How Sylvia Rhone Blazed A Trail In The Music Industry
September 22, 2023
Sylvia Rhone is the chair and CEO of Epic Records, a label owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Rhone is regarded as the most influential female executive in music business history. She has held senior positions at all three major record companies and was the first woman to be named CEO of a major record label owned by a Fortune 500 company.

She was also the first African American woman to attain such a title. Rhone previously served in senior positions at Vested In Culture, Universal Motown, Elektra Entertainment Group and Atlantic Records. Over the course of her career, she has worked with Missy Elliott, Lil Wayne, En Vogue, Stevie Wonder, Metallica, Gerald Levert, Busta Rhymes, Bjork, MC Lyte, Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, India.Arie, Kid Cudi, Roberta Flack, Akon, Erykah Badu, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Jason Mraz, Third Eye Blind, and others.

How did you get your start in the music industry?

I got my start when I was six years old because I was a great music lover. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and was groomed to go into the financial sector. I was there for about nine months, and I felt like I was still at boarding school. I wore a pair of pants one day, and they asked me to leave. I happily left and pursued my dream of working for a music label. I got a job as a secretary in 1975 and never looked back.

What was a major turning point in your career?

One major tentpole event in my career was when I finally landed a job at Atlantic Records and eventually became the Vice President of the black music division. Shortly after, my boss got a new job, and asked me to come with him. I was very tempted, but decided to stay, and in doing so, got promoted to head of the division.

Within one year, that division that was previously ranked number 11 and had been losing money was ranked number one and making a lot of money. That became the turning point in my career in terms of being able to manage a business, being able to show a profit and being able to turn an entire division around.

I've been very lucky in a lot of ways, and I think that is a big part of being successful.

There are a lot of people who have talent and passion. What sets you apart?

I've been very lucky in a lot of ways, and I think that is a big part of being successful.

I also work my ass off all the time. I'm very passionate about what I do and have a good ear for talent. I have surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me, which has made my job a lot easier and made me much more successful.

Who in your life has been instrumental in your success? How important is it for people to have a mentor?

I started as a secretary in the Promotion Department. When I got promoted, I went on the road with all the guys. I felt like I had been born and reared in a den of lions - they were so protective of me. I learned a lot from those guys. They taught me about the side of the music industry that happened outside of the office.

As far as mentors going up the ladder, there were not a lot of women I could emulate at that point. But I found close friends and close allies, and we helped each other because we were all new in the business. We're talking back in the late 1970s. There weren't a lot of role models for us to follow, so we had to make our own path.

There weren't a lot of role models for us to follow, so we had to make our own path.

Has that changed?

I think so. There are a lot of opportunities for women who are willing to sacrifice for what they want. Those opportunities aren't as restricted as they were when I was coming up. You don't have to work at a label to work in the music industry. There are so many other music-related jobs to choose from.

How has the influence of digital marketing impacted the success of an artist?

I think it's hard nowadays for an artist if they don't have a large following. Social media is the backbone of our digital marketing department. Very little is done in the traditional marketing space. Everybody looks at those numbers. Even if it's a brand that's looking at an artist to do a strategic partnership, those social media numbers are paramount in their decision.

Do you watch shows like The Voice and American Idol to discover talent?

I never watch those shows. There haven't been a lot of artists that have been successful from them. They are entertaining shows to watch, but audiences aren't engaged with any of the artists. Those shows are purely for entertainment. They haven't translated into creating any careers.

How important is it to balance family and work life?

I have a daughter and was a single parent after separating from her father when she was about six. It was challenging, but I have a good support system. And you just do what you have to do. Sometimes it was at the risk of my job. Sometimes it was at the sacrifice of not going to school events.

As far as the people that I work for. It's not even a male, female thing. If someone has something important to do, that's their responsibility. I don't get in the way of that. I think it's important to allow people to have that space and allow them the field of security to do what they need to do without compromising their position. It's never even been a thought for me. You have to trust people until they give you a reason not to trust them.

What is the mantra you live by?

Karma. I'm very simple. What goes around comes around. I also believe in having strong character and treating people the way I would like to be treated.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

To be patient.

What's the worst advice you've ever been given?

To quit my job.

What quality do you most love in an employee?

I love a smart employee. A courageous one who's not afraid to voice their opinion. A loyal employee. And somebody that can be disruptive.

What is the characteristic you most admire in a leader?

I admire someone who inspires people, empowers people and treats people well.



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