Steve Stoute, a music executive responsible for shaping the careers of the biggest stars in recent memory. Nas, Mariah Carey, Will Smith — Steve Stoute's résumé rivals the best of the best.
He spent the '90s molding talent at Interscope Records alongside Jimmy Iovine. But in 2004, when he felt his vision for marketing wasn't being realized, he left Interscope and founded his own firm, Translation. The company now has a net worth of over 30 million dollars with clients like HBO, Nike and Beats by Dre, and it sits directly at the intersection of advertising and music.
Now, Steve's attempting to shake up the music industry once again with his company UnitedMasters, which gives artists the ability to distribute their music across platforms without signing to a label.
Steve talked to Jay about his journey from the trenches of the music industry to mogul status, his relationship with Nas, the current state of hip-hop, and how he thinks advertising and marketing models in the streaming era need to be totally reimagined.
On transitioning from the music industry to advertising in 2004
I knew I could come in. It was why I called the company Translation, because I could translate culture for Fortune 500 companies because they didn't understand. They thought they had to put people in individual boxes. So, you know, Black people marketing had to be over there and white people's marketing was over there and Latin over there. ... That's the thing that became clear to me, crystal clear that the advertising business did not know when I got into business in 2004. And I'd reckon to say they still don't understand it yet.
On leaving Interscope Records
I worked at Interscope under the great Jimmy Iovine, who's a mentor of mine. And I knew that music and advertising should be one thing. I knew. I knew it, I knew it, and I could get him to buy into that. And we did one-off deals which were basically paying for music videos. So like product placement and music videos kind of stuff. And this was '98, '99, so it was way before people were doing that. ... [But] trying to move that further up the ladder to do stuff at scale. ... Nobody would listen...You couldn't get a team of people to support it. You couldn't get bodies approved in order to build out a creative division that was really speaking to brands. I wanted to build Translation inside of Interscope and I couldn't do it. And that's when I knew I had to leave that business because I knew I could do more for the business outside of it than I could in it if they were going to limit me that way.
On always trusting his vision and adapting to new horizons
When I started UnitedMasters in 2017, it was like, "What do you mean artists are going to go independent? Like, what are you talking about?" I mean, I got a clip of 2 Chainz telling me, "Getting signed is the dream, Steve. You don't know what it's like, man." Yo, I understand what you're saying, but that's going to change because these next generations, the kids are going to want to own this stuff. You know ... the evolution of the workforce, man, it moves you. ... These things change over time.
On the decision to start one's own company
Anybody who's listening to this, if you have a burning desire to do something, I mean, burning. The one where you wake up in the morning and it's the first thing on your mind, the one in the middle of the night...and you can't get that off wherever you are. You have to leave. You really have to leave... you'll make every excuse of why you can't leave, like, Oh, you know, I need the money now, but when I get it, then I'll do it. ... That s*** never works. You got to go. It's going to hurt a bit. But, like, that's the sacrifice.
On who "Steve Stoute" really is
A father, who comes from parents from Trinidad who came up with not much. I learned my values and my principles from my father. I learned my entrepreneurial ways from my mom. And I went to five colleges in two years, dropping out because I didn't, I couldn't find what I was looking for. And I don't promote that. But I just knew that. I needed to be an entrepreneur... And I was willing to suffer to deal with the consequences of such. I'm a very empathetic person. A teacher at my heart. I like to teach people that want to learn. And you know, I care much more about respect than money.