Spotify Global Head of Music Partnerships & Audience Joe Hadley is one of the DSP’s team leaders, and despite being a fairly recent arrival he’s quickly established himself as an indispensable player in the streamery’s inner circle. His route to this role was circuitous, to say the least.

How would you describe your job within the scope of Spotify?

There are two core functions, and they’re tied to each other pretty strongly. One is being the representatives, internally and externally, for managers, artists, songwriters and publishers. We have an incredible label-partnerships team that has built great relationships with all of our rights holders, licensors and label partners over the years, and my team is looking to replicate that success in the manager/artist community and continue our work with songwriters and publishers. The second part of it is there’s a big emphasis on the audience, and our team’s core goal is to grow Spotify’s audience via the artist’s audience. So everything we do is through the lens of growing artists, which grows the labels and which grows us. We do that through playlist marketing campaigns, artist marketing campaigns and genre marketing campaigns.

Can you give an example of how these campaigns work?

A really good and recent example of a playlist marketing campaign would be the Feelin’ Myself Fashion Show. My team works hand in hand with our editorial team and the label-partnerships team to bring these to life. “Feelin’ Myself” is a playlist that we have on platform that’s dedicated to women in rap. And we did a whole fashion show that we built from the ground up to recognize those women. We had performances from BIA and Coi Leray, and then we also had artists walk the show and be dressed by the designers that we picked. We also presented Lil’ Kim with an Icon Award. And all that serves to bring recognition to the playlist on platform and off, but also to amplify what the artists are doing.

The Best New Artist event is also a pretty big undertaking for our music team every year. And this year we had all 10 nominees perform on stage. That was a pretty special moment for us as well.

Tell me about your trip to Ghana.

Well, it wasn’t long enough. Last summer, in collaboration with our Sub-Saharan African team and the global team, we funded a skate park and studio in Accra with Surf Ghana, Vibrate Studios. It’s a great, safe space; creators use the studio free of cost and also do a master class there. It was a really cool event, and that was last August. So I went there with our sub-Saharan African team and helped host an event and an artist master class where we had taught artists with Ghanaian and U.S. ties. Vice President Kamala Harris made a surprise appearance during her trip to the continent, which was incredible! We got to give her a tour of the space.

Tell me about your early life. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, on the military base, and then I spent a good part of my childhood in Dover, Delaware. I lived there until about sixth grade, when I moved to the Midwest, to Chicago. And then, when I was 17, I moved out to So Cal to go to college.

Was there a lot of music in your home?

Yeah, my dad listened to hip-hop, R&B, anything with a great beat. He loves to dance. My mom listened to a lot of gospel and country and a lot of Billy Joel. She played “Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw on repeat when that came out. I think I still know that song by heart. So it was definitely a big music household.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but truthfully, when I was younger, my mom was super sick. She’s fine now, but she’s had three different types of cancer. And that happened during my formative years. So I was looking after my younger sisters while my dad was working two or three jobs, because she could no longer work.

During the time I had to myself—to drown out my thoughts about what could happen to my mom—I played music nonstop. That was the first time that I realized what a positive impact music could have. It was my solace and my distraction from my everyday life. There were so many songs that I could relate to amid trying times. From there, I knew I wanted to work in music. I had no clue what I wanted to do; I just knew it had to be in music.

I’m so sorry that you went through that. When you found that solace in music, what was the first music that you felt was your own?

I’ll tell you this: I think my generation was like the first younger Napster generation. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I definitely downloaded all different types of music. But I remember so vividly the first time I wanted a cassette. I asked my dad to buy it for me. And I remember the look on his face when I asked him for an NSYNC cassette—a look of severe disappointment, I thought. He didn’t say anything, but a couple days later he came home with the cassette for me. So I’ve been all over the board from the start, but when I think about an album that I kept going back to when I was younger, it was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001.

You said you felt you wanted to get into music but didn’t know a path to do it.

Correct. I didn’t have any friends or family in entertainment. What I learned was that all the label heads at the time, it seemed, had once been in A&R. So I wanted to be in A&R, even though I had no idea what that meant.

But you went off to college and majored in psychology, is that right?

Yes, it’s helped me with the nutjobs in the music industry.

Did you have any involvement in music during those years, or did you just have your nose in the books?

No, I found an internship in college with TJ Landig at Warner Bros., who is still at Warner Records. I interned for him in 2008 and 2009. That was my intro to music. Prior to that I was just trying to find a way in, applying online, but didn’t get any interviews. After I got the internship with TJ, I interviewed for about six different jobs internally at Warner and didn’t get any of them. And then I went to went to Germany for a few months, threw some illegal parties, got kicked out of the country, and went back to Chicago…

Um, I think we need to drill down a little bit. First of all, why did you go to Germany?

