Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (2023)

Table of Contents
Variety Hitmakers 2018 Sarah Aarons Alex Da Kid Benny Blanco BlaqNmilD Louis Bell Boi-1da Blake Anthony “Shy” Carter John Cunningham Frank Dukes Pardison Fontaine David Garcia J Kash Tay Keith Matt McGinn The Monsters & Strangerz Murda Beatz OG Parker and Deko Rice N’ Peas Noah “40” Shebib Starrah J White Pharrell Williams Joey Arbagey, Epic Records Tyler Arnold, Republic Records Tunji Balogun, RCA Records Brooklyn Johnny & Darrale Jones Jim Catino, Sony Music Nashville Tizita Makuria, Artist Partner Group Jean Nelson, Blueprint Group Records Sickamore, Interscope Records Manny Smith, Interscope Geffen A&M Mr. Morgan Rob Stevenson, Republic Records Mike Caren Ethiopia Habtemariam Jimmy Harnen Craig Kallman Michael Kyser Brad O’Donnell Dennis Reese Joe Riccitelli Jim Roppo Jacqueline Saturn Seth England, Big Loud Management Roger Gold, Gold Music Management Adam Harrison, Career Artist Management Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas Lil Bibby, Grade A Productions Adam Mersel, First Access Entertainment Dre London, London Ent Dave Rene Solomon Sobande Courtney Stewart David Stromberg Andrea Ganis & Deborah Urbont, Atlantic Records Marni Halpern Juliette Jones Larry Khan Lee L’Heureux Greg Marella, Bill Evans & Dixie Tipton John McMann Brenda Romano Rick Sackheim, Sandra Afloarei & Charlie Foster Rick Sackheim, Traci Adams & Dontay Thompson, Epic Records Sam Selolwane Gary Spangler, David ‘Davey Dee’ Ingenloff & Mike Horton Shani Gonzales Amanda Hill Shawn Holiday Sam Taylor Katy Wolaver Manny Marroquin Tony Maserati
  • Variety Hitmakers 2018

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (1)

    We’d call the industry heavy hitters that Variety has included on our list of 2018’s biggest records “behind-the-scenes” players … except, does that term even apply anymore? In an era in which the producer is decidedly king, most fans have probably at least heard of a Benny Blanco, and plenty pay close enough attention to know that Frank Dukes is a point of commonality between the Camila Cabello and Post Malone tunes they love. Executives working in A&R, publishing and promotion may never be at such risk of becoming household names — unless, of course, you’re a Variety-reading household, in which all these movers and shakers are fair game for fame. The industry is closing in on $9 billion in annual recorded music revenue in the U.S., and with this second annual list of Hitmakers, we salute those who contributed in no small part to the biz’s rebound, and certainly to the soundtrack of the last year.

  • Sarah Aarons

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (2)


    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    One thing that 2017’s “Stay” and 2018’s “The Middle” have in common is that they run the gamut from Z to A — from Zedd, that is, the producer and first-named artist of record, to Sarah Aarons, the co-writer whose knack for indelible hooks is the not-so-secret sauce of these back-to-back success stories. Aarons, 24, grew up envying fellow Australian Sia for her role as a moonlighting songwriter of hits for other artists. Although the now-Los Angeles-based tunesmith was among seven writers on “The Middle” and credits her collaborators for the song’s success — “Zedd and Grey made it a banger” — the conversational lyrics and earworm melody are Aaron’s. Her private glee? “Seeing people sing it who don’t knowI wrote it,” she says. (Chris Willman)

  • Alex Da Kid

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (3)


    Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder”

    Alex Da Kid (né Alexander Grant) had his dreams of becoming a soccer star in his native England derailed by a knee injury at age 19. But after attending the University of West London and getting his master’s degree in advanced music technology, he relocated to L.A. where he’s been hard at work ever since. Nominated for seven Grammys — winning one in addition to an Emmy — for his collaborations with Eminem, Rihanna and Imagine Dragons, Grant eschews traditional A&R techniques in favor of AI. He also happens to be the only producer in history with two diamond singles for sales of over 10 million, one of which was for Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” Indeed, the band is keeping the rock torch alive with “Thunder,” which lands No. 21 with 1.67 million total units in consumption. “It’s a fun, catchy melody and beat,” says Grant, who worked on the track with Jayson DeZuzio. “But there’s also substance to the lyrics, talking about people not always believing in you.” (James Patrick Herman)

  • Benny Blanco

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (4)


    Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”

    The industry’s most in-demand eccentric served as executive producer of Ed Sheeran’s 2017 third album, “÷,” including the tune that went to No. 1 in 18 countries. “I was on the road with Ed in Canada and he played me a demo about two years before the album came out. He just kept saying: ‘I really think this one is special’ — he would always play ‘Perfect’ for me over and over,” Blanco recalls of his BFF. “I think this is the type of song that you feel like you’ve heard before because it’s so fucking classic and timeless. It’s truly a song that makes you want to laugh, cry, and have your first dance to at a wedding.” The only thing more perfect? Throwing Beyonce in the mix, which gave the song a second life. (James Patrick Herman)

  • BlaqNmilD

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (5)


    Drake’s “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What”

    The New Orleans bounce producer’s life changed earlier this year after Drake tapped him to put his signature touch to the eventual chart-topper “Nice for What.” But it wasn’t until April that it truly hit the producer just how big the song would eventually get. Says BlaqNmilD: “That Saturday following the release of the video, which was April 7, when I heard the song on the radio in New Orleans was when it hit me … at that point, my feeling was simply, ‘YES LAWD!’ ” Since then, the producer watched the song rack up more than a billion streams. But, he adds, “nothing can top the feeling of hearing and watching Drake perform ‘In My Feelings’ at the Superdome in New Orleans, and watching my people react to it.”

  • Louis Bell

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (6)


    Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and “Never Be the Same”
    Post Malone’s “Better Now,” “Psycho” and “Rockstar”

    The L.A.-based Bell is having one hell of a year thanks to multiple hits by Camila Cabello and Post Malone, on which he’s credited as a songwriter and producer. Two of those tracks, “Rockstar” and “Havana,” are holdovers from 2017, pointing to Bell’s own staying power. The Sony/ATV songwriter says his goal is “to create something that emotes whatever feeling is inside of me at that moment.” For “Better Now,” the fifth most-consumed track of the year, he credits “the repetition of the hook and the tasteful merge of rock and hip-hop elements [which] gel it together in a way that defies any genre.” But the message of the song brought everything together. Adds Bell: “It’s relatable and angsty enough that a wide range of listeners can connect to the lyrics in some way, shape or form.” (Shirley Halperin)

  • Boi-1da

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (7)


    Drake’s “God’s Plan”

    The No. 1 BuzzAngle song for 2018 is the product of a long alliance: Drake and fellow Torontoan Boi-1da (Matthew Samuels) have been working on music together since their teens (the producer had two tracks on Drake’s first mixtape, “Room for Improvement,” in 2006) and have collaborated on many songs since. While “God’s Plan” is special for many reasons, it represents a first for the longtime friends. “One of my proudest moments for me is that Drake always talked about getting a No. 1 record together — we’ve both got No. 1s — but ‘God’s Plan’ is the first No. 1 we’ve had together.” Drake began the song with co-producer Cardo Got Wings, but Boi put on the finishing touches. “When I first heard what he did over it, I just knew everybody was going to love this one.” (Karen Bliss)

  • Blake Anthony “Shy” Carter

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (8)


    Kane Brown’s “Heaven”

    Carter has divided his time between country and pop, co-writing hits ranging from Charlie Puth’s “One Call Away” to Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue.” His sweet spot is the region where country meets R&B, and that’s the GPS for Brown’s “Heaven.” Like Brown, Carter is of mixed race, and intrigued by the artist’s different look and attitude, he reached out to manager Martha Earls early in Brown’s career to get in on the ground floor. “I saw some similarities between us,” Carter says. “I’ve been down here in Nashville trying to make a change. I saw what was about to happen, and I didn’t want to not be a part of it.” He co-wrote the socially conscious “Learning” on Brown’s debut, but the romantic hit, “Heaven,” came from a writers’ retreat where Matt McGinn contributed a chorus, Lindsay Rimes brought the guitar lick and Carter turned it into a groove. “Nobody was going, ‘This is about to go triple platinum, baby!,’” he recalls. “But it was a perfect storm.”

