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JACQUELINE SATURN: FEMALE AS FUCK

INTERVIEW BY SAMANTHA HISSONG

Jacqueline Saturn wears many hats, heading both Caroline Distribution and Harvest Records. She’s approaching three years at Caroline and five in the Tower. When Q1 2018 marketshare was compared to Q3 2017, the Caroline number has nearly doubled. Rising rapper 
NF’s album Perception (NF Real Music/Caroline) debuted at #1 on the Top 50 Chart in October, becoming Capitol Music Group’s fastest-selling D2C preorder 
of the year. This spring, he received a plaque to commemorate 1m global adjusted album sales, following the Top 40 radio chart-topping success of hit single “Let You Down.” We’re not sure who convinced Saturn to answer her phone, but we’re pretty positive this HITS look will, in fact, let her down.


Let’s help people understand Caroline’s place in the CMG universe. You’re part of a major-label system, but it seems like you guys pride yourselves on having some of the characteristics of an indie.
Caroline is the independent label services and distribution arm within Capitol Music Group, which in turn is a division of Universal Music Group, so we’re further in a position to offer our partner artists and labels more muscle in the moment. We have, as I like to say, “the spirit of an indie with the muscle of a major.” We pride ourselves on being like an agency for the independent music community, which is why we team up with the most incredible indie labels. Examples include ATO, Quality Control, Big Loud, Future Classic, EQT, Terrible, Fader Label, Mexican Summer, 10K, Fool’s Gold, Arts and Crafts and others. We are an extension of their teams, first providing them baseline distro services and always standing behind them ready to ramp up when their records start to pop. We strategize at every level of development through to the biggest wins, charts or otherwise. Over at 10K, Elliot Grainge has incredible ears. He’s such a passionate, important partner and friend to Caroline. We’re thrilled about the success he’s having.

What do you look for in a distribution partner?
I think our favorite thing is finding somebody we admire. They’re already doing something; they have great taste and a foundation. There are already people working within that system, so they have a team—one that we know we can amplify. This way, we can focus on their artists and really growing what they want to do as a business. They know exactly what artists they want and who fits their brand. And they all have a vision. It’s an exciting time in the music business, and the desire to go out there and find partners who are as driven and dedicated to what they do is what fuels me. Through those relationships, you meet a variety of other people and begin to build sort of a family network, and that’s super-fun.

Let’s shine a light on your team, specifically at Harvest and Caroline.
First and foremost, Matt Sawin’s my right hand. He’s actually one of the first people I met when I came to the Tower. I remember telling Steve [Barnett], “There’s a total rock star on that floor.” Every decision we make, Matt and I make together. He’s been an invaluable resource— business-savvy, as well as creatively strategic. He’s so smart and likeable.

Adam Starr, our Head of Marketing, really lives and breathes the independent spirit like no one I’ve ever worked with. His knowledge of music, combined with his unbelievable organization and creative mind, make him such an important member of the team. He’s another person we brought in, and he’s just great to be around. Marni Halpern is my partner in crime. She’s the Senior Vice President of Promotion, one of the four people based in New York. We would not have had some of the successes we’ve had without her. She’s been an integral part of the team and one of the key drivers behind the entire NF story last year. She doesn’t like to take no for an answer. I’m really proud of her growth. As for Tom Harrington, our VP of Finance, he’s a game-changer, and so dependable. I’m so proud of the team that we’ve built and every single person that sits on the seventh floor in the Tower.

Recently, you’ve been working pretty closely with Motown and Quality Control.
It’s been a total pleasure and honor to get to know Ethiopia [Habtemariam]. She’s never not helping us engage with people on the Caroline side: making connections, meeting people and just learning and growing from each other. Her belief in the system is extraordinary. The relationship she has with Quality Control is special, and the relationship we’ve gotten to build and grow with Coach and Pee has already been a standout life experience. Working with them reminds me a lot of the days we worked with rock bands. Moving with the artist, the culture, their beliefs. They have so much passion for the artist and I feel like we’re all connected by that, because if we’re not all believing in it, it can’t happen. We’re already seeing the fruits of their labor take off. For example, after three Caroline mixtapes—and then his upstream through Quality Control, Motown and Capitol—Lil Baby celebrated a Top 3 debut in May.


