Jacqueline Saturn on How to Leverage Celebrity Musician Activism for Social Causes

About This Episode

When considering how to leverage celebrity voices to impact social causes, it’s important to understand the landscape and culture of for profit companies and how best to approach them about the artists they represent. This episode features a key leader in today’s music industry, Jacqueline Saturn, President of Caroline Music Distribution. Jacqueline shares insights that shed light on how nonprofits can open dialogues with companies for partnerships with artists who are passionate about speaking out on behalf of specific causes.

About Jacqueline Saturn

Jacqueline Saturn is the President of Caroline, the Independent Distribution and Label Services arm of Capitol Music Group (CMG). Jacqueline’s career began at Epic Records, where she rose through the ranks as a Radio Promotion powerhouse, being instrumental in breaking numerous top 10 artists during her almost 25 year tenure there.

Today, Jacqueline leads Caroline’s 50-person U.S. team and oversees all aspects of its business, including artist and label signings and partnerships, as well as strategic planning and alliances with Caroline International’s 11 offices outside the U.S. She directs a full range of services for its portfolio of artists and label partners and their releases, including #1 Billboard Top 200 debuts with rapper NF, rap trio Migos, XXXTentacion and many more.

Jacqueline also continues to head CMG’s Harvest Records, having signed and developed a host of successful emerging artists at that label since taking the helm there in 2013.

Under her leadership, Caroline has attained numerous key achievements that have resulted in a doubling of its U.S. market share in a short span of time.

Jacqueline maintains involvement in many charitable organizations, including FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, GTWG (Girls Today Women Tomorrow) and has run the New York City Marathon on the American Cancer Society’s “Determination” team.  Among Saturn’s many recent honors, she was named to Billboard magazine’s Power 100 in 2019 and its Women In Music honor list in 2018.

In her words…

“Artists really try to be true to what they believe in and put that message out there. I think you’re seeing it more and more- opportunities for artists who have an opinion, to be able to put it out into the world. And you’re not just seeing it with the artists, you’re seeing it with the partners, whether it’s platforms or radio stations. It’s a big opportunity for many artists to be able to speak their minds.”

“There are so many examples because artists have different beliefs and they are from different regions. There is a lot of political unrest and people really want to say how they feel. I’m not saying it’s a safe space, because you’re definitely going to get comments and you can be under attack for what you believe in, but if you are staunch in it and you are completely at ease with what you’re saying, then it’s going to be a good space. But it can get tricky.”

“We’re a part of an artist community and artists have a platform. Since the beginning of the music business, they have been allowed to speak their minds and they have. That is never going to change. It’s always been a little bit dangerous. I don’t even look at it as being within the corporate world, I look at it as what are they connecting to with their fans and what do they feel like they need to talk about. We know who is involved with certain issues and there might be an opportunity- say there’s an event for women, then you know who to invite. We support the artists that we partner with and we certainly wouldn’t edit what they have to say.”

“I am always excited about people coming to meet with us and explain what their organization is. As a company, we want to do more things. Most of the time people ask me, or they come and present something, and it strikes a cord, and you think, ‘Oh, I’d love to be a part of this.’ That’s how it works.”

Questions Answered on this Episode

One of my favorite James Baldwin quotes says, “Artists are here to disturb peace.” I love that quote because I think that creatives often disrupt our thinking in important ways, whether through music, art, story, etc. In our current political climate do you think artists have a responsibility to use their platforms to draw attention to social issues?

Who do you think is currently doing that in a particularly effective and meaningful way and why? Also, do record companies today encourage artists to use their platform to speak out on behalf of social issues, knowing it can be an effective promotional tool to garner awareness for not only issues, but the artists themselves. In other words, is being an influencer a marketing tool in today music industry?

What impact do you think the #metoo movement has had on the music industry, both in terms of recording artists and within the industry itself. There have been certain pivotal movements where the issue was loudly brought to the forefront (most notably the Weinstein case). Based on your day to day experiences, is that impact still resonating and gaining momentum or is there any sort of “back to business as usual”, in the absence of high profile cases dominating the news feed?

