to live music and attend shows as a fan, not as a music executive. These experiences remind me how grateful I am to work in music and do what I love every day. I even have to pinch myself that I’m doing this interview.

What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?

I’ll be honest, I’m a product of hustle culture. Working long hours comes naturally to me but it wasn’t until the pandemic that I really focused on self-care. I’m more mindful of my wellness now and creating boundaries. It’s helped me get the best output of my work without burning myself out. It’s also helped me balance more time with my family and loved ones. Personally, I create boundaries on the weekends. Unless it’s a dire emergency, it can wait until Monday. The weekends are for me and my family. I also set time to decompress every night to play FIFA. I wasn’t much of a gamer until the pandemic; I usually play for an hour to recap on the day and get my mind right for the next day. I also enjoy listening to sports podcasts and reading to get in a good headspace. Lastly, I enjoy hanging out with family and friends. They’re everything. I’m more intentional now in making time for them.

“The music industry is constantly changing and you’ll get left behind if you don’t adapt.”

What does a day off look like for you?

I love sports, particularly soccer and basketball. On my off days, I enjoy watching my teams: Liverpool F.C. and the Knicks! Talk to me nice! I also enjoy listening to podcasts and new artists as a fan and not as a music executive. I love to go to museums to get inspired and explore new restaurants.

How do you see your job evolving with the music industry in the next five years?

From a marketing standpoint, I’ll evolve to understand how people consume music and content. For The Digilogue, I’ll have more of an advisory role and be less hands-on with projects. Over the next five years, I’m focused on empowering my team of emerging music executives to lead. I’m also looking forward to investing and advising the next generation of music and tech companies.

How do you see The Digilogue growing in the next five years?

I’m speaking into existence: I wholeheartedly believe The Digilogue will be the number one community platform for music, tech job/gig resources and discovering new artists.

If not music, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t doing music, I’d be in sports. Either in marketing and brand partnerships with a focus in basketball or soccer. Let’s go Liverpool F.C. and the Knicks!

Stay tuned for more features with music industry professionals — from managers to sound engineers, stagehands and others; the people who make the music world go round without standing behind a microphone.
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