George Clark III Built His Career as a Music Exec by Trial and Error

When George Clark III told his high school counselor that he wanted to work in the music industry, they had one response: “Go play an instrument in the university band.” Clark III did, in fact, go to college, taking up Computer Science before dropping out after one semester. It’s not that he was bad at school — in fact, he had 3.6 GPA — he simply decided that he was going to bet on himself, instead.

Clark credits his first industry gig to Sony Music’s College Marketing program, which he joined during his time as a transfer student at Columbia College Chicago. He then spent three years as one of the label’s College/Lifestyle Marketing reps, taking annual trips to New York City for industry showcases and meetings with executives, which exposed him to having a job in music outside of the performing arts. “It blew my mind,” he recalls. “After the first trip, I was dead set on pursuing it.” It should have been easier for someone like Clark, who spent the majority of his college life with front row seats, to dive into the industry’s job market right after graduation, but there were other factors weighing on his mind: keeping his student loan debt to a minimum, paying his rent in Chicago and figuring out just what exactly he could offer the industry.

“In hindsight, I realize I was playing it a little too safe,” he says. Clark loved music and he always wanted to be around it, but he couldn’t see how he could be of service to it. He looks back at that time of his life with a slight tinge of regret, wishing he was more “aggressive” and “diligent” with his internships as an undergrad, “It would’ve given me more insight and helped to streamline the job hunt after graduating. You just don’t know what you don’t know, you know?”

“Evolution is inevitable, and A&Rs can help guide that process.”

As a teenager making beats and collaborating with friends, he became infatuated with the idea of reaching millions of people around the world. At the time, he didn’t even think of this as “marketing”; he was just feeding his curiosity, exploring and learning along the way. Over time, he realized that he was actually building a skillset — not just in marketing but also music artistry, which provided him with a stronger understanding of the musicians he works with. “I started shifting my focus from making music to finding ways to help others in music in order to find a career path that could still be relative to my passion,” he explains. That adjustment proved to be a major turning point for his career as he eventually landed him a role at RCA Records as a marketing coordinator. Now, he’s the newly-named vice president of Marketing and A&R at the company.

“I sacrificed a lot just trying to figure out how to present and apply myself in order to get a shot. I didn’t understand what my skill sets were initially, and I didn’t really even know what role I could play,” he shares. “There was an extreme level of imposter syndrome I had to fight through. It was a relentless pursuit.”

In three words each, how would you describe your job to someone who isn’t familiar with the music industry?

Coach, counselor, weatherman.

What is the scope of your job as a VP of Marketing and A&R?

I feel like it’s something that I’m still developing personally, as the roles can be played in many different ways. But essentially, I’m overseeing a portion of the label roster as a Product Manager (PM), meaning I look after the overall marketing initiatives, help to establish goals, develop strategies and build synergy between all parties involved. Anything that requires investment from the label that isn’t recording generally passes through the PM — from content, tp any form of promotion. It all boils down to storytelling, and every artist is different in terms of their needs, strengths, weaknesses, perspectives and preferences. You just have to do your best to make the most of whatever the scenario is, try to be mindful of all angles and always be looking for a way to push things a step further, taking shots while still considering what’s best for business.

Honestly, the same goes for A&R. Aside from being responsible for generating music, you’re interfacing most directly with the artist and their team, likely have the deepest understanding of what makes them tick and are helping them refine their vision — whether in the studio, on screen or in person. Evolution is inevitable, and A&Rs can help guide that process.

Combine those two things, and I’m basically in the role of someone who’s learned a bit about how the label operates and can also communicate in a way that doesn’t get lost in translation with the folks that are more focused on everything that has to get done on the ground day to day. I also help source, select or even create records from time to time. I’m enjoying the process of leaning more into that space again. That’s the part young me would be most excited about.

Can you run us through a day in your work life?