You have been very vocal about the women leaders in the industry who inspired you when you were coming up in radio promotion. Do you see a difference in the way in which those women led vs. women leaders in the industry today?

You are one of the most powerful women in the music business. Where do you want to make the most impact in the industry beyond the traditional success criteria of successful artists and revenue?

In one of the interviews with you, it mentioned that you supported an organization that helped develop more women leaders. What influences you in selecting the charitable causes you want to support? Are there any pet charities of Caroline Music?

As you likely know, nonprofits are reliant to differing degrees on funding from corporate and personal entities. How do you think nonprofit organizations can garner more support from corporate entities in support of their causes?

Transcript

Vanessa Wakeman:  Welcome to The Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.

So this season we are talking about celebrity and influence and I have been really curious about how entertainers and celebrities can use their platforms to really advance important social causes. I feel that in the past few years we’ve seen more activism from the entertainer, celebrity set, and today I have someone from the music industry who is going to sort of share some of her insights about this particular opportunity, and I’m really excited to have this conversation.

So my guest for today is Jacqueline Saturn. She is the President of Caroline, the independent distribution and label service arm of Capital Music Group. Jacqueline’s career began at Epic Records where she rose through the ranks as a radio promotion powerhouse being instrumental in breaking numerous Top 10 artists during her almost 25 year tenure there. Today, Jacqueline leads Caroline’s 50 person US team and oversees all aspects of its business including artists and label signings and partnerships, as well as strategic planning and alliances with Caroline International’s 11 offices outside of the US.

She directs a full range of services for its portfolio of artists and label partners and their releases including number one Billboard Top 200 debuts with rapper NF, rap trio Migos, XXXTentacion, and many more. Jacqueline also continues to head CMG’s Harvest Records having signed and developed a host of successful emerging artists at that label since taking the helm there in 2013. Under her leadership, Caroline has attained numerous key achievements that have resulted in a doubling of its US market share in a short span of time.

Jacqueline maintains involvement in many charitable organizations including Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, Girls Today Women Tomorrow, and has run the New York City marathon on the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation team. Among Jacqueline’s many recent honors, she was named to Billboard Magazine’s Power 100 in 2019 and its Women in Music honor list in 2018.

Jacqueline, welcome to The Social Change Diaries.

Jacqueline Saturn:  Thank you so much for having me.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Thank you. So this season we are talking about the idea of celebrity and influence and as someone who is in that circle of celebrity and influence, I’d love to sort of get your thoughts about some of the things that we are having conversations with our clients and just our network. And so the idea of influence and how the role of the artist, so James Baldwin has this great quote that I love, “Artists are here to disturb peace,” and I love the quote because I think that creatives often disrupt our thinking in really important ways, and that could be through music, through art, through story. In our current political climate, do you think artists have a responsibility to use their platforms to draw attention to social issues?

Jacqueline Saturn I don’t think they have a responsibility because you have to sign up for that, I think it’s about the individual artists. I know that that’s always been more of a problem when people say, “Oh you have a responsibility to not speak that way because young children are watching,” and things like that, and that’s a lot of pressure that they didn’t ask for. I think that artists really try to be true to what they believe and put that message out there. I do think you’re seeing it more and more, these opportunities for artists who have an opinion, to be able to put it out into the world.

And you’re also not just seeing it with the artists, you’re seeing it with the partners, whether it’s platforms, radio stations, DSPs who are interviewing these people also to have put their thoughts and messages out there. So, it’s pretty wild to watch it unfold and I think that it’s a very big opportunity for many of those artists to be able to speak their mind.

Vanessa Wakeman:  I agree. It’s been really interesting and informative to sort of watch different artists get behind different issues. Seeing someone like TI and Meek Mill speak out about issues in really passionate ways and in some way, particularly in Meek Mill’s case, connected to his own experience and just seeing how impactful that has been on communities and not only-

Jacqueline Saturn:  Completely powerful. Completely powerful.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Yes, and sort of the opportunity to create partnerships probably where that would not have been an opportunity prior to him having that experience and speaking out. So we definitely see the effectiveness of it. Do you have any, outside of the two I mentioned, are there any examples of people that you think are doing it well?

