RAINMAKERS’ BACKSTORIES:
ELLIOT GRAINGE

Though he’s still in his 20s as we write this, Elliot Grainge is already emerging as one of the young lions of the biz. Grainge, the scion of a great industry family, grew up in London and traveled to the States when his dad, Lucian, was tapped to lead UMG. While in college he began scrutinizing the online landscape and learned how to identify acts that were moving the needle. He quickly established his bona fides with a series of successes on his 10K Projects label (distributed by Caroline/Virgin), including Trippie Redd, 6ix9ine, Internet Money and Iann Dior. These breakouts bore witness to Grainge the younger’s capacity to sift data and read the trends as effectively as any exec in his generation.

“My early memories of the business,” he recalls, “were of my father, who at the time was the managing director of Polydor, my cousin, who was an artist manager, and my late uncle [Nigel Grainge], who had a successful label called Ensign, which had a lot of great acts in the ’70s and ’80s. He was on that Irish pop and rock wave—Boomtown Rats, Sinead O’Connor, Thin Lizzy, Waterboys… So between my family and the natural attractiveness of the music industry, it was pretty easy for me to fall in love with it.

“When I was in college, around 2012, 2013, SoundCloud was really having a moment. It was this sort of underground, a little bit lo-fi music-discovery service you could go on and find artists who just uploaded their own stuff to it, who were mostly unsigned and had no distribution. They were doing remixes, and there were channels reposting things.

“I became very intrigued by that system of discovery, that there was this mathematical side to it. I love numbers and data, and what I loved about SoundCloud was that you could find undiscovered things and see the data and the numbers and where the audience lay. You could see that the era of streaming was real. You could actually identify songs and artists that were moving on these streaming platforms. It was really exciting.

“You could see what songs were trending on SoundCloud one week and go back every six, seven, eight, nine, 10 days and, before the systems were in place, figure out the growth, where it’s growing, why it’s growing, how much you can spend on reposts versus how much other songs are growing. It was before everyone knew the tricks of the trade. It was a bunch of young kids learning how to build an audience in the system.

Az Cohen came to see me in college—this is 2014—and said, ‘I’ve found this kid on SoundCloud. His name is Post Malone. He’s really great. I’m flying out to see him.’ This was before ‘White Iverson.’ He played me a few of his songs, and I said, ‘Where did you find this kid again?’ Some of the songs only had, like, 800 listens. And I watched ‘White Iverson’ happen from SoundCloud Connect and go on to generate a couple million dollars. Az co-managed it at the time with a couple of his friends, and they ended up signing a deal with Republic for a couple million bucks. In 2015, before the real crazy moments of streaming, that was a really big deal.

“So [that was when] I was, like, wait, I can make some money as a manager here. And I found a bunch of these artists. I’d go into the labels, present the artists and show them the data, but I found it impossible to lock in a deal; it was very difficult to actually get anything from the data I was seeing off the ground.

“Then in comes Steve Barnett. We had a venture when I was in college, in Boston, called Strange Sessions, which was a platform for new artists in the city. We did live shows and had scouts from the local industry there. And Caroline, which at the time had just relaunched under Steve’s guidance, gave us a couple of grand to help promote the shows to see if there was any talent there. This was 2014, 2015.

“I brought an artist in to see Steve one day, and he said, ‘Listen, this is great. You have a clear vision. You should set your label up and do this yourself, because your instincts are right.’ And that was sort of the beginning of 10K. From there we went straight into the SoundCloud system and signed a lot of artists who’ve ended up doing interesting, brilliant things and doing very well. The first artist that connected was Trippie Redd.

“A lot of these artists ended up getting signed through indie labels like Empire or… It was that era where you had Lil Pump, which was Warner but through an independent imprint. You had Smokepurpp, which was through Alamo. You had Trippie and 6ix9ine through 10K. You had XXXTentacion; before he put his album out through Virgin, he was with Empire. It was really the Wild West. None of the labels understood the artists.”

Grainge was right in the middle of a genuine changing of the guard. “Once the indies start to get a foothold, the majors have to be very quick to adapt,” he says of this shift. “Now you’re seeing Interscope sign Juice WRLD, and you’re seeing Warner Bros. re-sign Lil Pump and so on. And that was how I started, in that world of SoundCloud and DSP-driven data.”

When asked what set 10K apart from the other entities fishing in similar streams, Grainge responds, “We gave full creative control to the artists and didn’t get in the way. And we didn’t have any ego; we didn’t think we were bigger than the artist. We try and do everything we can to support the artists and their creative vision. And if that’s releasing more content or not as much content… We weren’t bullies; we never forced anything down anyone’s throat. That spread quicky, that we were a very artist-friendly and forward-thinking company.

“We’ve had success in pop on the alternative side with Peach Tree Rascals, who have a platinum record, and ‘Sunday Best’ with Surfaces, a Texas duo, which has a feel-good/R&B/soul-pop feel. That’s been multiplatinum in pretty much every country. Salem Ilese’s ‘Mad at Disney,’ a platinum record, is synth-heavy pop. Had you asked us in the second year of our existence, ‘Can you do it in another genre?’ I’d have said, ‘Watch.’ And now we’ve proven we can break songs and artists in multiple genres.

“We’re in the world of influencers at the moment. If influencers as a group can connect to a sound, they can make that sound very popular. The influencers have an immense amount of power in terms of what people are going to listen to tomorrow.

“And we’ve seen hip-hop and emo-rap, if you want to call it that, have so much volume in the last two-to-four years. Those artists are sort of genre-less. It’s very difficult to assign a genre to an artist like XXXTentacion or Juice WRLD or iann dior, to pin them down as hip-hop or pop or alternative. Their music is a blend of guitar rock—’90s rock, the alternative era—and hip-hop-driven beats. We’re going to go more and more toward a genre-less sound, which is very exciting, because instead of the music combining elements of one or two genres, it’s going to fuse elements of R&B and rock and alternative and hip-hop, all in one song. People are breaking the rules, and it’s working.”

Read the full Q&A

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