Music is the soundtrack to our lives. It powers our workouts and commutes, enhances our dining experiences, elevates our emotions during movies and TV shows and, depending on your taste, inspires late-night dance parties or pilgrimages to iconic venues to hear live performances. It is music’s universally unique ability to be both diverse and unifying that has driven YPO member Tunde Balogun’s Atlanta-based record label, Love Renaissance (LVRN), to the top of the charts.
The weird and different kids
“It’s what we call ‘a modern-day love story,’” says Balogun when asked about LVRN’s origins. “A few of us were party promoters and the others were working in the music industry. A mutual friend saw the commonality between all of us and said, you guys need to sit down and talk. And we’ve been together ever since.”
That commonality the friend noticed between Balogun and his now four partners – all first-generation Americans from Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica and Trinidad – was that they were into unpopular music. In 2012, Atlanta was pumping out rap and the city’s own variation on rap called ‘trap,’ while Balogun and his friends were focused on alternative hip-hop and rhythm and blues.
“That made us the outcasts,” Balogun smiles. “We were the weird kids. But that was what also made us special and able to create a niche for ourselves.”
For Balogun, who grew up listening to his parents’ Fela Kuti and Sade records (and hip hop and rap despite his mother’s forbiddance), music as a global entity has always appealed. And given the fact that his partners all grew up steeped in different cultures as well, it makes sense that after 10 years of working within that hip hop/R&B niche, they’re excited to look outside the United States for the next big sound.
“For the past century, America has influenced world culture,” says Balogun. “But now world culture is influencing America. Music has become increasingly more global over the past few decades, with international acts selling out arenas and stadiums. We have to diversify to make sure we’re able to participate in the switch that’s happening and give ourselves the opportunity to grow.”
New growth is being fueled by a recent USD25+ million infusion of capital from Co-founder and CEO of MUSIC, Matt Pincus, that will help LVRN expand globally. Considering that since 2012, LVRN has generated more than 30 billion streams and 21 million album sales and counting on their own, one can only imagine what kind of records the future holds for the organization.
For the past century, America has influenced world culture. But now world culture is influencing America. ”
— Tunde Balogun, Founder of Atlanta-based record label, Love Renaissance (LVRN) share
LVRN is known as a “Black-owned record label,” a descriptor Balogun finds at once beneficial and ultimately, aspirational.
“You can’t run from it,” says Balogun. “And you have to understand that being a minority in some spaces is beneficial. But you also have to understand that it’s not about you. It’s about the kid who looks like you who might be 10 years old and sees you and thinks, ’I want to do what he’s doing.’ It’s easier to see yourself in somebody’s position when they look like you. Hopefully, what I’m doing today gives the opportunity for the next generation to have the chance to just be called a record label.”
Given LVRN’s expansive scope and the organization’s flat structure, it comes as no surprise to hear Balogun say that the key to maintaining harmony among partners and staff is communication and maintaining the creative spark.
“We have weekly calls that last a few hours where we discuss everything that happened that week,” Balogun explains. “Every quarter we take communication classes because the way we speak is different for each of us. And we strive to be with each other in person seven days out the month, no matter what. For me, spending that time that together keeps the magic of when we first started going, when we had all the time in the world, didn’t have any money and there was just one thing to focus on.”
Even though Balogun works with his friends, he started to feel like he was alone on an island. No one at LVRN came in with corporate experience, so they’ve had to learn as they grew, and with each artist, with each new hire, with each new level of success, the stress of maintaining grew as well. Last year, within two weeks of each other, both of Balogun’s mentors told him he needed to join YPO.
You have to understand that being a minority in some spaces is beneficial. But you also have to understand that it’s not about you. It’s about the kid who looks like you who might be 10 years old and sees you and thinks, I want to do what he’s doing. ”
— Tunde Balogun share
“I would call them [his mentors] if the numbers the first half of the year didn’t come back right,” recalls Balogun. “I would call them if I was having issues with staff or turnover. If you don’t have somebody to speak to about it, you start questioning your ability to be a leader. They saw what I was going through and said, ‘You need to look into YPO.’”
Balogun’s first experience? Forum training.
“That blew my mind,” he says. “I learned so much just talking to everybody in all these different industries, seeing how we were going through all the same things. I was like, Oh, wow, if this was just training, I can’t wait to see what being in an actual forum is like.”
It’s a beautiful thing to have music all around us, but it’s a wild game of content creation working to maintain that surround-sound experience. As Balogun explains it, you have to connect your artists to their audience at every step of the value chain, with “every switch turned on and lever pulled for a chance at success. You have to have your promo on TikTok and Twitter and Instagram, but it’s really good to have your songs playing on TV shows. You definitely want your song running while people are watching the game on ESPN and you need the billboard on Sunset Boulevard that people are driving past every day.”
More than any other art form, music is constantly reinventing itself. Artists are building on old sounds to create something new and new artists are looking to the past to find inspiration. Today, Latin music is the fastest-growing genre in the world, and it’s anyone’s guess which way the wind will blow next.
“Nobody knows what they’re doing right now,” says Balogun. “The entire industry is working through trial and error, which is where it gets the most creative. When people start going to different places and finding different types of genres and artists, everything becomes fresh again. And I love it. I love the challenge.”