This is an interesting story. At the time, I was working at an independent film distributor, Monterey Media. It was my job to basically call chains, like Blockbuster franchises, and pitch two or three movies at a time. I did that every day on repeat, trying to get people to buy copies of the films we acquired. I knew that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I called my mom, who’s in the Army, and was like, do you know anyone abroad, so I can travel? Do you know anyone in music? Very long story short—and I should have known it was too good to be true—within 48 hours, she called me back and said, “Hey, we have a family friend in Hamberg”—not Hamburg, but Hamberg, 45 minutes outside of Nuremberg—”who has a place where you can stay. And he’s in music and super-connected!” So my buddy, who had just graduated college, and whom I’ve known since we were like 10, goes with me to Germany, because we think that this guy has connections and we’re finally going to figure the music thing out.

Turned out it was just a complete lie. None of it was true. I don’t know why this guy conned us into coming to Germany, but we get there and it’s a one-bedroom apartment. My friend is 6’4” and we were sleeping head-to-toe on the couch. We were like, “We gotta get outta here.” We met some nice young ladies and ended up staying with them for the duration of our time there. But we had to make some money. So we ended up throwing parties in an abandoned bookstore that we rented out, for about 50 euros a month, from this lawyer. And we went to the two military bases, Grafenwöhr and Vilseck, and passed out flyers to the Americans. Then our German friends got their women friends to show up. And we got a local DJ. For the first event, I think 150 or so people showed up, and we went from there. But at the time you could only be in the EU for 90 days. We were there for four months.

So that’s why you got tossed out. It wasn’t an international incident.

No, it was just “Get out, you’ve overstayed your welcome.”

What takeaways, if any, were there from doing those parties?

I did end up in the agency space, booking events and touring, for a long time. So I’ve never actually connected the dots, but I was a promoter, in a sense, before I really knew what a promoter was, and that was a natural continuation to becoming an agent.

Was that your next stop?

My next stop was going back to Chicago. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, who was doing a JD MBA program. I got back from getting booted out of Germany with no job, and was not feeling great about myself. I started working at Nordstrom, selling women’s shoes, which I did for quite some time before I got an “internship” at a venue in Chicago called The Dark Room, where I did everything from bartending to coat check to guest list, and then settling the shows at night. So it was a continuation of this promoter/booking shows aspect.

What kind of venue was it?

It was just a small 200-cap club in the Ukrainian Village. I think it’s closed now. It was just a whole bunch of indie promoters doing different nights, some more successful than others. There were a lot of indie bands; it was mostly local acts.

But that’s where I met someone from Windish. I saw his name on the guest list and looked him up ahead of time. I chatted him up and later I got hired as an intern. And the rest is history.

What did you work on while you were there?

It was a lot of fun. When I started, I think I might have been employee number 35 or so. So it still had that startup-phase energy. I was in Chicago; we had a really great team with a common mission. I started as an intern in the basement, putting together desks, and then I got hired on as an assistant—first as second assistant to Sam Hunt, and then as Tom Windish’s assistant for a week. I messed up an offer and he kicked me off his desk. And then I supported Avery McTaggart, Oli Isaacs and Latane Hughes. So I got a lot of experience in the indie realm and the electronic sphere, both of which I was already interested in. I was then able to take those relationships in the indie and electronic worlds as well as in the U.K. music scene and parlay that into my broader interests in global Black music and left-of-center Black artists. Tom and Sam supported me in starting up the hip-hop and R&B vertical at Windish.

Who were some of the key acts you worked with during that period?

My earliest clients were GoldLink, who I represented through their leaving. There was Ne-Yo; Jamilah Woods, who I represented from an early stage; Rome Fortune, an Atlanta rapper I represented for a long time. These acts were very much left-of-center and didn’t quite have radio success, but they were selling tickets in the 500-1,000-cap range, which for a first-year agent was a big win.

Had you begun to feel like the agency world was where you wanted to stay?

Yes. I got to find and identify developing talent and work with them from show #1. And it allowed me to be creative in terms of the types of shows we played, going into different markets and being strategic about which festivals we played at particular points in their careers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And because agents aren’t as hands-on as managers are, I got to work with more clients in different genres. And that was really exciting.

What led to the move to CAA?

I wasn’t the best at advocating for myself at the time, and at Windish I didn’t have any mentors. I thought, “I’m awesome. Someone’s gonna want to mentor me,” and as I found out later, that’s not how it works. You have to seek out these relationships and grow them. You have to be intentional about it. I was naive at the time and expected that these things would come to me. And then I started losing some of my clients, and that was a little frustrating. I was the first agent for DRAM, who had a big song, “CHA CHA,” at the time. I believe I was the first agent for Tory Lanez, who was just on his way up at the time. I lost him. So I had started to feel a bit vulnerable.

Right then, CAA approached me, and Darryl Eaton and I got to know each other and built a relationship. I sat down with Rob Light, Darryl, Mitch Rose and Rick Roskin, and they told me their stories and how long they’d been with CAA. Between the four of them, collectively, they’ve been at CAA for 100-plus years. I realized I wouldn’t have any questions that they couldn’t answer. It said a lot about how the company treats its employees, and also about the type of access to knowledge and information that I’d have, everything I’d learn just from being close to them. That was what really sealed the deal. Also, I had my contract pulled at Windish once they found out I was talking to CAA, so I didn’t have a choice.