  • John Cunningham

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (9)


    XXXTentacion’s “Sad!”

    The June death of XXXTentacion (Jahseh Onfroy) catapulted the song “Sad!” on streaming platforms, where it has logged 353 million audio streams since its release in March, and landed the track in the Top 3 for the year. Producer Cunningham, who had been living with the controversial artist in his Florida home while the two worked around the clock, says XXX was “killing off his former self and representing how he had changed as a person,” with “Sad!” The song’s video, released a week after XXX was shot dead outside a motorcycle dealer in Deerfield Beach, “took on a whole other meaning after he passed,” adds Cunningham. “It’s a mysterious way of things working out.” (Rachel Yang)

  • Frank Dukes

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (10)


    Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and “Never Be the Same”
    Post Malone’s “Better Now”

    Dukes was tapped to work with Camila Cabello after two singles failed to catch fire. “It felt like everyone she’d worked with up to that point had not really wrapped their head around who she was. She was [viewed] as a vessel to push out other people’s songs and I saw a great writer and a great artist.” Their first smash together, “Havana,” took five months to “piece together,” Dukes says. “We tried different verses and prehooks and a couple days in, we realized we had something. Camila was involved in the whole process.” For “Never Be the Same,” the approach was of a more “traditional” song structure. “I make popular music but I’m not necessarily a pop producer,” adds Dukes. Post Malone’s “Better Now,” which nods to the producer’s affinity for ’90s rock he grew up on, is another such example. “It felt like something new,” he says. “It’s a very singular song in that it tells
    a story. That makes it so special.” (Shirley Halperin)

  • Pardison Fontaine

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (11)


    Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny’s “I Like It”

    Fontaine is probably best known as Cardi B’s “ghostwriter,” even though there’s nothing ghostly about him: He’s been fully credited from day one. “One thing people don’t seem to do is read,” he laughs, making what may be the biggest understatement of 2018. “[Otherwise] they’d know it’s never been a hidden thing.” While the Newburgh, N,Y., native has been rapping since high school, becoming a writer rather than an artist wasn’t part of the plan. He first met Cardi when he was trying to get gigs at the strip clubs she was working at. When she wanted some input on her songs, she turned to him. “I only got into it because she wanted help on some stuff, and that’s how I became this writer, I guess.” Needless to say, the arrangement has worked out well for both of them — he’s since collaborated with Kanye West, one of his idols — yet he’s focused on relaunching his solo career, which is off to a strong start with the Cardi-featuring “Back It Up.” (Jem Aswad)

  • David Garcia

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (12)


    Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be”

    For Garcia, who made his name as a Grammy-winning Christian music producer before moving into country and pop, “Meant to Be” felt — meant to be. “I definitely believe the God factor played a massive role,” he says. “There were just too many happy coincidences, and anybody that’s worked in the music business knows that with two artists from two genres on one song, there’s a lot of moving pieces, hurdles and red tape to kind of get around” — little of which they faced with this spontaneously conceived smash. When Rexha, FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and co-writer Joshua Miller entered the studio, “I sat down and started playing some chords, we all started vibing out, and in a couple hours we had the bones of what you hear on the radio.” Garcia doesn’t believe in demos, per se; he’s already producing the record while the song is being created. But after Rexha and her then-A&R man Jeff Fenster claimed it for her record, Garcia did “add the 808 and the hip-hop kind of vibe, to make it fit her catalog a little more.” Still, “most of what you hear is what we did that night.” (Chris Willman)

  • J Kash

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (13)


    Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”

    As executive producer of Maroon 5’s “Red Pill Blues,” Jacob “J Kash” Kasher was tasked with “finding the best songs” for the multiplatinum band in addition to working in the studio with Adam Levine and Co. He didn’t write “Girls Like You,” but J Kash, who has credits on songs by Charlie Puth, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande, as well as additional hits by the band —including “Sugar,” “Don’t Wanna Know” and “Cold” — was responsible for the ever-important pass-along. Says J Kash: “I am proud to have delivered something to the band and to the songwriters that was meaningful to their lives and careers.” (Shirley Halperin)

  • Tay Keith

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (14)


    Blocboy JB f. Drake’s “Look Alive”
    Drake’s “Nonstop”
    Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”

    Among the youngest producers to land multiple songs in the Top 30, the 22-year-old Tennessee native saw his career launch alongside Memphis rapper’s Blocboy JB. “When ‘Look Alive’ went platinum, it was a dream come true for me, says Keith. “Sicko Mode” and “Nonstop” “were expected to be fire,” he adds, noting that the “rawness” of the production was “what grabbed the listeners’ ears” while “the hype on social media” boosted awareness even more. Says Keith: “My Twitter mentions went crazy.” (Charlie Amter)

  • Matt McGinn

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (15)


    Kane Brown’s “Heaven”

    What both of Kane Brown’s No. 1 country singles to date have in common is McGinn as co-writer. The breakthrough was “What Ifs,” Brown’s duet with Lauren Alaina, but “Heaven” was a real career-maker — and one of only two country songs on this year’s BuzzAngle Top 30. Just prior to a lakeside writing retreat to come up with new material for a deluxe re-release of Brown’s debut album, McGinn and some other writers “spent all day driving around listening to his record as it was — and we realized it was missing a straight-up, directly-talking-to-the-girl, having-a-moment love song. It felt like everything on the radio at that point was very aggressive, and we thought that if he did something vulnerable and sweet, almost like a John Mayer thing, it would poke through.” McGinn remembers Brown’s response when he and co-writers Shy Carter and Lindsay Rimes played him “Heaven” at the retreat: “Oh, hell, yeah!” (Chris Willman)

  • The Monsters & Strangerz

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (16)


    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    The Monsters & Strangerz have long been known as “go to” hitmakers in A&R circles, but the L.A.-by-way-of-Miami production/songwriting collective had its biggest hit ever in 2018 with Zedd and Grey’s “The Middle.” “The moment the song hit Top 10 at radio, we heard it absolutely everywhere and it was clear that it was taking off in a big way,” the collective says (three members, Stefan Johnson, Jordan Johnson and Marcus Lomax, worked on the song). “From Target commercials to radio play and Instagram stories, our family and friends were constantly sending us videos featuring the song.” So what was it about “The Middle” that truly grabbed listeners? “In our opinion, it’s the chorus,” they say. “It gives an amazing release after all the tension that was built up in the verse and pre-chorus.” (Charlie Amter)

  • Murda Beatz

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (17)


    Drake’s “Nice for What”
    6ix9ine featuring Nicki Minaj’s “FEFE”

    Canadian hip-hop producer Murda Beatz (Shane Lindstrom) has had a productive year. “I don’t believe in luck,” he says. “Just be prepared for when opportunity comes your way … if you do that, you will never lose.” True to form, the 24-year-old rarely lost in 2018. Lindstrom co-produced Drake’s “Nice for What,” one of the year’s biggest hits. “I was with Drake when I made the beat and we both knew it was special,” he says, giving credit to manager Cory Litwin for suggesting the sample. “We knew it was going to be huge!” So what’s next for the hot producer? A new single with rapper 6ix9ine, with whom Lindstrom already worked on the double-platinum-certified “FEFE.” (Charlie Amter)

  • OG Parker and Deko

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (18)


    Migos featuring Drake’s “Walk It Talk It”

    Before its iconic “Soul Train”-themed video was streamed 260 million times, before it reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 19 on BuzzAngle’s Top 30 for the year), “Walk It Talk It” started with a text from Quavo. “I put someone on a song that’s about to make you a millionaire,” the producer Parker vividly recalls the original cryptic message from the Migos member saying. “When I asked him who, he wouldn’t tell me,” the Atlanta native laughs. Adds Parker’s production partner, Deko: “He wanted it to be a surprise. We were definitely surprised.” Once the Migos alchemy added the Midas touch of Drake, it ensured that the hover-converted 808s Dirty South banger would give the production duo their first Top 10 hit. The song, which evokes the Temptations if they’d come up in trap, has inspired countless memes and enough dance moves to make the spirit of Don Cornelius proud. (Jeff Weiss)