I have usual weekly occurrences, like early morning catch-ups with [RCA president] Mark Pitts, label and team meetings, finance reviews, etc., but honestly I’m usually at the mercy of the moment: whatever projects are in cycle, whoever’s on my line, wherever I need to be.

With artists being in this “always on” type of mode these days, there’s always a deadline of some sort to be met. Resources needed, music to be finalized, ideas to be discussed, content to be shot, new trends to be analyzed, assets to be delivered, info to be shared, feedback to be extracted, audibles, pivots — it’s never-ending, really. Even if you’re ahead of the curve on a deadline, you switch focus to maintain everyone’s excitement and attention leading up to release. Air traffic control type sh*t; each project is its own plane with its own destination, and everyone needs gas and access to the runway.

The good thing is no day is ever mundane. There’s always a new, slightly different problem to solve.

“It’s easy to get stuck in your own bubble, hit some benchmarks, and feel like things were a success. But you have to remember that the average fan is only aware of whatever you explicitly show or tell them.”

You work with artists that are both established and on the rise. What are the more evident changes in your mindset or workflow when dealing with these two different types of artists?

I was actually just talking about this with one of my mentors. I had gotten so used to operating in a “developmental” mindset that I’ve recently had to take a step back, look at some of my more established projects and realize that this phase is where you invest in simply highlighting just how successful the last efforts actually were. It’s easy to get stuck in your own bubble, hit some benchmarks, and feel like things were a success. But you have to remember that the average fan is only aware of whatever you explicitly show or tell them.

Working with developing acts teaches you to be ultra-tactful. You typically have to show and prove with less. I know some people think all you need is money in order to succeed, but it honestly doesn’t take a boatload of cash to get a sense of whether or not people like something. You can buy attention, but you can’t buy retention. People can see through vanity metrics. They can feel what’s real. That said, if you are fortunate enough to have something that people are into, it becomes a game of expansion, seeing how high you can build without digging yourself into the red. The tallest buildings need the strongest foundations.

Tell us the most memorable experience you’ve had with an artist yet.

I feel like I learn so much from every project I’ve had the opportunity to work on. I’m the type that instinctively wants to treat every project with the same level of respect.

But I will say, being able to see the growth of artists like Flo Milli, Kenny Mason, and Nardo Wick first hand has been dope. Remembering moments like helping to produce Flo’s first couple of music videos to seeing her rock Coachella, Kenny performing for small crowds in Atlanta with the same passion and conviction as when he’d end up on stage with the likes of J. Cole and what Nardo did with his debut album is one for the books, and made me believe in the power of simply standing on a great record again, in a time where it felt like everyone was just throwing hella songs at the wall hoping something would stick.

“You can buy attention, but you can’t buy retention.”

As a VP, what is your metric of success? When can you say that you’ve accomplished your goal for the artist?

Depending on where we’re starting from, there are different checkpoints. The gift and curse of working in this digital age is having real-time metrics available to monitor on a daily basis. So, if we start at 5,000 followers and end up at 50,000 in a matter of weeks, that can obviously be seen as major growth and a step toward success. Same with streams and subscribers; it’s all building blocks. But aside from numbers, I always like to make a “wishlist” of different items as targets/goals, whether it be digital content, press coverage, reaching certain journalists and/or tastemakers, identifying suitable playlists — really just studying the landscape and determining where you could fit as an artist. It helps offer the team some direction or at least sparks a discussion about how to begin moving in said direction. Aim high but also consider the steps from A to Z; what letter are we starting from?

Overall it’s a matter of audience development. The internet is powerful and can be a major driver on its own, but who will end up actually stepping out and showing up for you? I think that’ll always be the strongest metric. And even if things are succeeding crazy digitally – how are we then beginning to engage more traditional outlets like radio, TV, brands, and touring? Are there any signs of international interest?

These days you can have a gold, even platinum-certified record, a million followers, millions of streams, and be unknown by the average music fan. It’s wild. But that’s what keeps everything exciting. There’s always room for growth.

