Interview with Justin Katerberg
As founder of Vitalic Noise
, an artist management firm, Justin has managed the careers of such multi platinum selling Grammy, Juno, and Aria award winning acts as Hermitude, Miami Horror, Goldroom, Viceroy, BASECAMP, Little Boots, and more building not only a strong streaming, sales, and touring business but while also placing his clients music in such TV/Film/commercial spaces as Kia, Samsung, EA Sports and Rockstar Games.
He is also the co-founder of the influencer marketing agency, Cut Above, where Justin has represented social media based mega stars such as German Garmendia, Jacob Sartorius, Lenay Chantelle, Chris Collins, and many more while working with respected brands like Apple, Nike, Lexus, Shell, Disney, L'Oreal, Old Spice, Puma.
A member of the aid organization Global Tribe, Justin participates in and leads teams of leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and specialists dedicated to finding the most scalable, effective and sustainable solutions to poverty. Current projects include agricultural education and community based gardening in an underdeveloped region outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
Hi Justin, a large part of your professional career has involved working various aspects of the music industry. How did you get your break into this area?
So when I was 18, I was living in a small town in British Columbia, Canada. I had applied for an internship in the music business down in Nashville, Tennessee. It was always a goal of mine, I knew what I wanted to do even when I was in high school. I ended up getting that internship, in the marketing department of a label that was a subsidiary of EMI Records at that time. I was always intrigued by the artist management position, especially through the label that I was working at, and the relationships that I was having with these managers, and seeing how each of them are able to put their fingerprint on each of the artists' careers that they're dealing with, and carrying that weight - for better or for worse - within each artist that you work with. So shortly after, I realized I knew what I wanted to do and I just needed to find a way to actually go about learning how to effectively do it, and to confidently do it. And so, through that, I ended up going on the road with various bands in various different positions. Both as a tech, I went out as a merch manager in arena-sized tours. I ended up promoting a bunch of shows within Nashville, Missouri and Florida, taking international acts. I ended up also starting a small little booking agency at that time, so I could learn how to deal with agents, and how to better communicate with them and understand their role as well in the process. And shortly thereafter I ended up launching this company ten years ago now as an artist management firm, and the rest is history.
You worked for EMI, a major record label, during the period when digital access was disrupting the traditional music industry. What was the experience of being at a major like during this time, and were there any key lessons that you learned and took forward for the rest of your career?
Most certainly, 2008 and 2009 were very interesting days, I guess, within these successful label systems that were so used to selling CDs and iTunes downloads, being the majority of where your sales came from at that time. I was in the marketing department of the company and in pretty much every single thing, every single day I think about new digital opportunities for acts - what is normal today was brand new then - which is remix packages, doing partnerships with video games, blogs, online blogs, free downloads, even. That was a whole new thing at that time, something as taboo, and shows you how quickly the industry changes, because free downloads aren't necessarily a thing anymore, because everything's readily available and you want to use as less storage as possible. But yeah, it was definitely a moment that showed me - especially when my ideas that I thought were just completely standard at that time, were brand new to everyone else in the office - which gave me that confidence, I guess, to step outside and really believe in my thoughts and my ideas, to see that they were really, really strong. Again, we started off this company, we did a lot of deejays, and that was our brand new taboo thing within the pop system. This wasn't the deejay world of the 90s anymore, this was the Wild Wild West, and it all worked out in the end. I feel like we were a big part at that time of changing the musical landscape, both indie labels and in the majors as well, as you can see that A&R education from when we started the company to where it is now, with a lot of my peers and friends since then for sure.
How did founding your own artist management company compare to the experience of working at existing music companies? What inspired you to start your company?
Starting your own company is risky but hey, this was something that needed to be done for multiple reasons, but I guess in terms of the having to work for someone else, it's working at an existing company. For me, it's a flexibility situation. There's an accountability hat's missing, so on the negative side, at times you can very much get lost in your own world and in the trenches, but that's the that's the whole important reason to make sure that you still have your mentors and your people and your peers around you that you can bounce ideas off of, and trust their responses. And obviously having a good team as well, that's the most important part in our business is you're only as good as the sum of all parts. I guess I was inspired to start this company, well for one, because of my immigration status I had - that was pretty much the only option that I had at the time, as I couldn't easily apply for a job based on what my visa was looking like then. But more than that, I always knew that this was this was my plan, this was this was the goal - again, to stay in control of your destiny and be able to reap the benefits of the work that you put in. It's not for everyone but I think that if it is in you, you'll know very quickly when you hit your first peak - and even more so when you get your first valley - through being a business owner.
You're involved in a number of charitable projects outside of the music and influencer industry. How do you balance moving between these very different worlds? Do they impact each other in any way?
The charity aspect is something that's super important to me, for both personal - on my, I guess, the egotistical side of always getting super, super consumed in the actual for-profit aspect in the business end of what we do. You know, there's days where you go and you're going to work 16, 18 hours in a row and that's totally fine, in terms of what you're doing at that time. You think it's fine, but to be able to have these other commitments, and other people waiting for you in other businesses, in particular for this for me it's for the not-for-profit. And that's super important. You know it gives me that accountability to take a step back, and to do something that's for the greater good, rather than consistently trying to do things which, I still I love obviously the idea of our expansion, I love the idea of music and I think that there's healing power in that as well. But at the same time, it's good to switch things up and almost get a palate cleanse, by working on some charity aspects. Yeah, I work with the Big Brother program, I do that once a week at the very least. I go and spend time with my little in South L.A., and that's another really good way for for me just to connect with the community, and connect with someone that's a completely different age range with me, obviously, being that he's 11 years old. It allows me to see and actually bring things back to the music business, because in the influencer world because I can speak with him and see how younger community is consuming entertainment these days. And yeah, there's a few other projects that we're working on consistently. So it's good, I think it's something everyone should do and you always have the time, I tell my friends that say that they're too busy but you can always make time for these projects, and it's worth it in the end.
What is coming up for you in the next year? Are there any new projects that are exciting you, or a new direction you might be headed in?
The next year, the next two years, are full of releases. I mean, that's one of the things with - as an artist manager - that's both amazing and frustrating at the same time, is that you're always planning things in like a 12-to-24 month plan, so you're just consistently living in the future, and I guess at times it can be hard to be present, for sure, because of that. But yeah I mean in terms of what we're excited about, and we have so many really really cool new clients we're working on; there's also our existing clients we've been working on for a longer time that are coming back in a cycle and we're looking at new albums from them, so that's obviously wild. The touring aspect is fantastic, with what's happening in the landscape changing so much, particular with us. I guess in terms of the new business development, we're doing quite a bit of work in Latin America right now, and also working on some clients specifically for Latin America, too. So that's an emerging market that I, in particular, am very fond of and and have had nothing but amazing experiences and working with, and again we've had some really good success there. So yeah, the emerging market aspect is pretty crazy in the digital world right now. So that's been fun for us and, yeah! We're just grinding away and trying to the best that we can, and make sure that as individuals that were able to follow through with any promises that we make, and work as hard as we possibly can to to do that - for better or for worse - we're loving it. I mean, let's go baby.