  • Rice N’ Peas

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (19)


    Bazzi’s “Mine”

    L.A.-based production duo RiceNPeas’ years of grinding it out in sessions finally paid off in 2018 thanks to Bazzi’s surprise smash “Mine.” “There were two big tipping points for the song,” says the duo’s Mike Woods. “One would be the memes using the song that went viral all over social media, the second would be Apple Music’s early support.” RiceNPeas’ Kevin White says it was truly team effort to take the song to upper echelons of radio charts all over the world: “We made a great song, our management (The Heavy Group) did the heavy lifting, and Mike [Caren] and the rest of APG/ Atlantic followed through with the necessary steps to get it Into the right hands.” (Charlie Amter)

  • Noah “40” Shebib

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (20)


    Drake’s longtime collaborator, Noah “40” Shebib (his nickname is short for 40 days and 40 nights), has credits on three of the year’s biggest hits, “God’s Plan,” “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What.” Yet if you asked the Toronto native why these songs took 2018 by storm, his self-effacing explanation is that, “Drake’s just really good at making music — that’s the real truth.”

    Read more about 40, Variety’s 2018Hitmakers Producer of the Year, here.

  • Starrah

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (21)


    Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B’s “Girls Like You”

    The in-demand introspective songwriting titan, Starrah (Brittany Hazzard) is a magnet at radio, thanks to her penchant for R&B and hip-hop-infused pop hooks, which has resulted in hits for Rihanna (“Needed Me”) and Camila Cabello (“Havana”). Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” with its island breeze-style flow and reggae-tinged melody, is her latest No. 1. Starrah, 28, describes it as a “love at first sight” fit for the band. “I wrote it specifically with them in mind stylistically,” she says. “It’s a mix of simplicity with a splash of something unexpected. It throws you for a loop every time.” (Nick Williams)

  • J White

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (22)


    Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny’s “I Like It”

    Effortless as the song may sound, “I Like It” took seven long months to finish, largely because of co-producer/Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman’s unflagging determination (to put it politely) to make the song as great as it could be. “Well, yeah,” laughs co-producer White, who also helmed Cardi’s breakthrough No. 1 hit, “Bodak Yellow.” “In October 2017, Craig said, ‘I got this Latin record I want to play you’ and we went to work on it — and we did the final stages in April. There are so many different versions of it: Craig wanted to try every kick [drum], every [element] in the sample we could lift: ‘Are you sure we’ve got the best version?’ Then he’d make us do it all over again,” he laughs. “But when we went No. 1, he called me and said, ‘See? Now you’ve got two No. 1s — now you’re a hitmaker!’” As ubiquitous as “I Like It” has become, says White, “it’s still crazy to walk down the street and hear someone in a car playing a record you were a part of.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Pharrell Williams

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (23)


    Camila Cabello’s “Havana”
    Migos’ “Stir Fry”

    The versatile producer is a 10-time Grammy winner that, nearly two decades after coming onto the scene, can still deliver a track that stands apart from everything else on the airwaves. Two such examples — “Stir Fry” by Migos and Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” the latter on which Williams claims a 12.5% stake in the songwriting, emerged in 2018. “It’s the whole package: sexy, fresh and compelling,” Cabello’s manager, Roger Gold, says of the Latin-flavored track. “The key is it sounded like nothing else on the radio. ‘Havana’ carved its own space in the world.” (James Patrick Herman)

  • Joey Arbagey, Epic Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (24)

    EVP of A&R

    Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and “Never Be the Same”

    Camila Cabello “used to lock herself in a bathroom just so she could work on her song ideas — that is definitely perseverance,” says Arbagey, explaining what it takes to make a Top 10 hit. “I truly believe it was the way ‘Havana’ made people feel that turned it into a worldwide smash,” adds the label A&R veteran, who landed at Epic following stints at Island Def Jam and Arista Records. “And let’s face it, everyone loves singing that chorus… ‘Havana, oh na na…’” Arbagey first observed Cabello with Fifth Harmony, formed for the short-lived U.S. run of “The X Factor,” which featured former Epic Records chief L.A. Reid as a judge. As for the secret to the success of “Never Be the Same,” Arbagey points to “the simplicity of the production and, of course, her spectacular delivery — it takes a special voice and she certainly has one.” (James Patrick Herman)

  • Tyler Arnold, Republic Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (25)

    VP of A&R

    Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart,” “Rockstar,” “Psycho” and “Better Now”

    “We grew up together,” Arnold says of his first artist signing Post Malone, whose smash sophomore LP “Beerbongs & Bentleys” includes three songs in the Top 25 of BuzzAngle’s year-end chart (with “Psycho” at No. 2). On release day in April, the album annihilated both the U.S. and global streaming records with 431 million-plus streams stateside and 675 million-plus streams worldwide. The set’s four biggest hits have netted over 3 billion streams combined on Spotify to date. Arnold recalled the three-week final crunch period of recording. “Every night we just grinded till 10 in the morning,” he says of the “insane, nocturnal” schedule. The core crew celebrated the final mix by “ordering chicken fingers” and playing it through front to back. “It was, like, ‘Wow, we did this’ — that sense of accomplishment with pulling it off,” he says. “We just had the biggest smiles on our faces.” (Nick Williams)

  • Tunji Balogun, RCA Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (26)

    EVP, A&R/Co-Founder Keep Cool

    Khalid & Normani’s “Love Lies”

    The man who signed SZA, Bryson Tiller and H.E.R. to RCA is on his second consecutive Hitmakers list, again thanks to another big signing, Khalid, whose duet with Normani, “Love Lies,” lands at No. 27. “Khalid and Normani were mutual fans and connected through social media in early 2017, then ended up hanging out and becoming good friends,” Balogun says. The song was completed last fall, but got sidelined for a minute. “We were in the middle of a Khalid album cycle and Normani was still easing out of her role in Fifth Harmony,” he explains. “We held onto the record for a while before finally deciding to align it with the ‘Love Simon’ soundtrack and release it on Valentine’s Day. At the same time, we worked out a plan to sign Normani to RCA as a solo artist.” One of the summer’s biggest hits, the song peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well. Says Balogun: “It’s a love song, it’s sexy, vibey and soulful, but it also has a bounce, and it’s written and sung so beautifully. It’s an R&B record that’s structured like a pop record, so it was relevant to both audiences.” Even more gratifying, adds Balogun, is “watching a song by two young, black singers in their early 20s become one of the longest charting songs of the year. It’s validation that black music, and R&B specifically, can reach wide audiences and penetrate culture without sacrificing sound and soul.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Brooklyn Johnny & Darrale Jones

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (27)

    Johnny: Atlantic Records’ A&R Consultant
    Jones: Atlantic Records’ SVP of A&R

    Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny’s “I Like It”

    Cardi B feat. 21 Savage’s“Bartier Cardi”

    “Cardi was a shining diamond that I happened to stumble across,” says Darrale Jones. “I was like, ‘No one sees this diamond out here shining?’ All she needed was the machine, and we provided her with the bigger machine, which was Atlantic.” Jones and Brooklyn Johnny — who are also partners in the production company Concrete Entertainment — brought two of Atlantic’s biggest hip-hop artists to the table in the past couple of years in Cardi and Kodak Black, and they’re reaping the rewards today. Jones, who’s worked closely with Gucci Mane, Missy Elliott, Lupe Fiasco and others, was bumped up to senior VP, and Brooklyn Johnny recently announced a coventure with RCA called District 18. (Jem Aswad)

  • Jim Catino, Sony Music Nashville

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (28)

    SVP of A&R

    Kane Brown’s “Heaven”