When the outcome of a campaign doesn’t yield the results you and the team were hoping for, what’s usually the first course of action you take?

You always have to look at the glass as half full and find areas of opportunity. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply maintaining morale. Just because something didn’t happen the way you expected it to doesn’t mean it never will. Take a look at where everything landed and reevaluate for the next round. “Study the tape,” I like to say, the same way athletes study themselves, the greats, and their opponents. Musicians, marketers, artists, and managers need practice too. The campaign might need a few tweaks, the record could need a booster shot because the conversation’s been crowded recently, might just be a matter of giving things time to brew, or even moving on to the next play. But if you believe you’ve got something, you just have to stick with it.

I think it’s easy to get caught in the idea of always needing the audience to grow bigger when sometimes it could be better to focus on making the bond you have with your current following stronger. Give them a reason to spread the word – listen to and engage with them on a deeper level. Don’t get stuck always comparing or looking for validation outside of your current community, fans can sense that kind of energy and you can definitely lose them. And nothing is ever more impactful than the artist’s own energy. An artist’s team/label is there to support them – the same goes for their fans. If the artist wakes up feeling unenthused, defeated, pessimistic, or distant, then that is what it is. If they wake up feeling capable of succeeding, willing to evolve and engage, then that’s what the energy will be. But no one can be the artist for the artist.

What are the necessary first steps someone should take to enter a career in music in marketing/A&R?

First off, just do your thing. No matter where you’re from, find a way to get active, try some things out – that’s practice. And, of course, take advantage of the internet to find a community and expand your network. I always say I owe a majority of what I know to Google and YouTube. Before I ever had the opportunity to work in music, I was learning via trial and error. And college for me was realizing the power of community and connecting with like-minded individuals. The Sony college program was the first job I ever got that I didn’t know I was looking for. It just came to me based on where I was putting my energy. That taught me a lot.

Aside from that, if you’re like me and are coming from a place where the industry doesn’t really operate, you have to be where it’s happening. I liken it to sports. Say you’re the best to ever play the game – it doesn’t matter unless you end up proving it at the highest level. You have to set foot on the court and test your skills. And before you get to the major leagues, you have to work your way up from your neighborhood to your district, to your city, state, and so on. It’s lowkey the same when you think of your career.

What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face so far, and how did you overcome it?

For a while, I suppressed myself as a beat maker and producer, thinking it would be seen as some sort of conflict or hindrance to working for a label. I went through a whole phase where I stopped for a year or so just to deal with the struggle of finding my place. Sh*t was dark. But that period of time actually led to me finding another outlet in photography which I’m thankful for. What’s funny is that eventually, all your personal interests are what end up making you special in your own right.

What is one thing about your job that most people would find unexpected or surprising?

I feel like when you say you work in music, the average person thinks you’re just hanging out with famous people, partying, in the studio, at a club, all of which does occur from time to time. But when it comes to the day-to-day process of getting the product to market, it really just requires a lot of communication, organization, and cooperation. Record labels are just groups of people attempting to help some creative people build a business with their art. Are there fun elements to the job? Of course, but it’s definitely still a job and a highly demanding one. I think that’s what ultimately requires you to subscribe to the “lifestyle.” It’s a certain way of living required to even keep up with it all.

“Take advantage of the internet to find a community and expand your network.”

Is there a secret to career longevity in this industry?

I’m a big believer in timing and alignment. What’s for you will be for you. Just stay focused on bettering yourself each step along the way. Study your tape. Keep trying and stay open-minded to what things can become. Oftentimes, we only see what we’re looking for.

