BY KELLY MORAN
Entering the tight-knit community that is the music industry can be extremely daunting. It seems like there is new talent coming from every direction and the competition has reached an all time high. However, it is possible. We see this with young college student, entrepreneur, artist manager, executive director AND music aficionado, Kian McHugh:
When and how did you first realize your passion for music and your interest in pursuing a career within the industry?
In middle school when I began burning copious amounts of playlists onto CDs with the custom gridded album mosaic insert, my music taste materialized and I begun to recognize I had an ear for music. By the time I reached high school, the rise of music blog culture, the second wave of Bay Area hip hop, and the introduction of electronic music to my radar further sparked the flame. By the end of my freshman year of high school, I had set my mind on pursuing music business and repeatedly declared this to my then dubious parents who work in technology and education.
Can you describe your first project with music, Filthy Slaps, and its absorption by FreshNewTracks?
Now a longtime friend- Ben Taft and I got in contact our freshman year of high school as he too found himself obsessing over music discovery and we shared a similar taste and drive. In partnering with someone who at 13 was extremely knowledgeable of business relations and had ties to the industry, Ben and I were able to launch a fully functional platform to share music, review content, and share concert recaps. We snuck further and further backstage at festivals, hosted a concert with Mike Posner at a pizza joint in Redwood City, and grew the site to a status of temporary local fame and a surprisingly international user base.
After years of progress, Ben and I recognized the dwindling economic potential of music journalism and excitedly sold it to FreshNewTracks for an undisclosed amount. At the time, I don’t think either of us had any idea that we had created, launched, maintained, and sold a company in our early teens. Ben went on to help out at Fresh New Tracks and we parted ways in business when I joined The Kollection team. Ben is now enrolled in the first graduating class at USC’s Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine School and is the CEO of an Augmented Reality platform which affirms his role in my early success and understanding of business.
What role did music play in your college selection?
At 18, I wanted more than anything to enroll in a music industry program and dive into the music scene upon graduating high school. I was naive in assuming my future would be tainted if I did not attend the most elite music business program at the most elite academy and when it came down to the selection process, I could not have been more wrong. UCSB and Isla Vista shook my entire perception of life and myself in a matter of weeks and at risk of sounding cliché - I think I ended up there for a reason as it has lead me to being the best version of myself.
What has been the most rewarding part about living in Isla Vista and being involved in the music scene and community there and in LA? How are they different?
Isla Vista is incredible because of the extremely young demographic and the music scene which has begun to flourish downtown thanks to the rise of venues like Eos and Soho. Bix King is absolutely changing the game and capitalizing on an untapped market - I am extremely thankful that he has provided me with the opportunity to DJ alongside of some of my favorite producers like Shiba San and Hucci and host events with Chris Lake/Chris Lorenzo and Trippy Turtle’s Fofofadi label. In having such a wide array of incredible people in such a small city, the support I receive from friends and the countless partners in my ventures in Isla Vista is incredible and I would be nowhere without them.
Los Angeles is Los Angeles - I would argue that when it comes to music here, it's much more of scene than a community. There are countless subcultures of the industry based on which artists and genres you work with, which labels you work for or support, and where and if you go out. I’m definitely still figuring out what my scene and community is here but there are countless individuals who have helped me navigate the madness of the city. Andrew Luce is always a positive influence on my time in LA and we have some exciting plans to revolutionize the live house music scene with the help of Bryce Sexton. Without saying too much, BLEACHED is going to be an escape from LA within LA and it is slowly but surely coming to fruition.
Having worked and learned so much under the OWSLA team this summer, it is refreshing to know that there are extremely innovative and kind individuals working towards a communal goal amidst the chaos. When I finally make the move out here after my final year at UCSB, I hope to immerse myself in a team and group of friends who cares as much for music and one another as they do.
Can you describe The Kollection and your involvement with it?
The Kollection was at the forefront of the blog community and has always been quickly recognizable for its heart logo and “music for the rest of us” motto. I was brought on to write for The K nearly 7 years ago and in being one of the most successful writers on the team, I became an editor and eventually started helping run the site. As all the original team members were much older than I was, they graduated from their respective universities and joined the workforce.
For years now I have maintained and experimented with the site as the director and now with a team of close friends, The Kollection is on its way to becoming a lifestyle brand and label. There are tons of exciting updates coming soon, which I unfortunately have to keep my lips zipped about but keep checking in with us at www.thekollection.com and our social media platforms over the next couple of months.
It's awesome that you're so young and already managing hot and up and coming talents. Can you tell us who you're managing right now and briefly describe your experiences in management?
Management is such a unique position in the industry and I’ve had the best of times helping artists grow. I’ve managed rappers, producers, and vocalists- all of which are a completely unique experience. My most notable work was with the lovely and prosperous Chelsea Cutler who I discovered, befriended, and then helped grow. Chelsea and I had countless wild experiences in signing to Ultra, collaborating with artists we had only dreamed of, and learning the ins and outs of the industry together. Chelsea is now absolutely thriving with the help of Jesse Corren - I will always hold Chelsea and her music close to my heart.
I have two rappers, a vocalist, and a producer who I am currently in talks with - it takes me at least two months of working with an artist to grasp whether I am the right person for their project as I think it is imperative that a manager understands and agrees with both the artist and the vision before involving themself.
Where would you like to be, career-wise, 5 years from now?
I cannot even fathom where I will be the day after graduation and quite frankly I try to keep the past and future out of my head in order to be able to fully focus on my current projects and adapt to whatever obstacles and opportunities present themselves.
Ideally, 5 years from now I will be working for myself and surrounded by artists and friends who believe in my vision so I can help them attain their goals. The sky's the limit so honestly who knows- The K Festival 2022 has a nice ring to it.
What advice would you give to young individuals attracted to pursuing careers within the music industry but nervous due to its competitive nature?
Trying to work in the music industry, which at times can be very twisted and disheartening, will only be fulfilling if you go into it with intent rather than a misguided drive for money or second hand fame. Working in music, in many senses, is about helping other people pursue their dreams despite many people coming into the industry looking for some sense of self-affirmation.
With this in mind, I would encourage anyone interested in giving it a shot to just go for it and try to learn about all the different facets that make up the industry to get a whole-hearted understanding of how music functions and where they would fit in. Furthermore, I would remind anyone who does begin the journey that just because everyone is doing things one way- straying from the norm is always more valuable than fitting a pre-existing mold.
[End of interview]
Kian is currently residing in Santa Barbara, wrapping up his senior year at UCSB and finishing his degree in Film and Media studies while also balancing many music and work-related projects. He is also excited to announce his recently acquired legal ownership of The Kollection and is eager to further grow the platform which he credits helped him find his true passions. With the help of business partners and close friends, Bryce Sexton and Kenzie Jones, the re-launch of The Kollection website is set for March 10, 2018. He also mentions other exciting developments including merchandising, events, and a publishing company with the mission of properly crediting and rewarding the incredible artists he has the pleasure of working with.
Kian offers a raw and revealing perspective on what the music industry demands of anyone looking to build a career within it through his immense hard work and tireless dedication to his craft. It is through his thorough involvement with both the business and creative areas, which create the intricate foundation of the industry, that Kian is truly a perfect role model for anyone who is looking to break into the world of music business.
Congrats on all the awesome work Kian, can't wait to see what the future holds for you, The Kollection, and all other projects you have on your very promising horizon!
To find out more about Kian, check him out here!