Jason Geter, who previously co-founded Grand Hustle Records, told me that he’s looking to “redefine what a record label is today” with his new startup Heavy Sound Labs.
Geter said he sees Heavy Sound — which is part of startup studio Science Inc. — as an extension of the work he’s been doing for decades. He signed on as T.I.’s manager back when the rapper was only 18. He also said he signed Travis Scott when Scott only had 500 views on YouTube.
“For me, I want to continue doing what I’ve always done, which is prepare [artists] to go to major labels,” he said.
Of course, the music business has changed dramatically since Geter and T.I. founded Grand Hustle in 2003, a change that’s only accelerating as the coronavirus pandemic has brought in-person concerts and tours to a halt.
For one thing, Geter argued, “Traditional labels, they’re pretty much not in the development business anymore.” In other words, they’re not interested in finding young, undiscovered artists and nurturing their careers. At the same time, he suggested that musical subcultures (like the Atlanta hip-hop scene that he calls home) are no longer tied to specific cities.
“Lil Nas X stayed online,” he said. “By the time I found out about him, everyone else did too. It all happened at once.”
As a result, he suggested that finding the next up-and-coming artist no longer means focusing on a geographic scene: “I wanted to be able to put myself out there in a way that someone in Memphis, Houston, Kentucky, Seattle — they really truly are disconnected from the music industry, but they can come to Heavysound.com and it’s available for everyone [to apply] without any gatekeepers.”
Heavy Sound Labs has an open application process on its website, and it’s already signed artists including AllStarrDaGreat (ADG), 47 Gino and Ralph Weah. The goal is to help those artists build their audience and get them signed to a major label within 24 months.
Geter said he also wants the incubator to avoid what he sees as one of the main structural issues of a traditional label — namely, its exclusive focus on music. Instead, he said Heavy Sound can also help artists explore other avenues, whether that’s fashion or cannabis. The specific contracts will differ from industry to industry, but Geter said the goal is to always partner with the artist in a 50-50 split.
“The music business is traditionally very linear,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about record sales or streams, it’s always one kind of vertical. If you want to talk publishing, they’ll send you to the next floor to talk about publishing, which I’ve never understood.”
Geter added that he’s hoping to reinvent industry internships at the same time. Heavy Sound has already recruited 1,200 people to what it calls its Heavy Crew. Those Crew members get access to a special Slack channel and to industry talks, and they’re then called upon to help promote Heavy Sound artists.
As for how Heavy Sound became part of Science, Geter said he met the startup studio’s co-founder Peter Pham at South by Southwest last year, who quickly suggested that Geter meet with Science co-founder and managing partner Mike Jones.
“Heavy Sound pairs Jason’s unmatched ability to identify and grow talent at the earliest stages of development with the Heavy Crew, a powerful digital network of creatives and fans who can help the artists gain cultural traction,” Jones said in a statement. “The music incubator’s focus on empowering artists and providing a supportive community sets it apart from anything else in the industry. We’re thrilled to work closely with Jason and help Heavy Sound scale this new model in music.”