Jacqueline Saturn:  There are really so many. I just wanted to mention an artist that I work with because before I was going to speak to you, I was thinking about someone that had put something powerful out and I actually was trying to read what she wrote out loud and I started crying. I work with an artist, Donna Missal, and she had posted about, the first thing of what she said is, “I had an abortion. Somebody you love did too. I’ve been quiet because I’m furious that bodily autonomy and a misrepresentation of the medical procedure are being propagated for political agenda with no concern for who will suffer the most,” but just the ability for her to put that out there, and to look at the comments that came back of people saying like someone was brave enough to say that out loud.

Vanessa Wakeman:   For sure.

Jacqueline Saturn:  You know what I mean? And, I mean, I was caught off guard when she did it and I think that that is just someone personal that I was so proud to be associated with because they were able to put something out there that mattered to these other people who had the similar experience. I think that there’s just so many examples because people have different beliefs and they are from different regions. They’ve grown up a certain way. There is a lot of political unrest and people really want to say how they feel. I’m not saying it’s a safe space because you’re definitely going to get comments and people that you can be under attack for what you believe in, but I think that if you are staunch in it and you are completely at ease with what you’re saying, then it’s going to be a good place. But it can get a little tricky out there.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Oh, it’s definitely dangerous space and I applaud all the people who have the courage to do it anyway, knowing that.

Jacqueline Saturn:  Yeah.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Just thinking about what you said, how you felt about reading what she posted, talk to me a little bit about the record company today or the industry partners. So it seems like you are very supportive of the artists you work with and sort of them sort of being their authentic self and sharing their beliefs and sort of standing up for the things that are important to them. Are artists just overall in the industry encouraged or are they discouraged? It’s a business, right, and so I’m thinking about being in a corporate environment and you come to work with a, “[inaudible 00:08:09] I believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion,” I would imagine that that would make folks in that environment, depending on where you work, potentially uncomfortable. So what is the temperature in your world around the artists being able to share and the support that they get?

Jacqueline Saturn:  I think that we’re a part of a artist community and artists do have a platform and they are, since the beginning of the music business, they have been allowed to speak their mind and they have spoken their mind. That is never going to change. It’s always been a little bit dangerous. It’s always been a place where people can have a message to put out there. That’s never going to change. And I don’t even look at it as in the corporate world, I look at it as what are they connecting to with their fans and what do they feel like they need to talk about.

So I think more for us, we know who is involved with certain issues and there might be an opportunity where, you know, like there might be something where they want a lot of young artists or a lot … Say there’s something where it’s like, oh there’s an event for women, and then you know who to invite. What artists, like, oh maybe Donna would want to have something to say. But it’s more like we support the artists that we partner with and we certainly wouldn’t edit what they have to say. I don’t even think we would be capable of that.

Vanessa Wakeman:   I would agree with that. I think the editing would be really challenging. I want to turn to the Me Too Movement for a moment. What impact has that had on the music industry, both in terms of the recording artists and within the industry itself?

Jacqueline Saturn:   Well I think what we’re seeing from the Me Too Movement is people having a lot of courage and feeling supported and feeling like they can be honest. And I think that there have been a lot of movements from that of organizations of being able to not just move past it but feel like, “Okay, now we’re not going to be as scared to speak our mind.” I think you saw a lot of people speak out. I think you saw a lot of support. I think that as a industry for myself, I do work with so many incredible women executives and I think that we have a place where people know that they can speak to us and speak openly. That’s the thing that I think the most is that, and I also feel like there was an incredible women banding together and supporting each other in all levels. That’s the thing that I really feel that, from that, we got a lot of unity.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Where do you think it goes from here? So that was like an incredible pivotal moment and sort of like the earth stopped moving for a moment, everyone was like, “Oh my gosh, this is affecting every industry,” everyone is, if they haven’t had a direct experience, they know someone who has. What do you see for your particular industry or in your role, what happens next?

