Some say you need luck to be successful, a collision of preparation and opportunity. Others say you make your own luck; you take advantage of circumstance and make your own opportunities. For Traci Adams, her ascension in the music industry relied on both.
Adams recently became senior vice president of radio promotions at Epic Records—a legendary label that’s been home to Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and others. Promoted from VP of urban promotions, Adams is now tasked with expanding the reach of artists from Ciara to Tamar Braxton. Her 13-year journey from LaFace Records intern to one of the highest-ranking Black female executives of a major record label certainly contained a little chance and a lot of initiative.
In the late 1990s, Adams—an avid music lover with a growing curiosity in the music business—was attending Savannah State University when her older sister ran into a LaFace Records publisher, and told her about her sister Traci.
“It just happened by chance,” says Adams. “For me it was about the experience and the exposure. And hell, growing up back then, the artists that were out—OutKast, Toni Braxton, Goodie Mob, Pink—those were the artists I listened to while I was at college. So to intern at that label at that particular time, where those artists were at the highlight of their career, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’m interning at this record label. Who would’ve ever thought that?’ ”
After two summers of interning, Adams found her way to Radio One’s WFUN in St. Louis in 2000 as a programming assistant. Taking advantage of the new station’s short staff, she wouldn’t stay an assistant long. Adams accumulated knowledge from numerous angles at the station and became music director within one year.
“I interacted with the record labels; I learned about the media, sound, and learned what it is that programmers did,” Adams explains. “For the first time, I’m learning a little bit more about A&R, marketing, digital. In a small department, though your title and/or your role may be in one specific department, you’re just learning a little bit of everything.”
By 2008, Adams worked her way over to Island Def Jam’s national director of promotions, where she built a reputation with unprecedented success from artists like Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Kanye West. Over the years, technological resources for music drastically evolved with the growth of file sharing, iTunes and music streaming sites. Adams accepted the challenge of new distribution methods and embraced the progress.
“You have to change with the times. If not, we’re stuck,” Adams says. “Kids in 2014 don’t really turn on the radio. My generation does because that’s what we grew up on, but younger kids got to Internet; they have Spotify, they have Pandora. There’re so many different outlets. Staying abreast to other technologies and departments is what helps me.”
Such a successful career has certainly come with its obstacles. As a woman of color, Adams has had to walk a fine line that comes with being a boss. “It’s challenging, first and foremost, because it’s a heavily male-dominated industry,” Adams confesses. “Being a female makes it that much more challenging. You have to find that happy medium for being too nice, too stern. Because being a female and you’re too stern, you know what you’re referred to as. If you smile too much, they take your kindness for weakness. Or you’re being flirtatious. If my counterpart is a male and he’s putting forth 100 percent, me being a female, I have to put in 250 percent, because I’m a female and I’m the youngest [executive]. So I have to go balls to the wall and put forth that extra effort.”
Another professional test she faces regularly in promotions is finding that fine line between promoting an artist’s music and an artist’s image. In an era where the industry is being criticized for its emphasis on the packaging of artists, Adams believes a healthy combination of both is crucial to the success of the artist.
“I think the music and the image has to go hand and hand,” Adams confesses. “If you have a big record, I feel as though the artist needs to be just as big, because if not, then unfortunately you can get lost in the sauce. If the song is bigger than the artist, consumers won’t really buy into who the artist is, and that’s when you get one-hit wonders.”
It’s safe to say that the names that Traci Adams has promoted over the years are no one-hit wonders, which means new artists like Future and Fifth Harmony have a lot to look forward to.
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based broadcast professional and music journalist whose work can be found in The Village Voice, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. Follow Allen on Twitter @headphoneaddict, and visit his music blog, The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict.