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10 AAPI Executives Making an Impact in the Music Industry

aapi music business industry asian executive

As the world trains its attention on members of the AAPI community who are are making a difference, Variety is putting a spotlight on 10 executives from the music business who are helping lead the way into an era of greater representation and awareness — on top of just navigating the industry through its own upheaval. Here are 10 key execs for the likes of YouTube, ASCAP, CAA, Endeavor, Warner Music Group, Interscope Geffen A&M, Epic Records, TaP Music, Beggars Group and Cashmere Agency who are proudly setting the standard:

 

Jenna Adler, music agent at CAA Courtesy CAA

Jenna Adler – Music agent, CAA

Jenna Adler’s recent accomplishments alone include everything from booking the “Hella Mega” tour featuring Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer into stadiums to scheduling tours for upstart stars like Doja Cat to landing promotional tie-ins for Chloe x Halle to helping Jennifer Lopez extend a multi-million dollar brand partnership with Coach.

“As the daughter of Korean immigrants, having the fortune that I have had in this industry is not something I take lightly,” Adler says. “When I started my career over 20 years ago, there weren’t many people who looked like me whom I could look up to as mentors or as idols as an Asian-American woman. That’s something I’ve worked hard to change. If nothing else, at the end of the day, I want to serve as a model and as a mentor. I want to be the person I wish I had 20+ years ago — somebody who a young AAPI woman can look at and instill confidence that people who may not look like a lot of those in the industry can succeed.

“I’ve been lucky over my career to shape the careers of some of the defining artists of our generation. To be doing that as an AAPI woman gives me immense pride, as it means that I have had the distinct privilege of showing that the AAPI community has a home in the industry and can succeed in music when they put in the work. There need to be more people that look like me in this industry — and being successful in this industry and using that success to help those that are also drawn to this working in and around music is the ultimate measure of my success.

“The question I ask myself all the time is: What would I have wanted to see when I was just getting started? This – being an AAPI woman who has carved out a successful career working alongside people who may not look like me – is exactly what 20-year old me would have wanted to see, and I hope that the success I’ve seen inspires other young AAPI individuals to follow their passions in the industry as well.

“In today’s socio-political climate, the music industry — like every industry — must take a stand. In society, for far too long, we’ve been content with and thought it was enough to merely condemn actions, behaviors, and individuals who propagated harmful views. That isn’t enough, though; the music industry must dig deeper. Saying we condemn Asian hate simply doesn’t cut it  — ultimately, actions speak louder than words, and the music industry needs to live by that.

“Firstly, we need to be direct and sincere in our efforts to curb AAPI hate crimes. We need to have a zero-tolerance policy. We need to shut those out who promote views and opinions that harm the AAPI community. We need to make it clear that those words have no home in our industry.

“Beyond that, we must be doing everything in our power to give AAPI individuals in our business the opportunities to succeed and to put themselves out there. Whether it’s the performer on the stage or the hundreds and hundreds of people that fuel a performer’s career, we must be putting more AAPI individuals in these positions. We must be sharing and promoting and emboldening young AAPI artists. We must give AAPI individuals a seat at the table in the industry. At the end of the day, what we need is to support AAPI individuals however they’re involved in the industry and give them the platform to excel.

“Finally, there’s the element of education.  The music industry has a lot of influence — way more than many of us realize. It’s in every single person’s day to day life — from the gym to the shower to the commute and everything in between. Having a platform, though, puts the onus on us to speak out for what’s right and vehemently condemn what’s wrong. Everybody listens to music – it’s a medium that brings people together from all walks of life, no matter who you are or what you believe. Because of the fact that music is a part of everybody’s life every day, we’re in the unique position of using our platform to craft and share a unified message and speak out for what truly matters – and in this case, that’s anti-AAPI hate crimes.

 

Ted Chung – Founder and Chairman of Cashmere Agency

Ted Chung is the man behind Cashmere Agency’s business development and creative strategy, focusing on reaching a millennial consumer for a client roster that includes BMW of North America, Jack in the Box, Google, Amazon, Adidas, Lyft, Diageo, Beats by Dre, Disney, Marvel, ABC, Turner Broadcasting, FX, Hulu, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Netflix, FOX and Snoop Dogg.