Jacqueline Saturn:  Well, I still always think that like anything, we still have a long way to go, but I do feel like that we’re not going to be going backwards. We’re going to be moving forwards. And I do feel that people, like I said, are way more confident and understand their place, and I think that that has helped us really support so many, not just young women, but just women in the business and make them know that they are needed and they are supported and we will protect them, things like that.

Vanessa Wakeman:   And thinking about women in the industry, like you personally have been really vocal about the women leaders who have inspired you when you were sort of coming up in the industry. Do you see any difference in the way that those women led versus how women leaders are leading today?

Jacqueline Saturn:  Well, to be honest, I think it’s really different. When I was coming up in the music business, there were women executives and women leaders, but they weren’t able to really have a family or to do some of the other things. I think when, you know, that was one of the things, and I’ve spoken about it before about just like when I was getting married or was pregnant, you were sort of in fear to say that because there was this perception, there was a bias about it. Like, “Oh, will they be as good when they come back? Will they even come back?” Because a lot of women were leaving the business. That’s what happened. And it wasn’t just in the music industry, it was in a lot of industries that we know about.

But I think that now, and I’m proud to be one of them, I think that you see a lot of different women with whatever their choices are. You know, myself, I have a husband and two kids and I do constantly get, like, “How do you do it all|?” And, I’m just like, “Well, what about all the other women in the world that are doing the same thing?” I think that as an industry we’re able to look at the pieces of the puzzle being like, “Okay, I do want to try to have all of these things and I’m going to do it.” And I think that in the business where you didn’t really hear about that from men, it was like well, they had a wife and kids and that was never discussed. All of a sudden the women are doing it and it was like, “Oh wow, how are they going to be able to do their job?” How is that even stated?

Vanessa Wakeman:  It’s true. It’s true. And it’s not just the music industry, that happened everywhere, everywhere. So Jacqueline, as one of the most powerful women in the music business, yikes, bites fingernails, where do you want to make the most impact in the industry? If we were talking about what you want your legacy to be, what is that?

Jacqueline Saturn:  I really want to help as many people as possible especially those people that are so passionate. I was like this. I just knew that I wanted to get in the music business. I didn’t know what that meant, I just knew that I had to do it and I’d loved music so much. And I also started at the very, very bottom. And I want people to know that you can do that. You can get in an industry, you can be supported, and you can move up the ladder, and you can grow to be as the very top of the ladder if you want and be heard.

And I think that we as an industry, and certainly just on the women’s side of it, we want to help as many people that are passionate about being in this industry, be supported, and be heard. And I love to help people. I love when people come and see me and they ask my advice and they want to, you know, how did you do it? Or how would you get in? I actually think that people really listen and then we help connect them to people.

I want to be someone that people say like, “Oh man, she was helpful and also she showed us that you can work really hard and get there,” and I do always want to represent hard work because it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of work and I always want to say that the most because I do feel like that people, you know, it’s not for everyone. This job is not for everyone because 24/7 endless, just being on call, it’s just like some people don’t want that, but I definitely do.

Vanessa Wakeman:  You like it, you like it, you like it. So I was doing some reading as part of my research to prepare for our interview, and in one of the interviews you mentioned that you support an organization that helps develop more women leaders, which is one of actually our passion projects here at Wakeman. We have a project called She Roars, which helps women in the nonprofit sector to develop their thought leadership. So I’d love to get a sense of what made you choose that particular project and then if there’s any sort of factors that you look at when you’re selecting charitable causes you want to support.

Jacqueline Saturn:   Well, I was looking at this and I was saying that one thing that I always am excited about is when people come and meet with us and explain what their organization is. And I think as a company, we want to do more things, but we want to experience them. And you know, I was saying that that’s one of the things that I hope in the next few months we will have an opportunity to learn more. Most of the time people ask me or they come and present something and it touches, it strikes a cord, and you’re just like, “Oh, I’d love to be a part of this.” That’s kind of how it works. And I hope that I’ll get to hear more about people who are working in nonprofit and also their passion so that we can try to connect in some way, if that makes sense.

