Highlighting Key People in Hip-Hop

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s come up is quite spectacular. Their popular single “Thrift Shop” soared on the charts, right along with their debut album, The Heist. For this type of success, having experienced individuals like Zach Quillen on your team is necessary. He got his start in the industry by working at a local music venue while attending Florida State University. After graduating, he moved to New York City and began working for Peter Schwartz at The Agency Group in the company’s hip-hop division. He then became a booking agent and worked with artists like Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Curren$y and others. In 2012, after 10 years with The Agency Group, Quillen left to manage Macklemore & Ryan Lewis full time. Under Macklemore, LLC, he’s hands-on with all aspects of this successful rapper/producer duo’s career including touring, licensing, production, manufacturing, radio, etc. When it comes to crucial decisions, Quillen helps them be strategic in their moves. This team remains a 100% self-funded and operates independently, all the while hiring out services. It’s what Quillen describes as “hiring experts to do what they do best.” Here, we get to know him as he lets us into his mind as a manager. Get ready to get to get schooled.

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How do you feel about the progress you’ve made since you’ve been in the industry?
I wake up and do what I love every day, and can’t ask for anything more. I’m not as caught up in progress or perceived success (although those things are nice), as much as I am getting to make a living doing what I love and working with people I respect and admire.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a manager?
I was happy as a booking agent, but had a desire to be more hands-on in the development of an artist’s career. I wanted the ability to dig into every detail and the freedom to be creative in more areas than were allowed as an agent. Becoming a manager was something I thought about for a while, but never came across the right fit until I met Macklemore & Ryan. The three of us clicked on a personal level, and shared a similar vision for their music & business, so it felt right.


What is it about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as artists that drew you in?
It was their attention to detail, first and foremost. They have a knack for zeroing in on every little aspect of whatever it was that they were working on and spending as much time as it takes to getting it absolutely perfect. Along with that, they have a tremendous work ethic, really good taste, as well as a deep understanding of culture. They’re well-rounded, creative work-horse perfectionists and I love that. It pushes me to be my best.

What’s the key to artists reaching success independently?
Realizing that you have a choice. Assuming you make great music, and put on a great live show, you should be able to generate enough capital to push your business forward. Capital and access to mainstream radio are all most major labels have left to offer. If you have the fans, the capital, and the great songs — we’ve seen that you can also break the wall down to mainstream radio.

What was the decision behind hiring Warner Bros?
To promote the song to Top 40 radio, we hired the radio promotion department at Warner Bros itself on a one-off basis, and only after we saw the song getting a certain level of organic play. It’s important to note how revolutionary this was. To my knowledge, there is not another independent artist with access to a major label’s radio promotion department. In terms of Thrift Shop’s success at Top 40 radio, the decision to hire Warner Bros for radio promotion was a key piece of the puzzle. I don’t doubt that the song would have had some level of success at Top 40 radio without Warner Bros, but it certainly would not have reached the milestones that it has without their help and guidance. We don’t pretend to know everything, so this process of hiring out services is one that allows us to have the best possible partners, while remaining 100% in control of our business and music.

For other managers, what advice can you give?
Be honest, be human, and work with people who you admire and respect. Work with people that push you to be a better you.

What can we look forward to from you this year?
This will be a year worth of touring and pushing The Heist to be the most it can be. We have a year full of shows, music video releases, and working hard towards reaching new people with the album. I want to say thank you to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for being great partners, artists, and friends. I admire their ability to be fearless in what they do. I think that over time people will see this as I do, and recognize the courage and confidence it takes to put out the sort of music they do. They are pushing boundaries in culture, refusing to follow trends, and re-shaping the way people look at certain issues. That’s what a great artist does — and I’m happy to help them share their art with the world.

Follow Zach on Twitter: @Wexington

-Danitha Jones (@LifeLikeJones)

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