Your time with Steve Barnett goes back to the Epic days. What’s it like working with him, and what makes him a great leader?
Steve Barnett has been my mentor for many years. There have been times when I’ve found myself thinking exactly the way he does, and I’ve learned to lead by example. What I love about Steve is that he still loves music. He can hear a song and understand the artist right away, and I relate to that. There’s not a relationship that he doesn’t have—he’s meeting new people all the time. And he has an open-door policy. I can go in there anytime and he’ll advise me, help me if I want him to meet someone. It’s amazing. His support of Caroline and Harvest is why we’re flourishing.

You started in radio promotion. Was running a record company always a goal, and how does your background in promotion benefit you today?
I always wanted to run a record label after watching Polly Anthony—a woman who came from promotion, who lived it every day, who walked the halls in her heels. I’d say Polly Anthony and Michele Anthony are my two people, the ones I looked at from different sides and wanted to be like. I’m so lucky that I still get to be inspired by Michele. If I didn’t have a background in promotion, I don’t believe I’d be as successful. All of us together, as a team at Caroline, are in a business where we’re promoting every day. From the minute I get up to when I fall asleep, we’re promoting everything—our labels, our artists, our brand. That’s what we do. And I love doing it. Someone once asked me, “Aren’t you so glad you don’t do radio promotion anymore?” I don’t know why they’d say that, because I’m a serious proponent of radio promotion.

And what about distribution? Did you plan on going in that direction?
[Laughs] That’s a no… I do remember in the early days at Sony when RED was getting going. We’d have meetings and talk about the artists, and I was certainly interested in it. It was an opportunity for artists to have this place where they could take more than a minute to develop. I was more fascinated with distribution when I came in and started Harvest and we were distributed by Caroline. That was when my eyes were really opened to the possibilities. I found things that were done right and things that could’ve been done a bit differently and figured out how to make it work. Those are the conversations I was having with Steve and Michelle Jubelirer pretty early on.


What do you find most challenging about distribution in the digital era?
There are challenges with any aspect of our business in the digital era, because it’s still new. There are obstacles you have no control over. And when you’re running a distribution company, you have to take responsibility for everything. But with every challenge comes an opportunity. We’re all getting better at it together. There are so many platforms giving our artists new opportunities to shine from and grow.

Do you think today’s streaming-based, social-media-driven model is breathing life back into the process of finding new talent or making it all the more difficult?
There’s so much info being thrown at people that they’re finally starting to take a step back, breathe in, breathe out and realize that you still have to consider the roots of A&R—really believing and being passionate about the music. Without that, it can’t be done. Yes, there are statistics and numbers and streaming information, but that can also be passive, and I don’t think that’s the only thing we’re looking for. People are always in my office sort of riffing. I have three phenomenal A&R people at Caroline: Tim Anderson, Harry Griffiths and Serge Durand. We all sit together and just listen. Sometimes we don’t even know a single fact about what we’re hearing, but the music speaks so loudly. Those moments really excite me, because that’s when we fully believe. When the artist is at the extremely early stage of their career and we have these high aspirations, taking that stance is more exhilarating.

When it comes to your roster of acts, what new projects are you most excited about? You obviously had tremendous success last year with NF. What’s next?
Trippie Redd’s album is coming out this summer, and it’s incredible. I love that he has a real vision for what he’s doing. So many of these artists are fusing genres, and I think you’ll see that with his album. We signed Rico Pressley, who’s coming out this summer as well. We expect big things from him. I think Clairo’s gonna be massive. She’s an artist we’re working with through Fader Label, who recently had a huge piece in The New York Times and opened for Dua Lipa. And there’s Lil Gnar, who everyone should keep an eye on.