“When we started Cashmere Agency, the main driver was pure and simple: a passion to impact global culture as innocent American youth who understood the power of all immigrant narratives,” Chung says. “Significant change is accomplished by national recognition of the relatively unknown AAPI journey, marked by the sordid relationship between US immigration policy and economics. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, the Internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, and the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 all contribute to the nuances of the interaction between AAPI communities and American society. A common, human understanding of that history changes a lot.

“The most effective step the music industry can take to impact anti-AAPI hate is to double down on showing love to AAPI creators. The authentic reflection of our American experiences in ad campaigns, playlists, and powerful media moments impacts the media perception and safety of AAPI communities. And this isn’t a position on your accountability- it’s a premonition for your accounting. As industry trendsetters, it’s right in our face — from ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to K-pop — that AAPI culture is the next wave. From Audrey Nuna to Anderson .Paak to $tupid Young to H.E.R…. how many more signals are needed?

“From an AAPI perspective, I was really proud to work with Far East Movement to be the first Asian Americans to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2010 with ‘Like a G6’; that shit was everywhere around the world. My greatest learning moments were in the beginning of my career, when there was hardly any AAPI representation in the music business, and it was challenging to find mentors to open the door. Shout-out to my Filipinos and Filipinas who were in the building via their DJ networks and gave a Korean kid his first shot! But all that did was motivate me to write our own narrative with Cashmere Agency, where we are 50% in gender diversity and 85% in cultural diversity across the entire company.”

 

Clara Kim of ASCAP Juan Patino

Clara Kim – EVP & General Counsel for ASCAP

At ASCAP, one of the world’s largest performance rights organizations, Kim helps represent more than 800,000 songwriters, composers and publishers and their copyrights. Besides being a part of delivering $1.327 billion in revenue to ASCAP members last year, she and her team closed multi-year deals with key music licensees, including the DSPs. She was recently a featured panelist in a two-day workshop on the consent decrees hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice, arguing fiercely for the need to update antiquated laws.

Kim helped to rally a music industry coalition in favor of the CARES Act and the December 2020 stimulus package. She also played an important role in a historic Supreme Court victory for the rights of LGBTQ employees. ASCAP joined more than 200 other companies and organizations to file a “friend of the court” brief urging the Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.

Says Kim, “Music is a universal language and every community is stronger when we see and hear and include all voices. We have to recognize that our society is changing and all voices should have a place in the music industry. AAPI people are still fighting for representation.”

She continues, “I’m very proud of the work ASCAP has been doing to help raise awareness and elevate Asian voices in the music industry. We invited a number of ASCAP members including Jihye Lee, Kazi and Amritha Vaz to a recent episode of our VERSED podcast to talk about their Asian heritage and how it affects them as creators. ASCAP also provides resources for people to learn how to stop Asian hate on our Fight for Change page. Being a part of the dialogue about what is happening is an important step we can take to help people understand the issue.”

 

 

Annie Lee of Interscope Geffen A&M Courtesy Interscope Geffen A&M

Annie Lee – Chief Financial Officer at Interscope Geffen A&M Records

As CFO, Annie Lee shares the responsibility of guiding the No. 1 label in the world in the country with her colleagues, chairman John Janick and vice Chairman Steve Berman. IGA has recently enjoyed chart-topping releases from DaBaby, Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, DaBaby, Trevor Daniel, Juice WRLD, Moneybagg Yo and, of course, Olivia Rodrigo.

In addition to finance, Lee oversees special projects, A&R administration and manages the teams that operate the company’s in-house recording studio and touring department. She’s also a leader on IGA’s diversity and inclusion committee. The company credits Lee for streamlining the business and instituting processes that enable a staff of 230 employees to become more efficient and make better marketing decisions, having resulted in IGA’s most successful period in its history last year.

“I have so much pride to be representing the AAPI community as a leader in our industry,” says Lee. ” I view it as a serious responsibility and I hope I am serving as a positive role model.”

“I think acknowledgement is always the first and most important step and I think the music industry has done a good job on this first step. The music industry touches so many individuals, and to forcefully condemn such horrible acts of violence will hopefully bring more awareness about what a serious problem anti-AAPI is in our country. My hope is that these efforts will continue to spur action from the music industry community at large.”

