[This article originally appeared in XXL Magazine, Issue 154, June/July 2014]
Mike Caren has been working in the music business since he was a kid. The current president of Worldwide A&R for all of Warner Music Group kicked off his career as a DJ and soon switched to the behind-the-scenes lane. In 1995 at 15 years old, the Beverly Hills native landed an internship with Interscope Records and worked on the marketing campaigns for artists such as 2Pac and Snoop Dogg. Two years later, and before even graduating high school, Caren took a job at Atlantic Records (currently the parent company of Warner) in the A&R department and has been with Atlantic ever since, signing artists like T.I., Wiz Khalifa, Twista and Kevin Gates. XXL caught up with the music executive to soak up some wisdom.
ON FINDING YOUR PASSION
I would say experiment and try things that you don’t know how to do. Either way, you’ll learn from doing it and get better for the next time. Or you’ll realize that you already know how to do it and prove that to somebody else.
ON HAVING CREDIBILITY
I think building your credibility is essential. There are a lot of people in the business that don’t do what they say and that you can’t count on. So you want to separate yourself from them and prove that you’re one of the dependable and consistent individuals. I say, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Consistent hard work, focus and good decisions will pay off even if you make a mistake along the way.
ON LONGEVITY IN THE GAME
The same people you see on the way up are the same people you see on the way down, so treat everyone with respect. And keep likeminded, focused, hardworking people around you. A lot about longevity is not resting on your laurels. No one stops paying dues. People have an appetite for a high level of entertainment whether you’ve been working a year or 20 years. They have their choice of where they want to spend their money and their time. And you always have to give it your all. As soon as you stop working hard or caring, the results will fade away.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING A&RS
Creativity. I look for charisma and vision [in my prospects]. Artists have to take risks and be ahead of the curve. Music that they’re making today has to sound good a year from now, sometimes longer. Looking for people that have conviction; they listen but also make great decisions for themselves.