Universal is putting a lot of faith in Alex Da Kid (aka. Alexander Grant).
The major recently spent big bucks on signing a ‘unique and innovative’ multifaceted deal with the Grammy-winning Brit’s KIDinaKORNER – a combined record label, publisher, production house and marketing agency.
The agreement appears to be akin to a label services set-up, where Grant (pictured) keeps hold of his copyrights while leveraging UMG’s imprints for global marketing, promotion and distribution. It expands upon a JV initially signed with Interscope in 2011.
Ownership-wise, KIDinaKORNER remains a fully independent entity.
In return, Grant will bring marketing opportunities to Universal artists via his creative agency, which exists as a joint venture with multinational advertising and marketing giant WPP.
“The deal is something I was discussing with a lot of people for a long time,” Grant tells MBW in an exclusive Q&A.
“It’s really important for me to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and own everything – but, at the same time, have scale and resources when I want to press a button on an artist with one unified global push.
“That’s hopefully what this agreement will become.”
After five years of running his company as a one-man band, last year Grant started rapidly building KIDinaKORNER behind the scenes.
The company now has a staff of around 35, with that number set to reach 40 by next year.
Columbia Records alumnus, Marc Jordan, is President of the company’s record label, while Mason Reed is President of Brands and Pete Reisner heads Brand Partnerships.
Former Associate Director of Digital Marketing for Epic and Interscope Records, Catina Dickson, is Head of Digital Marketing, and Zach Sinick is Head of Sync & Music Licensing.
After sharing the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, KIDinaKORNER is now moving to a new office in LA that has been designed with the community of a ‘70s Laurel Canyon in mind.
Says Grant: “As a creative person and an executive myself, I’ve always found it restricting when the staff don’t really see how their work impacts the artist.
“I wanted to get rid of all those barriers and have a place where creativity and business is happening in one space; where there is no separation between executives and artists.”
Grant was signed to Universal Music Publishing Group as a producer in 2009, and his first hit shortly followed: Airplanes, recorded by B.o.B with Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams, hit No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.1 in the UK.
This sparked a purple patch for Grant, who went on to write and produce, alongside Skylar Grey, smash single Love the Way You Lie. Recorded by Eminem and featuring Rihanna, the track hit No.1 worldwide and its accompanying album, Recovery, gave Grant his first Grammy Award.
Since then, Alex Da Kid has produced platinum singles for U2, Rihanna, Dr. Dre and Nicki Minaj, and worked on chart-topping albums for Rihanna (Loud) and Imagine Dragons (Night Vision).
His work has sold more than 110 million units, attracted over 11bn YouTube views, achieved two diamond-certified singles, and enjoyed multiple Grammy nominations.
KIDinaKORNER arrived in 2011 – initially created in partnership with Interscope Records thanks to a relationship with the label’s then-Chairman (and now Apple Music supremo), Jimmy Iovine.
Alex Da Kid released his debut solo project as an artist, Not Easy – featuring X Ambassadors, Elle King & Wiz Khalifa – in October last year.
The track came out via KIDinaKORNER in tandem with Sony label RCA (after Grant’s deal with Interscope had ended) and hit No.6 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart.
Not Easy features on Grant’s forthcoming four-song debut solo EP, which is part of an innovative marketing campaign for IBM’s Watson AI technology, Beat.
Other acts signed to KIDinaKORNER include Jamie n Commons, Skylar Grey, X Ambassadors and Imagine Dragons.
Below, Grant tells MBW why he believes his company is now set to lead a wave of forward-thinking independents ready to shake up the status quo…
YOU’VE SAID YOUR NEW DEAL WITH UNIVERSAL WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED A FEW YEARS AGO. WHAT’S CHANGED?
Streaming. You are seeing the first uptick in revenue for the industry in 18 years so people are a lot more positive. It feels like we’ve come out of the dark ages and there’s more willingness to invest in the future.
I think we are at the very beginning of growth in the music business that we’ve never seen before, ever.
I’ve been lucky enough to see revenue projections for a lot of the big companies that are heavily invested in music and it’s very rosy, and that’s without taking future innovation into account.
WHAT ADVANTAGES ARE THERE TO SIGNING WITH A MAJOR LABEL VERSUS OTHER INDEPENDENT DISTRIBUTION OPTIONS IN THE MARKET?
