Based in LA, which is arguably the heart of the music industry even today, Paula Park has spent her entire career discovering and supporting unique musical talent that also has something to say.
Park has been a copyright analyst, accounts executive, A&R professional, producer, marketing manager, and artist development consultant.
Park has aligned herself with artists who have clear principles and who want to make things better any way they can.
Our interview with Park didn’t just unearth fascinating details about her career– it also gave us a much better picture of how emerging artists can find their way to success in the internet era.
Park also explained what quality artist management actually looks like in action, as well as what to avoid in this line of work.
Can you give us a brief overview of your experience with artist management?
Park: I started managing and producing artists when I was still in school. I started a music collective called Mais55 to promote Brazilian music in Boston. The collective ended up having forty members and I was the only person doing A&R and management for the group.
At the time I was responsible for booking studios, musicians, performances, releases, having the final say about the music we would put out, reaching out to artists about collaborations, and creating all the assets.
Then, I also briefly worked with Grace May, an amazing Canadian singer-songwriter who is killing it right now. I helped out with scheduling rehearsals, video recordings, studio time, and sometimes with arrangements as well.
After school, I stopped managing artists directly and started working with management teams. I interned at Scooter Braun Projects, worked at Universal Music Brazil and Music Reports within the fields of brand partnerships, social impact, digital marketing, and copyright management.
Now, I am back at SB Projects working on projects in the marketing and social impact departments. I am also currently working directly with emerging artists like Lucy Park, Mirella Costa, and Benjamin Carter and their management teams, serving in the areas of A&R and production as well.
But as most people in the indie world, I wear multiple hats constantly, so I go from A&R-ing to web designing to marketing and analytics to social impact event production. It’s quite a lot sometimes, but it keeps me excited, too. I love working with indie artists because the teams are usually leaner, allowing everyone to have more freedom and decision-making power and the workflow to be a lot more efficient.
How have streaming services altered the musician’s path to success?
Park: It has changed everything. Now the barrier to entry is almost nonexistent compared to twenty years ago. DSPs have their editorial playlists and AI-powered curated playlists for every listener, increasing artists’ reach, especially when it comes to emerging/independent artists that might not have a promotion team or a marketing budget.
The ability to consistently drop music on your own terms is massively different from a few decades ago. You no longer have to get the commercially-viable stamp of approval from a label. If you are an emerging artist and unsigned, there is nothing that can stop you from uploading and distributing your music.
How can you tell when an emerging artist is really something special? Is it an instinct?
Park: Special is so subjective. The competition is so high right now because there are so many new artists coming up every single day. I definitely feel like it is getting tougher and tougher to really stand out.
I will say that regarding the process of choosing which artists I want to work with, instinct is definitely the beginning of the equation. If there’s no gut feeling, chills, and a certain level of nonverbal physical reaction, I am probably not the right person to work with that artist. But then comes authenticity. This is just as important as my gut feeling.
Other key parameters for me are talent, personal journey, message, tone, style, charisma/personality, values, the ability to connect with an audience, and stage presence.
What do you think bad artist management looks like?
Park: Honestly there are so many red flags, but here are a few of them.
Not connecting with the artist in terms of values, mission, and goals. Not knowing a lot about the artist’s genre and sound. Making it about you or the management. Losing sight of being in a service business. Being inflexible to change and risks.
Being easily offended and slow to forgive. Panicking under pressure. Someone who struggles with communication and/or organization. And again, not knowing how to delegate.
Is it ever difficult to stay motivated in this line of work?
Park: It can definitely get overwhelming. Working in artist development is a long-term commitment, so fluctuations in motivation and excitement are unavoidable, but as a manager, you have to push through and show up every day regardless.
I think it comes down to knowing how to set boundaries and accountability, getting better at self-care, knowing when to be 150% on push mode and pulling all-nighters, and when and how to rest too. There is a glamorization of being a workaholic in this culture and working yourself to the point of burnout that I don’t agree with.
You can’t possibly deliver your best if you are constantly operating from a place of depletion. It is important that I have a trusting, healthy relationship with my artists. It’s a slow burn. Commitment, patience, and resilience are key if anyone wants to make it in this job, in my opinion.
Have you learned any lessons from your time in the industry?
Park: I think this industry has taught me a lot, especially about people and relationships, but there is so much I am still learning. I think one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is the importance of knowing who I am and protecting that.
A lot of people kept telling me that I needed to be thick-skinned if I wanted to thrive in this industry. And today, I am comfortable with saying that that wasn’t the best advice for me. I am naturally not a thick-skinned person, so trying to learn how to be that felt like carrying the heaviest weight on my shoulders. I was way too naïve when I started, that’s for sure.
But all I needed was to learn how to set emotional boundaries, get better at knowing my triggers, have my priorities in check, and discern between trustworthy and “fake” people in the industry.
I think when people try to make you feel like you have to fully change who you are and how you navigate the world to be successful, it just sets you off on this never-ending attempt to become someone you were never destined to be.
On the other hand, working with people that value who you are, that you trust and feel safe with, and that align with your values is probably one of the most exhilarating experiences.
Can you tell us about any of the artists you’re managing right now?
Park: I am currently managing the artist Mirella Costa, acting as the project manager on Benjamin Carter’s team, and I am constantly collaborating with Lucy Park and her manager Chase Brill. Mirella Costa is an emerging Latin artist who graduated from Berklee with a full-ride scholarship awarded by the Latin Grammy Foundation.
She has performed with various world-renowned artists, including Kurt Selling, Gretchen Parlato, Esperanza Spaulding, Mark Walker, and many more. In 2021, Mirella co-wrote and was featured in “Assim” by ¿Téo? which was a massive milestone for her. We are currently working on her EP to be dropped in 2022.
Benjamin Carter is an independent rising artist based in Los Angeles. Originally from the Cayman Islands, Benjamin established himself in DC and Los Angeles.
His songs are heavily influenced by R&B/neo-soul/indie-rock and carry honest and vulnerable stories. Ben has been successful in walking the line between very different genres and consequently accumulating a diverse audience. He is passionate and committed to giving back and advocating for mental, physical, and spiritual health.
We are currently working on his merch capsule “Empowered by Strong Black Women” to be dropped this year, which will benefit the nonprofit “STRETCH for women”, helping women get started and afford therapy.
Lucy Park is a Japanese-Korean-English-American queen. I have been so fortunate to get to work with her and her team on different creative projects. Part of the ADR/Culture Co. family, Lucy took over the streaming world with her beautiful and vulnerable lyrics and melodies. This past summer, she headlined as part of the After Dinner Sessions, a series of pop-up concerts that raised money for Oxygen for India and the Red Cross.