Tab Nkhereanye of A&R at BMG On 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The…

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Tab Nkhereanye of A&R at BMG On 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry

Surround Yourself with a Good Team — The most successful people in the music industry have fostered a great community around them. These communities can be started and fostered at every level of the business. I’m nothing without the village I’ve surrounded myself with over these last two decades.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in the music industry, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tab Nkhereanye.

For the last twenty years, Tab Nkhereanye, SVP of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) at BMG has been one of the driving forces behind hitmakers and top charting songs alike as both an award winning songwriter and prolific music executive. As a songwriter in the first decade of his career, he was responsible for multiple #1 hits, writing with Justin Bieber, Madonna, Mary J. Blige and Brittany Spears. As an executive he understands the DNA of what makes a hitmaker and in an industry more and more driven by data, Tab’s approach is focused on sound, talent and feel and has led to the discovery, development and success behind the careers of Frank Ocean, Alessia Cara and many others — showing that songwriters have a place in the corner office and paving a way for others like him. Splitting time between Los Angeles and Atlanta, Tab’s mission is to be a voice and mentor for black songwriters and young executives who are looking to carve out their own path in the industry and is an expert on all things development, publishing, songwriting and artist management.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Born and raised in the Bay Area of California, I am the proud son of first generation immigrant parents from South Africa who came here to pursue a better life for my siblings and I. Growing up in the bay area was very formative, my life was filled with sports, friends, family and exploration of all sorts of passions.

My love for music started very early and was sparked by my older brother, who was a radio DJ at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I had the opportunity to come visit him and go into the studio and just completely dive into the craft. From helping him pick out songs, reading the credits, learning about the mixing and sound engineers, songwriters and studios where these records were being made, I knew I wanted to get involved in the record business.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that was deeply passionate about music and the arts. In my late teens, my uncle Al Jarreau was in town to sing the national anthem at a 49ers game. Afterward, he sat down with me to inquire about my career aspirations. I replied that I wanted to get into the record business. He advised me that achieving that goal would be hard from San Francisco and that I should head down to Los Angeles to take my chances down there.

My mother was keen on me attending college, but I decided to give Los Angeles a try for the summer and hit the ground running, attending shows. One of these shows was at the Digital Underground, where I struck up a conversation with Tupac Shakur, both of us came from the bay area and figured we could connect over. I asked him how he got started in the business and he shared a few words on how he broke into the scene. Meanwhile, a young Robin Thicke was behind me during this conversation. After Shakur walked away, Thicke asked “Hey, do you know Tupac?” to which I replied “No, I just met him and asked him how I could make it in the music business like him.” I learned that Thicke was also an aspiring songwriter in the area, and from there, we just instantly connected and began collaborating and writing songs together. The rest as they say, is history.

From there, Robin secured a publishing deal and built an incredible career as an artist and TV host. I, on the other hand, obtained my own publishing deal, where I wrote songs for Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Madonna, Mary J. Blidge, and Fantasia before jumping to the business side of the industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Monti Olson, a publishing legend at Universal who has since started his own company called Litmus music, has always been a mentor figure to me. He was the person I could consistently count on for guidance and have as a valuable sounding board whenever I needed reassurance on a song or project. Another individual who played a pivotal role in shaping my career is No ID. He, too, possesses the unique ability to give honest feedback and advice and he proved to be critical in getting me where I am today.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The story surrounding Alessia Cara was a wild journey from start to finish. While I was still at Republic Records, I had a meeting arranged through my colleague Tony Perez to listen to some songs produced by someone. During this meeting, the producer played me some of Alessia Cara’s music that they had worked on. I vividly recall saying, “This producer is great, but who is this girl singing on these demos? She sounds amazing, her tone is incredible.” I immediately thought about how wonderful it would be to connect with her in Toronto. We ended up getting something scheduled, but due to a canceled flight, I never made it up there while I was at Republic Records.

Fast forward about a year later, after I had left Republic for Def Jam Records. On my very first day at Def Jam, I saw Alessia Cara walking out of the Republic Records’ office. I asked, “Did you sign with Republic?” She told me she had just flown out for a meeting, but no deal had been reached. Although it was only my first day at Def Jam, I took a chance and asked her if she would consider signing with Def Jam. She expressed interest, and I immediately walked into the office and told my colleague Dion, “Listen, I know it’s early in my tenure here, but we need to sign this girl; she’s amazing. They trusted my judgment, and we ultimately signed Alessia Cara. She later went on to win a Grammy in 2018 for Best New Artist. This was Def Jam’s first Grammy in that category, and to this day, I am immensely proud of it.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t have any particularly funny mistakes to share, but I have some valuable lessons from my many years in the business, and I believe they are worth passing along. As an A&R professional, it’s essential to keep in mind that your primary role is to foster the growth of your artists’ careers. Your professional success will naturally follow when you prioritize the artist’s needs and development.

Throughout most of my career, I’ve operated from a behind-the-scenes perspective, and I’ve observed that many highly successful artist development executives share a common approach and mindset and not being “bigger” than the artist is key to that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am really excited about two artists right now, one of which is Symba an artist signed to Atlantic Records from the Bay Area, the other is So Faygo who is signed to Travis Scott’s label by way of Atlanta.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Start where you are. If you are in Cleveland, if you’re in Miami — look around, find the talent and see how you can make an impact. When I started in the Bay Area and Los Angeles — I would be calling up radio stations, hitting promoters and just trying to network as much as I could to propel my acts forward.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the music industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Always remember the reason why you chose to work in the music industry. I entered the music business because I am a fan, and I continue to be an ardent one.

I still feel a rush of excitement when the lights dim at a sold-out concert before the artist takes the stage, or when a new project by an act I admire is released. I believe that this enthusiasm has played a significant role in allowing me to stay vibrant and engaged throughout all these years.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry” and why?

  • Find a Good Mentor — The music industry is one that is very competitive and deals with a lot of personalities and pathways to success. Having someone who can help you along the way to be a sounding board will help you avoid major mistakes and headaches.
  • Always be Willing to Learn — There is always something new to learn in this business and you can’t be a leader without being a student. Always keep your mind, ears and eyes open for new ways to innovate and new ways to discover talent.
  • Don’t Follow the Crowd — Trust your instincts. I can attribute a lot of the success in my career as a result of sticking to my ears and my heart.
  • Never Lose Your Love For Music — I touched on this earlier, but the reason we get into this career path is because we’re fans — that is the reason we didn’t take that tech job or become a lawyer or banker. Never lose that passion.
  • Surround Yourself with a Good Team — The most successful people in the music industry have fostered a great community around them. These communities can be started and fostered at every level of the business. I’m nothing without the village I’ve surrounded myself with over these last two decades.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Call me old fashioned, but I would love to inspire folks to take time to put their phones down, be present, look around and be open to connect.

Listen to what is happening around them, take in your surroundings and be proactive to connect with others. You never know when you might bump into your Robin Thicke, like I did back in Los Angeles all those years ago.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” — This was a quote that really connected with me from Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford prior to his passing. I still have this quote in my phone and see it everyday.

Staying foolish is all about keeping that child alive in you and the inquisitiveness that comes with that. Staying foolish keeps you wanting to hop on that next plane to connect with a producer and hear what the next thing could be.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

The legendary record producer and executive, Berry Gordy would be someone I would kill to have a meal with. He was someone who built an empire by recognizing great talents, wearing many hats and wearing them well and was constantly innovating the industry.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

They can find me on LinkedIn at

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Tab Nkhereanye of A&R at BMG On 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.