Erika Montes on building relationships and always getting back up | The Come Up

The Come Up is a collaborative editorial series between Femme It Forward and Splice, focused on highlighting non-male industry executives and innovators.

For our tenth entry, we had the opportunity to speak with Erika Montes, who is a VP of Artist Relations at SoundCloud. Montes and her team are responsible for building and maintaining SoundCloud’s relationships with artists, managers, and producers across genres. In addition, she educates the creator community on SoundCloud’s differentiated business model to help them achieve success on the platform. Read on to get a firsthand look into Montes’ journey, advice to other female professionals, and more.

Tell us about your ‘come up’ – how did you start your career in the music industry?

I started out as an A&R assistant at PolyGram Latino, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college. It was only supposed to be a part-time thing, but it changed my life.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the music industry?

I was part of a program in my high school called Rock Ensemble where I was a sound engineer, and I knew that I wanted to be involved in music since then. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but music was going to be a big part of my life.

What was the first big career risk you took?

After I got the A&R assistant position during the summer, I was hooked. Once school started up again in the fall, I decided to work full time and go to school full time—I did both up until my senior year. Right before I was about to start my last semester of senior year, I knew that this was going to be my career and made the bold decision to not finish school. Shortly after that, I got my job at Island Def Jam and I have not looked back since.

What’s one music industry anecdote that you love to share?

I got my job at Fuse because someone there remembered how I always made sure Fuse was included in all of my Island and Def Jam artists’ promo schedules. I even got my current job at SoundCloud because an old contact from MTV remembered me and how well regarded I was. Every single job I’ve ever had in this industry has been due to a recommendation from a relationship that I made, and this has reiterated the importance of the relationships you build and being kind to everyone you meet.

Tell us about one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career. How did you overcome it?

It was early 2010 and I found out that my position was being eliminated and I was being laid off. It was a huge shock to me because I had been at the company for almost ten years so—in my mind, I never thought it would happen. I did get a really great severance package so I did some traveling in the beginning for a few months. But then, when I returned and got back to doing interviews and looking for new opportunities, I realized how out-of-practice I was and I had not thought about what my transferrable skills were.

It took me almost two years to find my next full-time gig (I did some freelance work in between), but during that time I was able to weed out who was a real friend, a contact, an acquaintance, etc. I took that time to figure out what I wanted my next step to be. I went through the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with having that much free time and not knowing when the next gig will be, but I figured it out and I always look back on that time as a gift because I was better prepared the next time it happened (and it did). But, it’s not about how many times you fall; it’s about how many times you get back up, and I always get back up!

Is there a mentor who supported you in your career? If not, how did you navigate the industry?

I’ve been lucky to have many incredible females in my life; some of them happen to be mentors, and most of them are now friends. The one who I still look up to and learned the most from is Gabby Peluso, who was my boss at Def Jam for nine years (she’s currently President at Asylum). She is the most direct, brutally honest, funniest, no-BS person I know.

Being a female in this industry is not easy, no matter what stage you’re in—whether you’re an assistant or a VP. Gabby helped me navigate a lot of those stages and I learned a lot from her on the kind of leader I wanted to be. There was always an open-door policy with her. People were always coming into her office seeking advice or guidance on both their work and personal lives, because you would only get realness from her.

Have you had to manage being the only female professional in a business meeting? How do you command the room?

I definitely have been the only woman in a business meeting, especially since I deal with lots of artist teams, and some of them have been all male. I always go into meetings knowing that I’m great at what I do, have something important to say, and bring value to the table that no one else does.

What do you think the future of music looks like?

One of the things that I’ve been really proud to have been a part of at SoundCloud in the past few months is the launch of fan-powered royalties, which is a new model of payouts that’s driven by the artists’ fan bases. I truly hope that the industry pays attention and adapts it so artists can have more transparent streaming payouts.

I’m also looking forward to seeing a big return of live shows, because they’re the best way to experience music!

What do you want your legacy to be?

I hope that I’m remembered for making things better for the next person, whether that means helping someone find their voice, advocating for someone’s salary, or challenging the lack of minorities in a team and / or workplace.

If there were one job in the industry you’d love to have, other than your current job, what would it be?

I want to do more philanthropic work and help artists find meaningful ways to give back via the platforms they’ve been given.

April 29, 2021