 

Grace Lee of YouTube Alex Caylee

Grace Lee – Head of Artist Relations (East Coast), YouTube

Lee currently leads YouTube’s east coast artist relations team, where she is passionate about helping artists at all stages of their careers. She came to YouTube following a nine-year stint at Columbia Records, where she worked across the roster with artists including Adele, Beyoncé, John Legend, Haim, Daft Punk and J. Cole.

She’s a cofounder of Asian American Collective, a networking and mentoring collective for Asian Americans in the music industry. Grace regularly participates in key industry events and panels with organizations such as Women in Music, Music Business Association, the Asian American Advertising Federation and Upworthy, and serves as a juror for Clio Music.

Lee is committed to “seeing more of us in all the various corners of the music industry. I’m so encouraged to see so many exciting new Asian American artists right now, and even more encouraged to see the numbers of Asian Americans amongst the next gen of music executives, she says, “That presence is crucial. However, representation is just the beginning. To really make significant strides, we need to see more Asian Americans in positions of power and influence across the industry, and for those folks to use their power and influence to build the pipeline of future Asian American music execs and creatives.”

Adds Lee, “In the past few months, many companies have spoken out about anti-Asian hate, and that’s been reassuring to see, both as a consumer and an employee and former employee of some of those companies. It can’t stop there, though. If the music industry really cares about curbing the wave of anti-Asian hate, it can start by looking at itself: How diverse is the industry? How many — not only Asian Americans, but people of color in general — are employed in it? How many LGBTQIA-identifying people are employed? How many of those people are in positions of power and influence? In the C-suite? Change starts at home, and the music industry can start by looking at itself.”

Miwa Okumura – Senior VP of West Coast Operations, Licensing at Beggars Group

Miwa Okumura strives to be a role model for her younger colleagues in the AAPI community and continues to do outreach. Part of making an impact, she says, is “strengthening my professional relationships that go back to the early ’90s. I’m very pleased to say that it’s a bigger and more vibrant scene, and ever-growing, on both the label side as well as the creative side.”

While donating to organizations such as stopaapihate.org is great, she says, as is using social media as a platform, she looks to the grassroots movement to help raise awareness and help stop AAPI hate. Ways to help: “Ask our bands when they go back on the road, to hang a banner by their merch table, incentivize students to create their own on-campus initiatives, co-sponsor an event, get one of our artists involved, creating localized community based events — bring back the street team work force.” She adds, “We have the ability to reach far and wide while aligning ourselves with the most talented and inspiring artists in the world. I’m not necessarily proposing a ‘We Are the World’ moment, but we need to tap into our resources and find a way to stop the hate.”

 

Wendy Ong

Wendy Ong – President, TaP Music

To be representing the AAPI community at a time when there has been hateful rhetoric and violence against Asian Americans this past year, Wendy Ong, president of TaP Music says, “I’ll take a moment to proudly celebrate this moment and focus on helping others to overcome challenges they face as well.” She adds, “When I first came to the U.S. from Asia, I was so naive and did not fully understand that I was operating with multiple strikes against me, starting with my gender, my race, and my cultural identity.”

With DJ Shadow, Ellie Goulding and Dua Lipa on the roster, Ong says, “The only thing that matters to me at the end of the day is making my family proud. My parents have seen me through a lot of tough disappointments over the course of my career. I certainly didn’t set out to work at so many different companies but finding one that actually supports me and gives me credit when it’s due – that’s been hard to come by. This is why I feel immensely proud to work for Tap Music, because Ben Mawson and Ed Millett are, in my mind, the best in class at artist management and genuinely care about people and making positive change.”

As far as using platforms to raise awareness and be an active voice, she praises organizations such as Gold House and Asian American Collective. “The music business has really just begun rising up to speak up but there is a long way to go. I think most people in the entertainment industry still do not fully appreciate the extent of the hate being perpetrated across the country. Town halls that have been held to discuss the issues are a start, but I think much more needs to be done. I look forward to more fundraising efforts, and I’d also like to see more recognition for AAPI artists.”