Vanessa Wakeman:  That makes sense. And we have it on recording ladies and gentlemen, so when I’m harassing Jacqueline, when the security at her front desk are like, “Oh gosh, the Wakeman people are here again,” we have this as evidence that she said she wanted to hear you.

Jacqueline Saturn:  We are ready for you.

Vanessa Wakeman:  You’re ready for us. Are there any pet charities of Caroline Music?

Jacqueline Saturn:  It doesn’t really work like that, although people are, like I said, this is where people are starting to come to us and I want to, I mean, there’s definitely, you know, we have so many incredible people that work there and lots of people have their things that they care about and we do try to do charity events. We did an incredible team run and it was raising money for the homeless in Los Angeles. Those are kind of things that I feel like there are opportunities for us to get involved. And I mean everyone loves animals, many rescue dog lovers like myself and those organizations, but more important, not more important, but I’m just saying important organizations that people have real feelings about. Our staff is very diverse in that.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Thank you for that. And some of my conversations around sponsorship for some of the projects and clients and organizations we work with, I do get feedback sometimes that, and I agree with this, that sometimes charities are often looking at this sort of partnership or collaboration opportunity sort of one-sided where they’re looking for money or other in-kind support without really thinking about the value or the return on investment for the corporation. Is there any sort of words of wisdom or anything that you can share about what makes a valuable partnership for you and Caroline when you’re thinking about that? Or is it just a case by case basis?

Jacqueline Saturn:   Well, I mean, listen, I actually appreciate this conversation, but I do think that it’s more of a case by case situation. And I also think as a company, it’s not something that we’ve embarked on per se right now. But I think that we’ve been rebuilding our company and one of the things, like we just moved, we were displaced and now we’re all on our new floor, and I think that this year will be an opportunity for so many things. And like I said, we’re starting to meet with people and hear a lot of different opportunities for us, so that it is by people’s passion or people coming to us with information, that’s all starting so it’s not just by one decision maker.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Got it, got it, got it. And for those of our listeners who are not familiar with Caroline Music, can you just share some of the artists that maybe [inaudible 00:20:38]?

Jacqueline Saturn:  Well, I mean, Caroline, we work with incredible label partners and their artists, so we have people like Future Classic, ATO who is going to be putting out the new Brittany Howard record. We have TenThousand, 10K, and they’re about to put out the new Trippie Redd project. There’s an incredible artist, Iann Dior that’s starting to happen. We have Arts & Crafts, we have Mexican Summer, we have an incredible partnership with Judah & The Lion, we’re putting out the Rammstein album, we’re excited about the Fater Label with the new release of the first Claro single. So we work with an incredibly diverse roster and there’s so many more people I could mention, but we’re super proud every day to walk in this building and work so hard with our incredible partners. It’s something that we all love to do here.

Vanessa Wakeman:  That’s wonderful. That was my last question. Do you have anything else you’d like to share before we end?

Jacqueline Saturn:  Well, I do want to say that I do really feel passionate about what I do and I love it, and I think that one of the things about this industry is about that sort of the fire that we feel. And that’s why I love supporting the artists. And when they want to put their messages out there, it’s something that they believe in it. There’s a theme in our industry of real passion and I think that you can see it whether you agree with people or not. And that is something that will probably never change because that’s just how our industry is.

But you know, obviously people that send us emails or send us information through our website or even people that are looking to get in this business, we always read them, we always listen, and we always find the right place to send something so that people who are interested in being a part of this passionate business can try to get in.

Vanessa Wakeman:   That’s fantastic. Jacqueline, thank you so much for your time and I am confident-

Jacqueline Saturn:  Thank you so much. This was fun.

Vanessa Wakeman:  … confident that we will chat again in the future.

Jacqueline Saturn Okay. Thank you so much.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Well, I think it was great to get Jacqueline’s perspective. . I’m really happy and encouraged to hear Jacqueline say that she is open to hearing from organizations and looking for opportunities to collaborate and partner, and I look forward to exploring that and letting everyone know what we’re able to come up with.

So again, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Please continue to share with your network, and if you have a moment, we’d love it if you can give us a review on iTunes.

Until the next time.