According to Fortune’s 2018 list, the number of female executives has declined 25% this year. And a recent New York Times article suggested that, although the #MeToo movement might be helping women by exposing the discrimination that they face, it also has the opposite effect by discouraging men from mentoring junior women—out of fear that it might be interpreted the wrong way. What needs to be done?
There are so many remarkable young women trying to come up in this business. I feel like the future is so bright. I know there are passionate people out there, and we’re going to help them get to the next place. I’ll do anything. I have young women coming to see me on a daily basis—people I know, people I don’t know, people that I want to introduce to other people. We have to do our part. Women have to feel like they can be successful as executives while making the life choices they want to make. That’s where we need to be more supportive. Here’s what I’ll say about working for Steve Barnett: I’m told we have the highest percentage of women executives in our company than any other company in the music industry. So, in my world, I deal with women every day, but we [as an industry] have to be better. We must be encouraging and helpful. That statistic you mentioned before makes me sad, because there are so many young women who want—and deserve—to shine out there. I do feel like there’s a group of us at a new level who will do anything to help that number increase.

According to that article—and the thoughts of many—when a man wants a raise, he asks and is given one, but if a woman asks, she’s bossy, demanding. We have to work on changing the narrative.
We have to change the narrative and continue to impress upon young women that they can go as far as they want; there are no limitations. I think that’s one of the biggest things. People actually believe they can’t get there. I’ve heard men say things like, “She’s too emotional. We don’t know if she can handle it.” What does that even mean?! I remember what Jody Gerson said in a particular interview: “We’re in an emotional business.” Lyrics touch people’s hearts, so how could you not use that word? That always resonated with me.

There’s also this stereotype that women can’t get as far because eventually they’ll want to raise families and have a good work/life balance. But wait, what? Can’t men want to raise families and have a work/life balance too?
I have a 50/50 partnership with my husband, and he does such a great job. I’m certainly not alone. He also works fulltime, but when I have to be at a show, he’s making sure our girls have eaten and are doing their homework. So, it’s not just me.

I will say that it’s hard—juggling. I mean, I’m seriously devoted to this, but not without sometimes feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I’m good at this, but I’m missing this.” I want people to know that it’s a massive job and time commitment, but when you believe in something, that makes it OK.

It’s about changing the stereotype that women are the caretakers and may not want to get to this place in their careers. Or the stereotype that women are catty to each other in the industry. That needs to be changed as well.
I can’t even believe that women are catty to each other in this business. I support every woman. Listen, there might be people with different opinions, and that’s fine, but as women you have to stick together. You have to stand together. I’m still meeting women in the business that I haven’t known or didn’t know, and I’m always excited and encouraged by it. I want to plan a big dinner with a bunch of women in the industry. I feel like you did that recently. Didn’t you?


I did, and the response was incredibly positive. I realized there’s a big need for it. I’m planning another, more official version, because people were like, “This is so cool. We need this.” The whole point was to create a safe space and platform for women in different corners to come together, communicate and collaborate.
That’s so awesome. Back when I was still in New York at Sony, I did something similar. It was like two tables at a Mexican place. I loved it. That’s the first time I met Michelle Jubelirer. Michelle’s one of the biggest advocates for women, girls, everyone in general. She doesn’t just talk it; she lives it. She’s a real force, and she fights for us every day. She’s tough as nails, but she has one of the best laughs in the entire business. She’s a fuckin’ badass. But yes, it’s important that we do those kind of networking events. It’s so important that people feel like they can call someone, email someone or come in to talk and get advice.

When I was in N.Y. for an iHeart presentation, we made our tagline “Female as F*ck.” We highlighted three Caroline artists. One was Donna Missal, who’s breaking on Harvest this year; she’s unbelievable. Dorothy’s been opening for Greta Van Fleet, and she’s the only woman on the Active Rock chart [at press time]—literally Top 10. And there’s G Flip, an excellent artist from Melbourne who’s on Future Classic. Going with this theme was so powerful. And to the males in the audience I was like, “This isn’t not about you, because you’re so important to the business of what we do and making a difference.” I got so many emails and comments on a photo I posted with the shirt, and it really excited me. It made me super-proud. It was a great idea, especially at this time.

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