    “Heaven” is a place on earth, or at least found its home there, at Catino’s lakeside house outside Nashville. Sony had decided to release a deluxe reissue of Brown’s hit debut album with four additional tracks, and a songwriters’ retreat was put together there by Catino along with Brown’s publisher, Kent Earls, VP/GM of Universal Music Group Nashville. Earls happens to be married to the singer’s manager, Martha Earls. “We provided some direction to the writers invited what Kane was looking for his new project, and Shy Carter, Matt McGinn and Lindsay Rimes wrote the song as part of that trip,” Catino says. Brown was collaborating on a different song upstairs when he came downstairs, heard what that threesome was up to, and told them to just keep going without him. It ended up being, by BuzzAngle’s metrics, the biggest country song of the year not to have a featured pop artist — and even though it didn’t cross over to pop radio, that audience discovered it anyway via streaming. “The sentiment is relatable to anyone who’s in love,” says Catino. (Chris Willman)

  • Tizita Makuria, Artist Partner Group

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (29)

    Senior Director of A&R

    Bazzi’s “Mine”

    Makuria signed Bazzi to APG first as a songwriter, before an early demo of his now-viral hit “Mine” led her to shepherd his solo breakthrough. “It wasn’t fully developed and the melody wasslightly different in the hook, but I was just, like, ‘Oh my God,’” the 26-year-old recalls. “I started flipping out.” The single, which has been streamed over 450 million times on Spotify, led to support slots for Bazzi on tours with Justin Timberlake and Camila Cabello, as well as a new artist nomination at the MTV Video Music Awards. “It spread like wildfire,” Makuria says of the song’s meme-worthy cachet, aided by a Snapchat lens filter that featured the verse lyric, “You so fucking precious when you smile.” The track’s short-and-sweet length — two minutes and 11 seconds, with no bridge — actually adds to its appeal. “It ends kind of abruptly,” Makuria says, “and you’re, like, ‘Wait, what?’” (Nick Williams)

  • Jean Nelson, Blueprint Group Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (30)

    G-Eazy featuring A$AP Rocky and Cardi B’s “No Limit”
    Rich the Kid’s “Plug Walk”

    Newly appointed president of Blueprint Group Records, A&R and management guru Nelson was responsible for two of the most inescapable hip-hop tracks of 2018, Rich the Kid’s “Plug Walk” and G-Eazy’s “No Limit” (feat. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B). While “Plug Walk” was all over Urban radio earlier this year, Nelson notes the best measure of a hit comes when you encounter the song out in the wild. “Going to the clubs and seeing the reaction of the people is always the most rewarding,” he says. “I get more out of that than seeing my record play five times every hour at radio. When you physically see the reaction, you know something is going to happen.” (Andrew Barker)

  • Sickamore, Interscope Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (31)

    SVP of A&R

    Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”

    Randall Medford made his name as Sickamore, the A&R whiz who rose from mixtape peddler in New York City to senior executive at Interscope Records, all while barely out of his 20s. In a rare instance of corporate freedom, Sickamore continues to A&R Travis Scott, who is signed to Epic Records. The rapper’s “Sicko Mode,” a three-act track that features nearly two dozen writers and six producers, lands at No. 17 on Buzz Angle’s Top 30, making Sickamore a Hitmakers honoree for two years running.

  • Manny Smith, Interscope Geffen A&M

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (32)

    SVP of A&R

    Rich the Kid’s“Plug Walk”

    “There is nothing better than seeing Rich win,” says Smith of the 26-year-old rapper’s breakthrough year and first Top 40 hit. The Albuquerque-born A&R titan — credited with signing Kendrick Lamar and overseeing both his Pulitzer Prize winning “Damn.” album as well as the “Black Panther” soundtrack — linked Lamar with the rising Atlanta upstart (born Dimitri Leslie Roger) on last fall’s “New Freezer.” Smith then executed a one-two punch with Kid’s follow-up breakout hit “Plug Walk,” ahead of his major label debut “The World Is Yours,” released in March. The single has been streamed 275 million times on Spotify to date, aided by a key placement on the streaming service’s powerhouse Rap
    Caviar playlist. “He is constantly proving any doubters wrong by outworking the competition,” says Smith. “He isn’t going to stop his hustle until he’s on top.” (Nick Williams)

  • Mr. Morgan

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (33)

    President of OVO Sound / SVP A&R Warner Bros. Records

    BlocBoy JB featuring Drake’s “Look Alive”

    Drake and Noah “40” Shebib’s OVO Sound label has developed a reputation for producing hits at a seemingly effortless rate, and much of that has to do with blocking and tackling work from the label’s executive Morgan, who represents the Toronto imprint at Warner Bros. Records in New York. In addition to the overwhelming success of Drake’s “Scorpion” album, the rapper also scored a left-field smash this year with his guest appearance on the previously little-known Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” “Every situation is different,” Morgan says. “With ‘Look Alive’ it was working with one of the most talented artists in the world who recognized a new talent, BlocBoy, and they created an authentic creative moment together.” (Andrew Barker)

  • Rob Stevenson, Republic Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (34)

    EVP of A&R

    Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart”

    “The song shows a vulnerable side to Post that doesn’t often come out,” says Stevenson of this track from the face-tattooed hellion, No. 8 on BuzzAngle’s year-end chart. “Right from the opening line, ‘She told me that I’m not enough,’ you know he is singing from experience. The listener can feel and identify with his pain.” While Post Malone isn’t necessarily best known for his sensitivity, the song presented another side to his persona, one that fleshed out his image and probably snared female fans who weren’t rocking to his harder tracks. Stevenson, a two-decade-plus A&R veteran who’s worked with everyone from Katy Perry and Martin Garrix to the Killers and the Beastie Boys, can cite the exact date he knew the song was connecting: “September 19, 2017,” he says. “When Tyler and I heard Post play it live at the Playstation Theater in New York and every phone went up and the crowd sang every word back, we knew it was going to get its due.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Mike Caren

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (35)

    Artist Partner Group Founder/CEO

    Bazzi’s “Mine”

    After hearing a demo of songwriter-turned-pop/R&B solo upstart Bazzi’s breakthrough hit “Mine,” it took “one listen” for APG’s founder to green light an artist deal for thenewcomer, previously signed as a songwriter. “It has an uncontrived genre bent, with aspects of hip-hop, R&B and pop together without feeling forced,” says Caren, a longtime affiliate of Warner Music who has worked extensively with Flo Rida, Charlie Puth and Kehlani, among others. “It was a relatively instantly reactive record from the moment we put it out. There’s no feature; there’s just a dynamic artist that has basically three different vocal styles in one song.” The viral hit has been certified three times platinum by the RIAA, earning additional platinum awards in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Sweden. It reached No. 1 on Apple Music’s Pop Streaming chart and Shazam’s Global Top 100, as well as the Top 5 on Spotify’s overall Global Top 50. (Nick Williams)

  • Ethiopia Habtemariam

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (36)

    President, Motown Records

    Migos’ “Stir Fry” and “Walk It Talk It”

    When Habtemariam joined Motown as president in 2014, she faced a challenge: “How do we remind people of the story and legacy while growing with the times?” The 39-year-old doubled down on partnerships, inking a deal with Quality Control Music (Migos, Lil Yachty) in 2015, and drawing on her experience nurturing young talent as VP of Urban Music at Universal Music Publishing Group. She applied that ethos to Migos, which released its third album “Culture II” in January. Though the rap trio had already dropped the star-turning “Culture” the previous year, Habtemariam worked with Brian Nolan, Capitol’s SVP of in-house brand partnerships, to go even bigger. Together, they launched smash singles “Stir Fry” and “Walk It Talk It” with Apple Music campaigns and sports syncs, as well as international activations in London and Paris. “We’re now in the conversation, where Motown hadn’t been for years,” she says. “We can be a destination for new artists, and you have people who can amplify and understand their careers.” (Steven J. Horowitz)

  • Jimmy Harnen

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (37)

    EVP, Big Machine Label Group; President, BMLG Records

    Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be”