 

Eric Wong – President & CMO of Recorded Music for Warner Music Group

WARNER

Eric Wong is noting a gradual shift. He says, “There has been relatively little AAPI representation in the music industry, but in recent years, we have begun to see that changing. Not only can this be seen in the AAPI artists who are breaking through to new markets across the globe, but also with professionals who make up a field that’s more diverse than we have ever seen before in our industry. I’m honored to be a part of that progress and help create real, lasting change.”

Wong, who held internships at WEA Media and Atlantic Records before being hired by V2 Records in 1997, says it was challenging to walk into a room and not see a reflection of himself in senior positions. He felt like he didn’t belong. But that didn’t stop him. “I’m still here, and I’m making sure I lift up those who come after me. I’m proud to have built a long and successful career that has granted me the opportunity to work with some of the greatest artists in music history – including Jay-Z, Kanye, Rihanna, Shawn Mendes, Elton John, Mariah Carey, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, to name a few.” He adds, “In my post at Warner, I’m excited to be a part of an amazing team working to make a global impact and elevate incredible talent like Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and Saweetie.”

With the rise of anti-AAPI hate, he stresses the importance of speaking out and amplifying voices. “We hope to do this in part through partnerships with and donations to organizations like Act To Change, and via honest panels and forums that empower people to share their voices and be part of the conversation.”

 

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Caroline Yim of Endeavor

Caroline Yim – Partner and Co-Head of Hip-Hop/R&B at WME

Yim joined WME as a partner and co-head of the hip-hop/R&B team in January, coming over from CAA, where she’d spent three years following a stint at ICM. She’s still in the course of revealing the exact lineup of the roster she’ll oversee at WME, but over the course of her career, Yim has worked with such key artists as Jhené Aiko, Swae Lee, Ella Mai, Kehlani and Megan Thee Stallion.

Her accolades include being named to Variety’s New Leaders list, Billboard’s Women in Music and Hip-Hop Power Players list and Pollstar’s “2021 Women of Live” list.

Yim has been on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters LA for the last three years, after starting off as a Women in Entertainment mentor. Early last year, Yim co-founded the Asian American Collective, a community organization that looks to foster education and connection for Asian American creatives.

“Making strides for us as a whole within the AAPI community means creating safe, welcoming spaces within our employers to have true meaningful discussions with employees,” Yim says, as well as “using our influence to push out content that showcases a diverse, inclusive perspective, hiring more members of the AAPI community at our respective companies and — in the case of talent representatives — signing and fueling the careers of more underrepresented creatives.”

 

Epic Records

Stephanie Yu- Executive Vice President and Head of Business & Legal Affairs at Epic Records

In March of 2020, Stephanie Yu was boosted to EVP and head of business and legal affairs by Epic’s chairwoman-CEO, Sylvia Rhone. The position has her tasked with leading the label’s new brand marketing and sync licensing group. Yu has been with Sony Music for 16 years now, 11 at Epic, after beginning her legal career in 2002 at the firm Covington & Burling. after graduating with honors from the University of Chicago Law School. There, she was awarded the Bell, Boyd & Lloyd Prize for legal writing.

Rhone said last year that Yu is “widely respected throughout Epic and Sony Music for her all-encompassing know­ledge, consummate professionalism, and mastery of the most intricate aspects of the Business & Legal Affairs sector, which she has successfully navigated for more than a decade. Her experience working with the industry’s biggest artists and their representatives suitably positions her to over­see these new initiatives.”

Says Yu: “I’m proud to be a member of the AAPI community, but I also believe that a sign of equality will be when these questions are no longer asked. My hope is that a successful person is seen as a representative of the industry as a whole, regardless of race.

“In the immediate term, we can support organizations that combat AAPI hate crime. But I think it’s equally as important that we talk about the history of racism against the AAPI community and focus on increasing the inclusion of AAPI in the industry, both as employees and artists. Asians are often stereotyped as being the ‘model minority’ and, as a result, people falsely believe that we don’t have to deal with racism or that all AAPI have the same experience. We need to debunk these myths or people won’t allocate resources to change the status quo.

“I’m always proudest,” she concludes, “when I face a challenge that tests my confidence and my resolve and still find success.”