Working behind the scenes of some of pop’s biggest hits—from Lizzo’s The End of Time to Lil Nas X’s Montero (Call me by Your Name).—New York-native Austin Rosen is quietly disrupting the music industry. Rosen is the founder and chief executive officer of Electric Feel Entertainment talent management firm. He believes collaboration creates the best businesses like the greatest music.
Rosen, who previously worked in the fashion and textile industry, has infused Electric Feel with that ethos from the start, blurring the distinction between musicians, writers, and producers to create an “all-encompassing” network of talent. With a roster featuring popstars like Post Malone to songwriters Louis Bell and Carter Lang—who have penned tracks for Justin Bieber and Doja Cat—Electric Feel has earned its hitmaker reputation. To date, Electric Feel’s talent has featured somewhere in the top 10 slots of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 100 straight weeks, and has racked up 19 Grammy nominations at this year’s award ceremony.
Rosen is open to the fact that the music industry is shifting towards the internet, which is something he embraces. However, Rosen’s approach to business remains personal. The budding entrepreneur built the foundation for future success in New York’s recording studios and concerts, establishing the contacts and trust that one day allowed him to “connect the dots” as a talent manager. The COVID-19 pandemic severed the “connectivity” of live shows that Rosen thinks is essential for new artists to establish a committed fanbase. The pandemic lasted for nearly a decade, when most venues had to close, resulting in a loss of $30 billion annually in live event revenue, according to Pollstar.
Nevertheless, the industry’s adoption of experimental technologies opened up alternative opportunities—the firm’s investment arm, Electric Feel Ventures, established in 2020, is backing companies that could complement its artists careers in a digitized future, from a virtual entertainment brand to a crypto fintech startup. “It’s been so amazing to invest in new things and bring value to the music side of it,” Rosen says. Superplastic is an entertainment company that creates digital collectibles and animated celebrities. “We’re managing a [music] group that they created which we’re launching very soon.”
TIME recently spoke with Rosen about the music industry’s dynamic future, the variety of fresh talent, and his team-oriented approach to business.
This interview has been edited to be more concise.
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What was the moment you decided to create Electric Feel Entertainment.
The company was founded in 2013. This was an easy progression. It started as a hobby and grew to become a business. When I saw the potential in my talent I knew I needed to nurture it and give them the tools and support they required. Although I was a huge fan of music, I didn’t think it would become a full-time job.
If managing musicians was a more personal hobby, how could you meet people with real talents?
Because there wasn’t any social media back then, it was very different. It was just meeting people face to face. As a New Yorker, I found it easy to meet people through studios, concerts, and other small events. And then I created a small studio in New York, and that’s how I started to meet a lot of the talent.
Did it take a lot to earn the trust and respect of those in the industry when you started?
Yeah, that’s why it’s taken a long time to even build to where we’re at today. It hasn’t been overnight. People are often skeptical about smaller businesses in the music industry and attach themselves to well-respected companies. It’s definitely a struggle when you’re coming up and you haven’t proven anything yet. Now we’re in a much different position and the focus is about growing the company and just continuing to add the same values but do it at scale.
Is there a way to spot potential talent that has improved since you started?
I think what’s cool with us is because of the type of company we are and the brand that we’ve built, there’s a lot of stuff we still find organically. While we may occasionally find something on social media or through research every once in awhile, most of our discoveries are still made from people who have been in contact with us in the natural way. People who want us to listen to their music.
So you don’t trawl through TikTok trying to find talent?
We don’t do any of that. I would like someone on our team to be focused on that stuff but we’ve just been so consumed with the way that we have been finding talent [since the business began].
However, Iann Dior and 24kGoldn are two of your younger artists. They seem to be doing well with this younger audience on social media. Or was that pure luck?
Our artists should use these platforms as well. Artists who are emerging today should expect to appear on TikTok. Short form content is what people want. They want everything in one place. TikTok is doing a fantastic job of creating such a platform. It’s now like using YouTube or using Spotify—it’s just another form of getting your content out there. And being somewhere where there’s consumers that are consuming, they [24kGoldn and Iann Dior]That’s a fantastic job. I think it’s very important in music today.