    Harnen won a bidding war with Warner Bros. to sign Florida Georgia Line six years ago, and there hasn’t exactly been cause to regret that since. “Cruise” seemed like an unrepeatable country-pop crossover phenomenon, but that was before “Meant to Be,” which took on a peculiar life of its own. FGL had another single, “Smooth,” just outside the country Top 10 when Rexha’s label released “Meant,” and when all the streaming attention went to the collaboration, Harnen and boss Scott Borchetta decided that’s where country radio needed to go, too, so they pulled the on-the-bubble choice in favor of the smash no one saw coming. “We got a little bit of pushback from country radio in some places,” he says, “A lot of folks thought it was a pop song, and because it was already out at Top 40, that probably only helped their point of view.” But he told his promotion team to tell programmers, “We’re in the customer acceptance business — and they have already accepted it.” At radio, FGL already had a subsequent No. 1 single and is on to another, yet in overall country metrics, including streaming, “Meant” is still the top country song in the U.S., and has been for a record 12 months. (Chris Willman)

  • Craig Kallman

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (38)

    Atlantic Records Chairman & CEO

    Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny’s “I Like It”

    It’s not often that a major-label CEO spends seven months in four cities working on a song with an artist, but then again, most music company chiefs aren’t veteran DJs who own literally more than a million records. While many players were involved, “I Like It” was largely Kallman’s vision. “I told Cardi we needed a Latin-flavored song on her album and she was into it. So I started with the [‘I Like It’] sample and basically did it in my home studio,” he recalls. Suffice it to say, many more months of intensive work ensued on a song that credits 16 writers and four producers, but Kallman rode herd through the entire process. “I was traveling alongside Cardi as we went from New York to L.A. to Atlanta to Miami, we were really trying to make a classic,” he continues. “She was pregnant at the time but she was just ferocious in the studio, I’ve never seen such a fierce work ethic.” It’s as good an example as any of the amount of work that can go into hitmaking in 2018: The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 (it lands at No. 12 for the year) and seems likely to garner Grammy nominations as well. “I thought she could own the summer with a fun, party record. These are troubled times, and records can be escapist and let everyone get loose and have some fun. Fortunately, this was one of those records.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Michael Kyser

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (39)

    President of Black Music,Atlantic Records

    Cardi B featuring 21 Savage’s “Bartier Cardi” and Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s “I Like It”

    At the top of the year, Cardi B was a fast-rising star who had one hit to her name. In many ways, “Bartier Cardi,” released three days before Christmas 2017, was a make-or-break song. “Coming off the success of [Cardi’s debut hit] ‘Bodak Yellow,’ everyone was, like, ‘Is she a one-hit wonder or is she for real?’” says Kyser. “And the song was such a huge hit that it was a defining moment for her. We were actually still working it when the album came out, but everyone was gravitating to ‘I Like It,’” the Latin-tinged track featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny. “So we went to Latin radio first and then, almost two months later, we started working it at Urban, Rhythm and Top 40.” The rest, as they say, is history: “I Like It” is No. 12 on the BuzzAngle year-end chart (and topped the Billboard Hot 100), and “Bartier” is No. 30. Kyser points to Atlantic’s marketing, publicity and radio departments as key to Cardi’s success. “Seeing Cardi performing onstage at the Grammys this year was like a proud-parent moment,” he says. “And she opened up the American Music Awards with ‘I Like It.’ We spent a lot of money to make it her moment, and I think we really did that. What an amazinglook!” (Jem Aswad)

  • Brad O’Donnell

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (40)

    Chief Creative Officer,Capitol Christian Music Group

    NF’s “Let You Down”

    Under the guidance of Capitol CMG and its chief creative officer O’Donnell, “Let You Down” has become rapper NF’s highest-charting song to date. After peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, it ends the year at No. 25 with BuzzAngle reporting over 1.6 million project units for the song. O’Donnell credits the success of “Let You Down” to its strong chorus and vulnerable lyrics. “Listeners want songs that speak to real life and issues,” O’Donnell says. “[NF] has been uncompromising in always writing about what he’s lived through.” (NateNickolai)

  • Dennis Reese

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (41)

    SVP Promotion,RCA Nashville

    Kane Brown’s “Heaven”

    When Kane Brown prepared to put out a deluxe reissue of his debut album with four newly recorded tracks, it was initially a toss-up as to which song should follow his first country radio chart-topper, “What Ifs.” A duet with fellow star Chris Young had certainly been recorded with that in mind, but Reese knew that it had to be the earnest ballad “Heaven.” That decision was quickly validated: “Kane performed it at a Christmas radio show last year just after it was released to radio, and the crowd was singing every word at the top of their lungs,” Reese says. Six months after hitting radio, it became his second airplay No. 1. And in Buzz Angle’s all-genre, all-consumption chart, it was the only country song to figure in the Top 30 without a featured pop artist. Brown is “too humble to even know how special he really is,” Reese says, but at least he can brag about him. (Chris Willman)

  • Joe Riccitelli

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (42)

    Co-President,RCA Records

    Khalid & Normani’s “Love Lies”

    This longtime promotion exec-turned-label co-head heard a hit in “Love Lies” when it was placed in the film “Love, Simon” by soundtrack curator Jack Antonoff. Radio programmers were recruited to screenings on both coasts, and the Khalid and Normani duet proved the perfect combination. “Khalid was also starting to make inroads into the pop airplay scene,” says Riccitelli. “And having Normani on board allowed us to take advantage of her built-in-audience.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Jim Roppo

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (43)

    EVP and GM,Republic Records

    Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart,” “Better Now,” “Psycho” and “Rockstar”

    Drake’s “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What” “In My Feelings” and “Nonstop”

    With Drake and Post Malone in the stable, it’s perhaps not surprising that Republic is the top label of 2018, according to overall consumption by song. This year, hip-hop crossed over into pop more than at any time in history, and those artists — whose music, of course, includes elements of many styles — were at the forefront of that movement. “Throughout his career, Drake has successfully blended hip-hop, R&B and pop,” says Roppo, who was named the label’s EVP and GM in January. “He led the way for what has essentially become the most popular music around the world today.” Post’s music straddles multiple styles, but hip-hop is at its core, says Roppo. “It’s very exciting to see it become the dominant music genre worldwide in 2018.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Jacqueline Saturn

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (44)


    6ix9nine’s “FEFE”
    NF’s “Let You Down”
    XXXTentacion’s “Sad!”

    “’Let You Down’ was a one-listen record,” says Saturn of the hit by rapper NF (Nathan Feuerstein). He helped put Caroline on the map when his album “Perception” bowed at No. 1 in October 2017, thanks in large part to a successful campaign at Top 40. “We knew about his touring base and an incredible management team headed by Chris Woltman, and we just built it brick by brick,” says Saturn, a veteran of Epic Records, where she was a top promotion exec. “There was never any doubt from us.”Saturn hails hip-hop’s arrival — and influence — on the Top 40 format. After all, three of the Top 30 records of the year — including 6ix9ine’s “FEFE” and XXXTentacion’s “Sad!” — are hers. “The fans spoke on all of those records; they were all undeniable,” she says, adding that programmers “are being smart about playing records that have penetrated the marketplace through streaming. And that wasn’t always the case.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Seth England, Big Loud Management

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (45)


    Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be”

    As part of his Big Loud management duties, England keeps a strong hand in the A&R for his clients Florida Georgia Line. So when he got a phone call saying that Bebe Rexha was available for a spur-of-the-moment co-writing session, he urged them to go for it. That night, “Meant to Be” was born, but England is the first to admit they had no idea what they had on their hands, even after recording it — radio was focused on a different FGL song at the time. It was part of his job, as well as Sony Nashville’s, to reassure country radio that they needed to switch out the singles to reflect what was happening with streaming. “I remember for a few weeks, there were a lot of calls going, ‘Please trust us, that we’re not being crazy.’ We could just see under the hood from the information we were getting — and once it hit the airwaves, it was over.” (Chris Willman)

  • Roger Gold, Gold Music Management

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (46)


    Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and “Never Be the Same”

