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First Word

From co-op to career: the record label executive

How one alumna turned her co-op into a full-time gig — and learned to navigate a transformed music industry.

By Schuyler Velasco

Kristina Grossmann graduated from the College of Arts, Media and Design in 2008. As a Northeastern student, she completed a co-op at Republic Records in New York — and never left. Now she is a vice president of artists and repertoire (A&R) at Republic, a division of Universal Music Group, which is the biggest record label company in the world several years running. She works with musical acts including Bastille, Jessie J, Glass Animals, and more. 

What does an A&R person do? 
Part of the job is spent looking for new talent. I also have my own roster of acts in various stages of their career and the recording process. Some are in the middle of making new records. Some are mixing. Some have a finished record, and you’re getting all the related paperwork done. 

What was your musical background growing up?
I played clarinet in high school and was first chair and president of my band. I was the kid who would sit in a room at home and devour CD liner notes and try to make mix tapes by recording off the radio. It was a lot of alt/emo/pop stuff — Brand New, Taking Back Sunday — but also Nine Inch Nails and Foo Fighters. But when I was in high school and then applying to college, I didn’t know you could have a career like this.

How did your Northeastern education prepare you for your job?
I was a music business major. I took an artist management class. The prerequisites, like music theory, help me talk about music in my job today. Having some sense of what the bones of a song are is definitely helpful. I took an entrepreneurship in music class with Professor [Richard] Strasser, one of my favorite professors ever.

How did you get your co-op? 
I wanted to work at one of the major labels, so I just found addresses online, sent a giant — you know those envelopes where you don’t fold the paper, it just goes straight in? And I mailed my resumé out. Little did I know that I had mailed [it to Monte Lipman], the CEO and founder of Republic. His assistant called me and said, “He thought that was very ballsy of you to mail in your resumé directly. He wants me to interview you.” So off to New York City I went.

When I was in high school and then applying to college, I didn’t know you could have a career like this.

What was your co-op experience like?
At the time Republic was so small. A&R was four people. The marketing team was three people. Radio was five people. That enabled me to work with every single department, and every person who worked there knew my name, because I was the only intern that came in every day.  

How has the record-making process evolved since your co-op? 
We don’t make physical [things] anymore. When I started we made a lot of CDs, and everything had to be in early and meet specific deadlines [for manufacturing]. Now, you can get a record up on Spotify in six hours. That’s definitely a big change, but it allows everyone to be more creative. Like Taylor Swift putting out those two massive albums last year. She used to set up her albums six months in advance. She set those up within four days. 

What about scouting new artists?
We [used to] look at radio charts and radio airplay weekly. Now it’s TikTok. It’s what’s trending on YouTube and Instagram and Spotify and SoundCloud. We have a separate team within A&R to handle research. You need people to comb through it all day, and everything moves so fast.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?
I’ve never seen so many things happen in one year that affected release schedules so drastically. Especially during the Black Lives Matter [protests], we had a lot of artists who pushed their albums back. Luckily now, with digital stuff, we are able to be a lot more flexible. We used to never buy recording equipment for artists, but the last thing we want to hear is, “I have this great idea for a song, but I can’t record it.” It’s been exciting too, because we’ve gotten a lot more collaborations. 

What has been your proudest professional moment?
When I made Billboard’s 30 Under 30. It’s now 40 Under 40, so my next goal is to get in it while I’m still under 40.

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Schuyler Velasco is Experience's Senior Editor. 

Illustration by Helen Green


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