It New York Times describes Post Malone’s new album as having a “tonal consistency”—basically, that the songs don’t deviate too much from each other—which works better on streaming platforms like Spotify rather than the choppy, fast content on TikTok.
I think with him, he’s definitely more music first and not thinking about TikTok. Many of today’s creative ways that kids use TikTok are based on this concept. Post is just pure artistry, and it’s really coming from a whole different place. Now that the world is coming back, and you’re going to be able to see his shows live, see him perform the songs, and see how it’s supposed to be visualized, I think it’s going to be incredible. It’s definitely more of like a live experience where you listen through the whole body of work as opposed to a short-form type of content.
I think now genres have kind of gone away and it’s more about bridging a lot of great, different types of music. It’s so much fun to work with Post because he’s so versatile. It’s exciting to see kids learning how to listen and create music from all genres.
Post Malone is managed jointly by Dre London. It is difficult to imagine how it would work with two different managers.
It’s great, because we both very much have the same mindset. Each of us has built our companies and done so in an easy way. It’s a joy to collaborate and partner. And that’s a lot of what we do as a company, more so than what you usually see in the music business with other managers. That’s why a lot of times people are shocked, like, how is it working with other managers? This is what I love and I am always open to collaboration in all forms.
Dre had already been working alongside him. Dre, and Post met me immediately. Post and Dre were very persistent in my efforts to connect me with other writers and producers.
What makes you believe that collaboration with managers or other labels is beneficial?
When you’re working in the music business, it’s much more fragmented, everybody’s kind of running their own businesses, in a lot of ways. And so it’s very hard to get people to all join one company. It’s very hard to mold certain businesses and force them to be something they’re not. You have to just take the industry for what it is and learn how to work within the world that it’s created. But it’s not always about having to be in the same company to be able to work together. Working together is more successful than having great people scattered around the company. Every day I am able to learn something from the people I work alongside. I also love learning about different ways of working, how people think and operate.
Electric Feel’s uniqueness is the fact that your producers, writers and artists are equally important to you. Do you think that’s quite different from other labels in the industry?
Yeah, I think there aren’t many companies that are fully encompassing unless they’re publishing companies. Because record labels, they don’t really have the producers and writers. Managers usually work with artists, but they don’t manage producers or writers. And that’s why we’ve morphed into a large part of our business being publishing. We now have around 20 clients on our publishing side.
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How can you be the CEO responsible for all these aspects? What can you do to shift your mind from one task to the next?
They’re all very integrated into each other. It’s very hard to mold the music business into what you want, and you have to go with the flow. That’s why we’ve created all these different verticals along the way because when we’re finding talent, we want to work with them, regardless of [the service we provide for them]. So if we find someone that’s really special that’s already managed, but isn’t in a publishing deal, then we would figure out how to get the publishing deal done.
It’s like you’re a coach to the player. It doesn’t matter how talented a player is. He might struggle to endure all of the practice, all the preparation and all that it takes. And that’s a challenge. It takes time and effort to evaluate artists. The way we work together is similar to a team, with everyone playing a role. While I have never been a great sportsman, many of my fundamentals can be applied to music.
It was said that in InterviewBillboard believes that the people you sign up for are strategic and specific. Was that what you meant?
I just look at things in terms of what we’re looking for in our team. We don’t want to just sign people to add to a huge roster. We want to bring people in who we know, as soon as we sign them, where we’re going to put them and who they’re going to collaborate with. We spend a lot of time getting to know the clients before signing them to make sure that it’s the right fit for both sides. Because we don’t want the reputation of just signing people and it not working out or not delivering. We believe that less is better.
Which new issues do you believe entrepreneurs are facing in today’s music industry?
It’s interesting, because there’s some things that are positive about [the industry] now. It’s a lot easier to penetrate now where you can catch something and it blows up overnight, a lot quicker. But it also makes it more challenging because there’s just so much stuff out there that it’s about getting in front of the clutter. The best way is to focus on creating the best music possible and not thinking about what’s going to work in short form content. We now have 19 No. 1 hits and 50 Top 10s in our company. This is a result of the high quality and unpredictability of the music.
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