    “My role is to take her vision and run through brick walls to make sure the songs get every possible chance to succeed,” says Camila Cabello’s manager, Roger Gold, of his part in the hitmaking process.” For “Havana,”No. 9 on the Top 30 songs of 2018, he credits its Latin flavor. “The way it hit people, the authenticity, the deep connection to Camila’s [Cuban] roots and creative vision — its growth was organic and immediate,” says Gold. “After the ‘Tonight Show,’ which was our first live performance, the song jumped forward significantly all over the world.” Gold, who started out as an attorney for Warner Music Group in 1996 and later co-founded 300 Entertainment in 2012, was also instrumental in helping to free Cabello from her former group, Fifth Harmony — a wise move considering how far her star has risen as a solo artist. (James Patrick Herman)

  • Adam Harrison, Career Artist Management

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (47)


    Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B’s “Girls Like You”

    The loss of Maroon 5 manager and CAM founder Jordan Feldstein in December made for a challenging transition for Harrison, whom Feldstein recruited from Dangerbird Records more than a decade ago to serve as his deputy. Once the decision was made to form a new management partnership, with Harrison serving alongside Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and industry veteran Irving Azoff, all of his energy went into driving the band’s album “Red Pill Blues” and its last-minute addition, “Girls Like You,” to the widest possible audience. A bittersweet boost came when the star-studded video debuted. As Harrison recalls: “We were sitting there with tears in our eyes as Jordan is looking down on us and watching the YouTube count blow up.” (Margeaux Sippell)

  • Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (48)

    MANAGERS,Quality Control Records / Solid Foundation Management

    Migos’ “Stir Fry” and “Walk It Talk It”

    If one music company has dominated the past year, it’s the Quality Control empire. Founded by “Coach K” and “Pee,” as they’re known throughout the industry, in just five years QC has risen from a small Atlanta-based operation to a juggernaut with multiple hits on the 2018 chart. With the muscle of a major (thanks to a co-venture with Motown/Capitol in 2015) and all the hallmarks of a classic hit factory, with a label, publishing and management and a new sports division, what makes them different? “I feel like artist development has left the game in the music business,” says Thomas. “I think labels are just looking at streams or YouTube plays on one song, and not even figuring out if the artists can be developed to have a long and healthy career. Going all the way back to Migos, we got with these artists when nobody knew who they were, and we’re very, very hands on with the creative process, the business, even their personal lives. I love being able to say we really helped this person so they can continue to have a career and provide for their family and maybe help somebody else get on.” In fact, all the company’s artists were signed early in their careers, except one: Cardi B, for whom QC handles many management duties but officially “consults” (due in part to a lawsuit from her former manager). “With her being Offset’s wife it’s like family, so we’ve got to come in and help and give some guidance,” Lee clarifies. Adds Thomas: “We really take pride in staying to the last. If we sign an artist we’re in with you 100%.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Lil Bibby, Grade A Productions

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (49)


    Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams”

    In just a year’s time, Juice WRLD went from playing local shows in his native Chicago for $100 to signing a reported $3 million deal with Interscope in March. Credit that to his singsong, emo-cribbing style, which serves as the hallmark for his breakthrough hit “Lucid Dreams,” the Sting-sampling smash that made him a crossover success. The 19-year-old found guidance from an unlikely source: Lil Bibby, the gritty rapper best known for his “Free Crack” series. Along with his brother G-Money, Bibby initially took Juice under his wing, signing him to his Grade A Productions imprint and overseeing his career. Since “Lucid Dreams” took off, Juice WRLD has continued to thrive, releasing his debut full-length “Goodbye & Good Riddance” in May and following with “Wrld on Drugs,” a collaborative album with Future, in October. (Steven J. Horowitz)

  • Adam Mersel, First Access Entertainment

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (50)


    Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be”

    “Meant to Be” vaulted seasoned songwriter Bebe Rexha into the bigtime, commanding both the country charts and pop charts. “It absolutely changed her life,” says Mersel, Rexha’s manager who signed her five years ago. “Familiarity from ‘Meant to Be’ is off the charts. It brought the world to her.” Rexha had a hand in several hit songs before breaking out as a solo artist, including G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself & I,” and Mersel’s experience having previously worked for Mike Caren at APG and Jordan Feldstein at CAM taught him to recognize a star act in the making. Adds Mersel of Rexha: “We both had a fire inside to build something very special. And we did it as a team.” (Nate Nickolai)

  • Dre London, London Ent

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (51)

    Even in the fast-paced stream-today, gone-tomorrow economy of modern-day hit songs, Post Malone is in a league of his own. The genre-bending artist has four of the most consumed tracks of 2018, each of which feels equally at home on a hip-hop playlist as it does a pop radio station. Credit part of that mass appeal to Post’s manager Dre London, the sort of music industry newcomer who relies on his own creative instincts ahead of absorbing the advice and trend-forecasting of others.

    Read more about Dre London, Variety‘s 2018 Manager of the Year, here.

  • Dave Rene

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (52)


    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    As Zedd’s manager, Rene had seen his client score a number of U.S. hits, including “Stay” with Alessia Cara, “Starving” with Hailee Steinfeld and “Break Free” with Ariana Grande, but getting “The Middle” to the finish line may have been his most challenging endeavor yet. Almost a year after the song was first conceived by Sarah Aarons and the Monsters & Strangerz, it still lacked “a vocalist who could carry it,” Rene recalls. “It’s a difficult song to sing and equally difficult for any singer to make uniquely their own.” Indeed, almost a dozen singers had tried, including Demi Lovato and Bebe Rexha. “When Maren Morris cut the vocal, I knew it was a wrap,” says Rene, who served as a senior A&R executive at Interscope during Jimmy Iovine’s tenure. “She injected her own emotional dynamic and sonic signature to express confidence and vulnerability at the same time.” Musically, its syncopated chorus, and an underlying vocoder, “left no barrier to entry for listeners,” adds the manager, who also represents sibling duo Grey. “All of the artists transcended genres here and came together to make something bigger than themselves.” (Shirley Halperin)

  • Solomon Sobande

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (53)


    XXXTentacion’s “Sad!”

    As XXXTentacion’s manager through the albums “17” and “?,” Sobande, in concert with XXX’s mother Cleopatra Bernard, was tasked with preserving the legacy of the late rapper, who was shot dead in June at age 20. The work started right away as the single “Sad!,” released in March, gained momentum with the debut of an eerie video featuring XXX in a casket (it was filmed before his murder). “?” would become Empire Distribution’s top-selling album of all-time and is now garnering Grammy buzz. Sobande says these accolades are “bittersweet,” but he’s comforted that “Sad!” continues to resonate. “The song changed a lot of people’s lives,” says Sobande. “He showed kids who, like him, had a troubled past that they weren’t alone — that they were special.” (Rachel Yang)

  • Courtney Stewart

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (54)

    CEO, Right Hand Management/ Co-Founder, Keep Cool

    Khalid & Normani’s “Love Lies”

    “This is the first time in over 20 years that a duet with two African-American singers has gone to No. 1 at pop radio,” says Courtney Stewart, who works with all three “Love Lies” collaborators: He manages the song’s co-writer, Tayla Parx, as well as vocalist Khalid, and Normani is the first artist signed to the Keep Cool label he co-founded. “In 2018, a downtempo R&B duet isn’t typically a standout track that goes the distance, especially in the summer,” he admits. “We bet on a good song and the strength of the artists as opposed to doing what everybody else was doing — I feel that helped ‘Love Lies’ stand out because there was nothing else that sounded like it on the radio.” (James Patrick Herman)

  • David Stromberg

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (55)


    Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”

    With “Sicko Mode,” Travis Scott scores a second Top 30 hit two years in a row. At Scott’s side, longtime business partner and manager Stromberg who helped navigate tricky tabloid terrain and maintain credibility. The three-act track featuring Drake and Swae Lee, and production by Tay Keith, Mike Dean, Hit-Boy and Cubeatz, among others, sprang onto the year-end chart, landing at No. 17 only 13 weeks after its release. Like 2017’s “Goosebumps,” “streaming took off,” says Stromberg, who also serves as GM of Scott’s Cactus Jack. “Sicko Mode” was also boosted by a performance on “Saturday Night Live.”