How did you find your lane in the world of CAA?

I had never felt empowered like that before, where there was constant support. I was being put in rooms that I felt, at the time, I didn’t deserve to be in. But Rob, Darryl and the team saw something in me, and they put me in the room with the big dogs pretty early on. I remember so vividly when Rob had a meeting with a manager and he asked his longtime assistant, Wendy, to come down and grab me. I said, oh, who am I gonna meet? Steve Pamon. I didn’t know anything about him, but at the time was also the COO of Parkwood, right? Working closely with the Queen.

And Rob introduced me to him as a senior agent, and said, “This is the guy I’ve been telling you about.” And I’m three months in. I’m 28 or so at the time. Fast forward a few months, and I ended up on that team within my first six months at CAA. So now I go from representing these left-of-center, really cool, credible artists to being thrust into the team of one of the biggest artists in history. And that really set the stage for me moving forward to be able to walk into a room and say that I represented an artist like that. It did a lot for my confidence and, obviously, for my career.

I notice you haven’t actually said Beyoncé’s name. Is that a superstitious thing?

No, that’s funny. I feel like it comes up so often. You know what it really is, Simon? I still have a bit of imposter syndrome, if you can believe it. It feels crazy to me to say that I represented her. You know what I mean?

Speaking as an actual imposter, I totally get it. What do you recall from that particular part of your term there, working with the Queen?

I learned a lot about what motivates an artist like that. That was the most interesting thing for me. Prior to that, you’re like, money moves everybody. But it does not move everybody. Going back to the thought about being deliberate or intentional, there are a lot of artists who are very deliberate and intentional about how they show up, and where and why. That was super helpful, to get a look into the psyche of someone operating at that level. And it’s been very helpful in my role at Spotify, where we’re building campaigns for artists—knowing each artist has different set of goals, and it’s not always to be the biggest or the best or whatever. And we need to tailor these plans to each of them specifically to help them reach their goals, which are ours as well.

That brings us to the point where you made this transition to Spotify. When I was reviewing your CV, it struck me how dramatic a change it seemed to be—to go from intensive work in the live sphere to a place like Spotify.

Yeah, it was a really big change. Last year was interesting. My partner and I both changed jobs within a few months of each other. We had a baby and then we also started fasting for Ramadan. So it was a lot of chaos towards the start of last year. But I’m gonna be honest, and I don’t think I’ve ever told Jeremy [Erlich] this, but after our first conversation, I knew that Spotify was the place for me. During that first two-hour dinner and drinks he very clearly laid out the pros and cons, what I would be excited about, what I would find challenging or frustrating. A year later, I see that everything he said is absolutely true. So shout-out to Jeremy for being very clear about it and giving me this opportunity. It’s been incredible.

I have to assume that part of what made you feel that way was getting a sense of the culture of Spotify, beyond just the scope of the job, the human community that’s been created there.

Yeah. There are some really incredible and brilliant people here. When I met the other leads—Maddie [Bennett], Sulinna [Ong], Bruno [Crolot] and Kim [Lee]—I was really blown away. This is a top-notch squad. It was exciting, the thought of being challenged and pushed by the people around you. I also have to mention Mary Catherine Kinney, who heads up artist partnerships for me. She is a force. She has an incredible vision and has built such a great team from the ground up, using both people that were already at Spotify and making some really smart hires.

I almost get a grad-school vibe.

That’s a really interesting parallel, and pretty accurate. We get to work with music and artists for a living. It’s pretty special. We had our big annual event at Cannes Lions Festival. Chris Sampson on my team oversees the booking. So it’s not only the marketing things, in terms of grad school; it’s also the other, off-platform things and real-life engagements that make it feel like a really well-rounded experience.

The different DSPs began with pretty similar offerings, structure and user interaction, but have all grown in their own directions. And I’m wondering what, in your view, is the essence of the Spotify value proposition in the marketplace?

When you’re talking about being truly a global audio company and having half a billion users, there’s that, right? We are the biggest, but we’re also local in our global approach. So we have experts and brilliant people in every market, all feeding into the bigger global plan. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Sulinna’s team and these global curation groups, where editors from around the world meet and talk about different genres and then choose together what to amplify. It feels really special. We have a number of offerings to set ourselves apart from our competitors, whether it’s putting money in the artist’s pockets through Fans First, our live events or our listening lounge. We’re able to pull a lot of levers in ways that I think other people can’t on a global scale. And that excites me.

Can you give me a capsule version of what your workday is like?

My day starts at 7:00 AM, when my son wakes up. I feed him. From there I’m in the office on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. On Fridays I do a lot of external meetings. My role is meant to be very external-facing, so I’m starting to transition a being more present at events and traveling a little bit more. But during the first year it was really important for me to be super-internal-facing, building a rapport, trust and mutual respect with the different stakeholders internally. So now it’s going to look a lot different. There’ll be a lot more manager and partner meetings. There’ll be a lot more external planning sessions, but for a while I would say 75% of my time was spent internally, getting to know the different teams and figuring out what levers we can pull and how to build packages that are more equitable for both artists and Spotify.

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