First of all, Universal is the biggest catalogue owner in the world. In the streaming world, that leverage helps on a lot of levels. And honestly, I really love Lucian [Grainge, pictured] and the team at Universal, they understood my vision.
Lucian is super-engaged. I pride myself on having people like Jimmy [Iovine] and Lucian in my life that I can learn from.
I’ve never personally got more value out of learning than when I’m doing so from people that have made mistakes and become successful.
The combination of where Universal is going, the leverage it has, plus the team made the deal a no-brainer for me.
DID YOU HAVE OTHER COMPANIES INTERESTED IN PICKING UP THE DEAL?
I am extremely adorable, so yes! It was a long courting process. I felt like the hot girl at school, everyone was trying to date me for a long time [laughs].
WHAT’S THE AMBITION FOR KIDINAKORNER?
I feel like you’re going to see a resurgence in independent companies that can use big resources whilst maintaining independence – and bringing tremendous value to artists. Because of that, I’m really excited about what KIDinaKORNER can be.
Something that has probably led to mismanagement in the music business for a long time is the fact that a lot of those who make big decisions don’t own the company [they run] so are thinking short term.
It’s really important to me that I own my company 100% because we can make long term decisions.
I’ve gone from making music in my bedroom, then learning the business whilst doing everything myself, to hiring lots of people and building something that can live beyond me.
I’m still very involved in everything, probably too involved, but hopefully I can create more, make music, and the people that I’ve hired will help me sustain the business.
I want to try and change the whole idea of how people do things, to me that’s a big challenge.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY LOOKS LIKE?
I’m really optimistic. I think music for a long time has been under-leveraged in a lot of ways. The product that we have is so valuable to the world and we are finally figuring out how to monetize it.
Having to buy an album just because you liked one song worked for a long time; a lot of people got rich, but it was short-term thinking because it didn’t really serve the consumer. Streaming gives the customer a better experience.
I hope that people running the music business have learned from history. When you think short-term and when the industry is divided, it doesn’t help us, it hurts us.
I hope we can continue to build out experiences that are great for the consumer.
Like most industries do, we find one thing and stick with it, but if we keep on innovating, never get complacent and give the fan the best experience possible, we are in the right place.
YOU’VE SPOKEN ABOUT THE POSITIVES OF STREAMING, BUT WHAT CHALLENGES DOES IT PRESENT WHEN BREAKING ACTS? HAS IT CHANGED YOUR APPROACH TO A&R?
Technology has become a lot more dominant and I’ve hired someone to help me get better at the data side of things. However, everything I do is based on gut.
I don’t sign anything obvious, I’m not looking at data sheets like, ‘Oh, so excited for this track,’ it’s all about how something makes me feel. I’m trying to make the next thing and move music forward rather than keep it where it is.
Streaming presents a challenge in the fact that there’s so much music available now so it’s harder to cut through the noise. One of my solutions is using the creative agency to cut through that.
Brands have the same ambition as music, they need to do cool stuff, they can’t just do 30 second TV spots that are repetitive because there are so many channels now and so many different ways of consuming music.
They have to do things that stand out. We want to find interesting solutions that benefit brands and artists simultaneously and I’m really excited about that challenge.
YOU’RE REFERRING TO PROJECTS LIKE THE ONE YOU DID WITH IBM – WHERE ITS AI TECH GENERATED ORIGINAL SCORES THAT WERE USED AS INSPIRATION DURING YOUR OWN WRITING PROCESS?
Yeah, we come in a lot earlier on advertising campaigns and build out an entire programme where the sync is the last thing on the radar.
It’s more in-depth than how music companies have traditionally worked with brands.
A lot of the time, music isn’t used in [advertising] in the right way because people that are making decisions don’t have a background in music.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUNG SONGWRITERS AND PRODUCERS LOOKING TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY NOW?
To have a vision that doesn’t stop at a pop song.
That could spill into a marketing plan, TV show, sitcom, or whatever it is. Don’t just stick it in one box.
FINAL QUESTION: WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AND WHY?
I want creative people to take more responsibility for the business side of their work.
For me, the creative and business side of music is inseparable.
People get upset when they think about business being part of their art but it’s the reality and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If your business is good, the art reaches a wider audience.
Nothing happens without creative people; that’s what the business is built on and a lot of the time people can lose sight of that.
Empowering more creatives to be business-savvy is super important.
This article can be found on musicbusinessworldwide.com