  • Andrea Ganis & Deborah Urbont, Atlantic Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (56)


    Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”

    This duo of promo vets — who have been involved in Ed Sheeran’s career from the very start — would be the first to say, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the U.K. troubadour at Top 40 or AC stations. When Ganis and Urbont started working Sheeran’s first single “The A Team,” it was his growing transatlantic fan base that caught the attention of PDs. “He has tirelessly and exhaustively visited and cultivated radio from the very beginning,” says Ganis, the EVP/Head of Pop Promotion. “The key to his massive appeal is that ‘one of us’ feeling the listener gets from those intimate, yet universal lyrics, and his melodies resonate across a wide cross-section,” adds SVP of Adult Promotion Urbont. With success comes sincerity in the case of Sheeran, the two agree. “He’s a great guy as well — down to earth and unchanged by fame. What a concept!” (Roy Trakin)

  • Marni Halpern

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (57)

    SVP of Promotion,Caroline/Capitol Music Group

    NF’s “Let You Down”

    Newcomer rapper NF “built his own following and branding by consistently touring and already had two prior albums out before anyone in radio knew who he was,” says Halpern, who helped mount the crossover push for “Let You Down.” Because he was a Michigan native, Halpern debuted the song at the rhythmic pop-leaning Detroit station WKQI. Soon embraced by rhythm radio, it then impacted Top 40. “PDs felt the record was very special —it had the hip-hop lyrics with a pop sensibility,” says Halpern, who’s held senior promotion roles at Epic, Roadrunner and Motown. “It was the perfect storm.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Juliette Jones

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (58)

    EVP of Urban Promotion, Atlantic Records

    Cardi B featuring 21 Savage’s “Bartier Cardi”

    Like Cardi B, promo vet Jones, Atlantic’s EVP of Urban Promotion, has worked her way up in a nearly 25-year career, from starting out at Jive Records to her current post, where she’s been instrumental at radio in the breakouts of Bruno Mars, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black and Gucci Mane. Her description of Cardi B’s rise may as well be applied to her own success. “She has a tremendous work ethic and is willing to do things most artists won’t. Her brand is so strong, people just had an insatiable appetite for her music and still do.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Larry Khan

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (59)

    Head of Urban Radio Promotion,Interscope Records

    Rich the Kid’s “Plug Walk”

    The son of legendary radio promotion man Joey Bonner, Khangot his first job unloading trucks of vinyl for a record wholesaler before spending two decades at Jive, helping build the careers of A Tribe Called Quest, Ciara, Usher, Chris Brown and R. Kelly. “Analytics has become a big component of how we evaluate new artists,” he has said — an approach that helped break Rich Kid’s “Plug Walk” wide-open. With a music video that generated more than 148 million YouTube views, contributing to 1.5 million total consumption units in 2018, the track produced by frequent collaborator TheLabCook, who’s also signed to the artist’s Rich Forever Music label, lands at No. 28 for the year.

  • Lee L’Heureux

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (60)

    SVP of Urban, Rhythm and Hip-Hop Promotion and Strategy,Warner Bros. Records

    BlocBoy JB featuring Drake’s “Look Alive”

    As a two-decade radio veteran, it’s safe to say L’Heureux usually knows a hit when he hears one. And while he admits that a Drake feature is worth its weight in gold, it takes more than an A-list guest for a song to reach the peaks of “Look Alive.” “We knew this was a special record,” he remembers. “The room was buzzing the first time it was played.” Characteristically for a hip-hop record, it came together quickly. “We released the song and the video on the same night,” he says. “We had set up our partners at radio to expect something big and from that moment on it was off to the races.” Indeed: the song is No. 4 for the year on BuzzAngle’s chart. Adds L’Heureux: “2018 is about authenticity, and this is as authentic as it gets.”

  • Greg Marella, Bill Evans & Dixie Tipton

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (61)

    Marella: EVP of Promotion,Capitol Music Group
    Evans: Head of Urban Promotion,CMG
    Tipton: Head of Rhythm, CMG

    Migos’ “Walk It Talk It” and “Stir Fry”
    6ix9ine featuring Nicki Minaj & Murda Beatz’s “FEFE”

    For Capitol EVP Marella, who oversees all promotion for the label group, breaking hip-hop acts like Migos and 6ix9ine is not about taking “credit,” but “navigating” their vision to radio. Along with Urban promotion head Evans and Rhythm topper Tipton, the team catapulted two Migos tracks to the No. 1 spot at Urban and Top 5 at Rhythm, and Marella is confident of future Top 40 success. “Migos’ music has definitely resonated with a broader audience,” he says. Adds Evans: “By the time pop radio got around playing to these records, I was already focused on the next single.” (Roy Trakin)

  • John McMann

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (62)

    SVP of Pop Crossover Promotion, Atlantic Records

    Bazzi’s “Mine”

    Thanks to a Snapchat filter, Bazzi’s “Mine” soared up the charts practically straight out the gate. “That was certainly an adrenaline shot of awareness,” says McMann. “Kids Shazam-tagged the filter to ID the song and save it to playlists. It definitely had a positive impact with Bazzi’s growing fanbase and at radio.” Other indicators included Spotify Today’s Top Hits playlist, where it remained high on the local stream ranking for weeks. Adds McMann: “We knew we had something special. It was very apparent in every airplay market where we saw huge spikes in sales immediately. Top 5 local streams at Spotify were the closing argument that Bazzi had a huge hit onhis hands.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Brenda Romano

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (63)

    President of Promotion, Interscope Geffen A&M

    Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder”
    Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B’s “Girls Like You”
    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    The grand dame of radio promotion, this veteran exec has been at Interscope since 1995 after five years at Hollywood Records, overseeing countless hits from Blackstreet to Selena Gomez.Proving her versatility, Romano, IGA’s president of promotion, commandeered three very different records to the top of the pop charts this year. “The common factor is that they’re all obviously great songs,” she says. “And great songs are undeniable. All three acts have a real understanding of where popular music is right now, and more importantly, where it’s headed. They come at it from different viewpoints, but they all continuously stay ahead of the curve.” (Roy Trakin)

  • Rick Sackheim, Sandra Afloarei & Charlie Foster

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (64)

    Sackheim: EVP, Epic Records
    Afloarei: SVP of Promotion, Epic
    Foster: SVP of Adult Formats, Epic

    Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and “Never Be the Same”

    While she doesn’t qualify for the new artist Grammy because of her success with Fifth Harmony, there’s little question that Camila Cabello is one of the year’s biggest breakout stars. That’s due in no small part to these two smash singles, which landed at No. 9 and No. 22 on the BuzzAngle year-end chart, and peaked at No. 1 and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. “With the success of ‘Despacito,’ the tone was set for a new Latin style of music dominating the pop culture,” says Foster, SVP of adult formats. “‘Havana’ fit perfectly into this niche.” And “‘Never be the Same’ has lyrics that every girl and boy can relate to,” adds Afloarei, SVP of promotion. “They feel it when she performs it.” That sentiment is seconded by Epic EVP Sackheim. “Seeing Camila on the 2017 Jingle Ball Tour was all I needed to see. That was the moment I knew she would become a household name.” (Aswad)

  • Rick Sackheim, Traci Adams & Dontay Thompson, Epic Records

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (65)

    Sackheim: EVP, Epic Records
    Adams: EVP of Urban Promotion, Epic
    Thompson: SVP of Rhythm Promotion, Epic

    Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”

    When Travis Scott released his third studio album, “Astroworld,” in August, his label still didn’t know which song to pick as the first single. “I thought ‘Sicko Mode’ was hot, but it didn’t fit the mold of a typical radio record,” says Thompson, SVP of Rhythm promotion, of what became the rapper’s biggest hit. The Drake-assisted track, a five-minute epic with three beat changes, quickly became a streaming standout, with radio DJs making shorter edits to fit in with their programming. Thompson, EVP of Urban promotion Adams and EVP Sackheim got to work, nurturing Scott’s creative vision by promoting his merch bundles and working “Sicko Mode” to urban and rhythmic formats, where it thrived. “I don’t think mainstream radio has truly allowed hip-hop to fully penetrate yet,” says Sackheim. “‘Mainstream’ streaming [has] embraced what the true public wants to consume accepting that this is new pop culture. I feel strongly that radio will not be far behind.”