It’s easy to look around, see everyone else’s success manifesting around you and think, “Ah, I should do what they did,” especially with social media today. It can be motivating but can also lead you to believe you’re not progressing fast enough. It’s a marathon – slow and steady is just fine. Do the work your way and bring good energy, seek out and grow with people you respect, appreciate, and trust. I’m learning that probably outweighs all else. At this point, I just want to be able to create and hopefully succeed with people operating from a pure place. Sidestep the weird energies and egos as much as possible. Don’t just chase the look, the wave, or even the bag. Figure out what matters to you, and never stop learning. Once you stop learning, you’ll probably stop caring.

If you get in, be great at what you got hired for, then you’ll be welcomed to overachieve and blossom into your next level. Don’t skip steps. Consider taking on the tough responsibilities that most would shy away from.

Ultimately the people who need to notice will. You never know who’s watching. And when things get rough, try not to take anything personally. Everybody’s just trying to figure out what’s best for them.

What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?

Isolation is good for me. Sometimes I just need to stay up late and zone out while everyone’s asleep. Although, that’s probably not the best habit for my sleep schedule.

Staying as organized as possible helps too – during the day, you’re bombarded with so many meetings, conversations, requests, and problems, you have to compartmentalize it all. I have notes in my phone for each project to keep track of sporadic thoughts or convos, then to formalize everything I keep a Google Doc going for each project as well. I try to maintain a format that includes timelines, key updates, highlights, ideas, and all individual department notes compiled in one place. I’m actually a little obsessive about it, to be honest, but it helps me keep track of everything. I just started breaking some off into “2023” versions because all the notes and timelines from previous years were becoming excessive.

Aside from that, though, you gotta lean on your team. One person can only handle so much, so I try to keep my crew in the loop as much as possible while also not bombarding them with too much info or requests prematurely. Dozens of group chats for real-time talk and send out formal email updates when applicable. My goal is generally to come to the table with the tools needed for everyone to then be armed to go and spread the word. When doing that for a roster of dozens, you gotta be buttoned up to make it count.

I also love a good podcast, interview, performance and watching music videos. To me, it’s a form of leisure, but I could also consider it a form of research, I suppose.

What does a day off look like for you?

Phone on DND, cozy wear, lounging super hard. Depending on how exhausted I am, I might not even leave the house. I’m usually trying to use any free time to tap into personal projects though.

If not in that mode – might catch me playing some Call Of Duty, binging a new show, or if feeling adventurous, I’ll go and explore the outdoors. Love a good sunny walk. Museums. Catch up with friends and family, you know. Did puppy yoga the other day. That was cool.

I’ve been trying to get back into reading and writing in my notebooks. Spent a lot of time manifesting that way before I got wrapped up in it all. Now that I’m here and have checked a lot of those boxes, it feels time for a refresh to map out the next level.

“If you get in, be great at what you got hired for, then you’ll be welcomed to overachieve and blossom into your next level.”

How do you see your job evolving with the music industry in the next five years?

I think learning to lead a project/team, developing business acumen, being digitally savvy, and having creative sensibilities pretty much sets you up for all-around success in the long run, especially if you can manage multitasking and face problems head-on. Being a PM pretty much forces you to deal with challenges and tough situations/conversations on a daily basis.

Over time it becomes less about what you can do individually and more about the effect you can have on the overall operation, the system and team you can build and apply your wisdom to, which becomes an extension of you.

As I become more experienced in that regard, the goal is to remove myself from the day-to-day “in the weeds” elements and nurture others’ ability to develop those skills while I’m able to develop the next levels of my own abilities. I believe you can be creative and business oriented at the same time.

I’m not a producer in the way I thought it would work at age 16 or 17, but I’m becoming the person that that version of me would’ve appreciated greatly had he had the fortune of having access to them. I’d say “Executive Producer” is more the new aim. I’ll always be making beats though, for sure.

If not music, what would you be doing?

An architect, or something like that. I just can’t imagine caring about anything more than I do music though, honestly.

Stay tuned for more features with music industry professionals — from managers to sound engineers, stagehands and others; the people who make the music world go round without standing behind a microphone.
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