Music to My Ears


            I love music. When I’m not going to class or doing homework, you can always find me on my laptop with my headphones on, jamming out to my favorite beats. Being a good student is my primary job, but I like to think that looking for good music is my secondary job. I’m constantly on various social media websites, tracking my favorite artists to see who’s going to be around town. The thing is, my parents often disapprove of these concerts and shows that I love attending so much. “Why do you go to these shows?” they ask. “They are a waste of time and money. You should focus more on your schoolwork.”  The way my parents see it, work and leisure are two separate entities that are mutually exclusive. There’s no way my music could relate to my studies, right?

            Wrong. And who better than Julie Greenwald, Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records to prove it. Greenwald is the perfect example of a powerful and successful businesswoman who climbed her way to the top of the music industry.

            Greenwald started at the bottom of the food chain. Her first job in the music business was as a personal assistant (aka chief coffee fetcher) for Lyor Cohen, head of the hip-hop lable Def Jam Records. Her desk was nothing more than the arm of her boss’ couch, who would give her crazy, impossible tasks to do. But she went in unafraid of voicing her opinion and throwing out ideas, which Cohen took note of and started to delegate her more leadership roles. Her first leadership role was as the manager of the promotions department, where she proved herself by being the first one in the office and the last one to leave everyday, outworking everyone. Cohen started handing her more departments to manage, and before she knew it, he had handed her every department in Def Jam.

            However, even as she moved up in the food chain, there were still certain setbacks that Greenwald as a woman had to face. The male executives, for example, often went out on golf outings, and she didn’t know how to play. It didn’t matter how much respect she was commanding in the office, if she couldn’t be engage in the social bonding extra-curricular activities that made executives tighter, she was at a disadvantage.  But she didn’t whine, she fixed the problem. Greenwald suggested that they go play basketball or skiing instead; activities that she liked and knew Cohen loved to do as well. And just like that, she was back in the game.

            Now Greenwald is the head of Atlantic Records, which surpassed Warner Bros. in 2007 as the largest music label based on U.S. market share. It has upheld that status since then, accounting for 6.7% of U.S. recorded-music sales. Greenwald herself has topped Billboard’s annual Women in Music ranking since 2010. Her team credits her for creating a work environment where people can voice their opinions and take risks. 

            Greenwald is a role model for me not just because she is at the top of the music industry, but because of how she got there. She pushed past boundaries set in a male-dominated business by introducing innovative ideas and outworking her counterparts.  Knowing her story is, in a sense, music to my ears; it restores my faith in my love of both music and business. Through hard work and perseverance my hope is to be able to merge these two passions into a career that I can be proud of. 

Jessie Xu

University of Maryland       

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