  • Sam Selolwane

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (66)

    SVP of Urban Promotion, RCA Records

    G-Eazy featuring A$AP Rocky and Cardi B’s “No Limit”

    “The proudest moment was taking the record to number one in 10 weeks, yielding a double-platinum single,” says Selolwane of the success of “No Limit.” “It helped us introduce — and break — G-Eazy with the urban audience.” In retrospect, Selolwane has deconstructed the track’s winning recipe: “This was one of Cardi B’s first features after her explosive year and the addition of A$AP Rocky added flavor and flair. The final ingredient was their use of a familiar sample, Three 6 Mafia’s ‘Slob on My Knob,’ which continues to be a cult classic — the beat gave hints of nostalgia without sounding dated.” The string of endlessly quotable zingers didn’t hurt, either. As Cardi herself boasts: “You know me … poppin’ on the charts!” (James Patrick Herman)

  • Gary Spangler, David ‘Davey Dee’ Ingenloff & Mike Horton

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (67)

    Spangler: EVP of Promotion,Republic Records
    Ingenloff: SVP Rhythm Cross Promotion, Republic
    Horton: SVP of Urban Promotion,Republic

    Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart,” “Better Now,” “Psycho” and “Rockstar”

    Drake’s “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What” “In My Feelings” and “Nonstop”

    This promo trio helped steer Post Malone and Drake to the top of several radio formats, which is a must in today’s highly competitive, tightly playlisted Top 40. “Post delivered music that spanned across five formats, including Alternative,” notes Republic EVP Spangler, citing the need for a weekly radio audience “north of 125 million,” to make a dent, along with multi-format impact. SVP of Urban Promotion Horton helped launch four No. 1 Urban singles from the Drake album, including “God’s Plan,” which topped Urban airplay for nine consecutive weeks. “Great music and great partnerships at radio,” says SVP Rhythm Crossover Promotion Davey Dee about the label’s success with the two acts. “They made hits the people wanted to hear.”

  • Shani Gonzales

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (68)

    BMG US’ Co-Head of A&R and BMG UK’s Co-Head of Writer Services

    Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be”
    Blocboy JB’s “Look Alive,” Cardi B’s “I Like It”
    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    BMG has diversified its roster both on the recorded and the publishing side and it shows. “This has been a pivotal year for our team and it’s really evidenced by the breadth of activity,” says Gonzales, the publishing creative lead on four very different songs spanning country, hip-hop and pop, including “Meant to Be” by BMG Publishing’s own Bebe Rexha. “They all connect to culture in some way and today’s culture embraces so many influences,” addsBMG U.S.’ co-head of A&R and BMG U.K.’s co-head of writer services. “We’re no longer listening to one sound or one genre. People are open and the world is more connected. It’s very exciting.”

  • Amanda Hill

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (69)

    SVP and Co-Head of West Coast A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

    Zedd/Grey/Maren Morris’ “The Middle”

    As the publisher for songwriter Sarah Aarons — arguably the greatest cultural export Australia has provided to L.A. in some time — Hill,Sony/ATV’s co-head of West Coast A&R, bears a lot of responsibility for “The Middle” being lodged directly in the middle of your head. She is quick to credit the many other cooks in the kitchen: “Dave Rene, Zedd’s manager was the quarterback,” she says, and “Maren [Morris]’s vocals mixed with the great production made it unstoppable.” But her protégé provided the “memorable chorus that everyone can relate to. I’m really proud of Sarah for being the sole songwriter [lyric/melody] on a No. 1 song. That’s rare these days.” (Chris Willman)

  • Shawn Holiday

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (70)

    Head of Urban at Columbia Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing

    Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”
    Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”

    Helming dual Urban head roles at Columbia Records and Sony/ATV, Holiday played the role of connector on Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” suggesting Cardi B and collaborator Pardison Fontaine, both on Sony/ATV’s publishing roster, to guest on the track. Says Holiday: “Usually when people want a big pop hit, they go for the obvious, like, ‘Let’s get Drake.’ Cardi wasn’t a household name yet.” The timing couldn’t have been better, and as the song shot up in streaming, video views and airplay, the veteran A&R executive says: “We didn’t know what we had — it outperformed even our expectations.” Having signed “Sicko Mode” rapper Travis Scott to Sony/ATV, and launching hits like Usher’s “Yeah,” Holiday says his role as a publisher “is to be more right than wrong — and I think we were all right about these songs.”

  • Sam Taylor

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (71)

    SVP of Creative, Kobalt

    Drake’s “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings”

    Drake’s “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” helped shape 2018’s musical narrative, and Taylor, Kobalt Music’s SVP of Creative, says they worked because their production was so outstanding the songs could’ve stood as instrumentals alone. And it didn’t hurt that “Nice for What” was a female anthem, which he calls “overdue” in these times. With hip-hop at the forefront of the current music landscape, Taylor says it’s time the industry recognizes minority executives behind the genre, and put “more women in those huge chairs as well.” (Shirley Halperin)

  • Katy Wolaver

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (72)

    VP of A&R,Warner/Chappell Music

    Camila Cabello’s “Never Be the Same”

    “At the core, it’s a story about a feeling we all get when we are infatuated and in love, and what that raw love feels like. It makes me dance, feel emotional and nostalgic all at the same time.” That quote comes not from an artist or a songwriter but rather Wolaver, the publisher of “Never Be the Same,” who probably is an ace in pitch sessions. While the process of uniting the singer with the song began in a fairly conventional way, with meetings among Wolaver,Warner/Chappell Music’s VP of A&R, and Cabello manager Roger Gold, the team that brought the song — which is No. 22 on BuzzAngle’s year-end chart and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 — to fruition includes writers Sasha Sloan, Noonie Bao and Cabello; producers Frank Dukes and Jarami; and Sloan’s manager, Rupert Lincoln, and Bao’s manager, Jakob Emtestam. Says Wolaver: “The track is so forward-thinking and gives a fresh take on where music is heading in the pop/urban space.” (Jem Aswad)

  • Manny Marroquin

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (73)


    Post Malone’s “Better Now,” “Pyscho,” “Rockstar” and “I Fall Apart”

    Manny Marroquin has had a knack for working on the right records, at the right time. He’s won multiple Grammy awards for his mixing engineer assists on tracks from the likes of Bruno Mars and Kanye West, and he may well win more for his recent polishes of Post Malone hits. “The reason why I think ‘Rockstar’ is special is because of how untraditional the arrangement is,” says the L.A.-based mixer. “It’s almost like one continuous hook and that’s the reason why it’s so hypnotic.” A maestro of sound, Marroquin is happy hip-hop is having its moment atop the top of the charts. “I’ve been mixing hip-hop since my late teens and it’s great to see how successful it has become.” (Charlie Amter)

  • Tony Maserati

    Variety’s 2018 Hitmakers (74)


    Ed Sheeran and Beyonce’s “Perfect Duet”

    Of all the hidden hands behind hit songs, the mixer’s role is perhaps most mysterious. The difference between a proverbial ‘top tune’ and an outstanding one is something L.A.-based Tony Maserati spends a lot of time obsessing over. “The role [of a mixer] has not changed dramatically from when I started out 20 years ago,” says the Grammy winner. “My job is to amplify the emotions and character that the producer and the artist have for the single.” Maserati has worked on tracks from everyone from Lady Gaga to Shawn Mendes, and he won accolades for his work on Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect Duet” with Beyonce, which gave the smash a second life in 2018. Says Maserati: “I’ve been working with Beyonce for many years so I know what the best techniques are for her vocals” to sound, well, perfect. (Charlie Amter)

  • Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Margart Wisoky

    Last Updated: 2023/06/22

    Views: 6323

    Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

    Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Margart Wisoky

    Birthday: 1993-05-13

    Address: 2113 Abernathy Knoll, New Tamerafurt, CT 66893-2169

    Phone: +25815234346805

    Job: Central Developer

    Hobby: Machining, Pottery, Rafting, Cosplaying, Jogging, Taekwondo, Scouting

    Introduction: My name is Margart Wisoky, I am a gorgeous, shiny, successful, beautiful, adventurous, excited, pleasant person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.