10 AAPI Music Executives Making an Impact in 2022

The Asian American and Pacific Islander community has long played an integral role in American culture at large, and its influence has extended to the music industry with more visibility than the past.

“As someone who has worn many hats across the music industry — as an artist, digital marketing label executive, DJ and journalist — it’s incredible to see how far the AAPI community has come since I began 20 years ago,” says Zeena Koda, head of brand digital at the North Face, co-founder of the Asian American Collective and previously an executive at Atlantic Records. “We’re showing up across genres, across generations and becoming a huge financial contender in the modern music game globally.”

But with AAPI hate crimes on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, representation and inclusion are more important than ever. And that means going beyond the rhetoric to quantifiable action. As Koda articulates: “When we have a seat at the table, our views are considered. Our futures are considered. Much like other underrepresented groups, our influence through positions of power and sway helps to cement a more truly inclusive future for the AAPI music community.”

Among those who do have a seat at the table are these 10 key execs from such companies as YouTube, CAA, Spotify and labels like Epic, Warner and Capitol.

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Courtesy of Annie Chen

Annie Chen – VP of Marketing at Mass Appeal

The Taiwanese-American Chen has led multiple marketing campaigns at Mass Appeal, working closely with Nas, DJ Shadow, Dave East and many more. She also plays a crucial role in the company’s “Hip Hop 50” marketing rollout, which extends through 2024 and includes partnerships with Showtime, Spotify and others. Chen also assisted in launching Mass Appeal India, a record label dedicated to amplifying India’s burgeoning hip-hop culture. Apart from Mass Appeal, she is the co-founder of 2AB, where she produces events including an AAPI panel with Neuehouse and the ‘90s-‘00s-themed Body Roll Party.

How do you feel about the AAPI representation within the music industry?

I feel like it’s slowly growing, whether it’s the actual artists or behind the scenes. There was definitely more AAPI representation at the Grammy Awards this year, so that’s a good step. With the rise of social media platforms, more artists are creating opportunities for themselves every day. There are also more AAPI resources out there to help people navigate in the entertainment industry. I’m hopeful that it’ll continue to grow and we’ll see more and more AAPI representation.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about anti- AAPI hate crime?

Educate yourself on what’s going on, take a deep dive into why this is happening and what it’s stemming from; be vocal about it and figure out how you can contribute. If you have a platform, use it. If you have the ability to contribute to AAPI resources financially, do it. If you don’t know where to start, start conversations with your circles and tap into the AAPI resources to learn more.

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Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Grace Kim James – SVP, Co-Head of Marketing at Atlantic Records

Co-heading pop/rock marketing at Atlantic means working with the likes of Lizzo, Coldplay and FKA Twigs, but the Korean-American also serves as the executive sponsor for Atlantic’s Off-Color DEI group and a mentor for Asian-American youth. In her free time, she’s an avid marathon runner having completed nine marathons.

How do you feel about AAPI representation within the music industry?

I’m encouraged by the growing number of Asian-Americans entering the music industry, not only because of representation but because it means that more AAPI kids are standing up to their parents. In our culture, it’s a privilege to pursue careers in creative industries and taboo to ignore — or disappoint — our parents’ wishes to pursue trade careers (medicine, law, finance, etc). My parents still don’t know what I do for a living. Coming from war-torn countries, our parents’ perspective of a successful career is having a regular paycheck and being able to provide for your family. Our generation not only can put food on the tables, but we have the ability to pursue passions, careers, and jobs that make us happy. I’d like to think that my parents’ sacrifice 40 years ago was not in vain.

What steps can the industry take to help send a message about anti-AAPI hate crime?

When we talk about the industry taking a stance against anti-Asian hate crimes, I don’t think of the CEOs but rather the everyday people with boots on the ground. I hope people are educating artists and executives about what’s happening to the AAPI community, buying rides home for AAPI coworkers who don’t feel safe commuting, hiring more AAPI for jobs that are not in BA or finance, and signing life AAPI artists. We are not invisible, have real buying power, and want to be taken seriously as consumers, tastemakers and artists.

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Jonathan Weiner

Karen Kwak – Executive Vice President/Head of A&R at Warner Records

Working with label artists Anitta and Saweetie adds to the long list of superstar artists that Kwak has helped shepherd through the hitmaking process. Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Nas, Frank Ocean, Big Sean, The Dream, J-Lo and Britney Spears are just a few of the music acts who’ve worked with her over a career that spans 30 years.

How do you feel about AAPI representation within the music industry?

I started my career at Motown Records so fortunately, I started in a more diverse environment. However, AAPI representation was essentially non-existent in the industry at that time. I didn’t have any AAPI executives to look up to. There is significantly more AAPI representation than before, albeit it is still significantly less than what it should be. Today, we have AAPI role models. I’m proud to represent the AAPI community as an executive in the music industry. I also understand that I have a responsibility. I need to get more involved in organizations like Asian American Collective, where I can use my vast music industry knowledge and experience to mentor the next generation of executives.

I am happy and proud to see more artists from the AAPI community having mainstream success and impacting culture.  This gives young aspiring AAPI artists the confidence to pursue their dreams and believe all things are possible.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about Anti-AAPI hate crime?

Music is a universal language and we, as an industry, have great influence. Using that influence, we can help raise awareness and understanding.  We can support organizations that combat Anti-AAPI hate crime through service and donations. We can also encourage our AAPI superstars to use their platforms to speak out to eradicate hate. It’s important that we as individuals say more, do more to lead the industry in this fight against Anti-AAPI hate. I can and will do more.

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Rick Wenner

Imran Majid – Co-President/CEO of Island Records

The first Pakistani-America to run a major record label in the U.S., Majid started out as an A&R assistant at Universal Motown in 2004, joining the team that soon would make up the A&R department at the then-new Republic Records. Majid joined Columbia Records in 2013, signed rapper Lil Tjay and worked closely with rapper Russ, pop singer Rachel Platten and duo Ayo & Teo — and, effective Jan. 1, 2022, became co-president/CEO of Island with fellow Columbia expatriate Justin Eshak, whom he’d met when both worked at Universal Motown 18 years earlier. Today, the Island roster includes Shawn Mendes, Demi Lovato, Keshi, SleazyWorld Go, and Lauren Spencer-Smith.

How do you feel about the AAPI representation within the music industry?

The music industry has a long way to go in terms of AAPI representation, but I’m very excited to see organizations and executives lean into the opportunity to uplift and give opportunities to those of AAPI backgrounds. The music industry is at the forefront of popular culture, and the companies need to continue to be a reflection of what the real world looks like.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about anti-AAPI hate crime?

Talk about it. Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that artists, managers, and employees have been experiencing it for many years but have never had an outlet to discuss it, for a variety of reasons. The Asian culture across the continent is full of proud and hardworking people who sacrificed a lot in this country for opportunity, and did it at the expense of being able to talk fully about their struggles. I’m encouraged by steps being taken by organizations to help combat Anti-AAPI hate crime.

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Matthew Reyes

Arjun Mehta – Founder & CEO of Moment House

Moment House is a live media platform that offers artists and creators across music, comedy and podcasts global digital experiences — or Moments — that are designed to elevate the traditional livestream. Among the company’s recent activations: Kygo performing atop a mountain in Norway; Tame Impala from the ocean-side bungalow where they recorded their debut album; an AR performance with Bryson Tiller from a baseball stadium in his hometown of Louisville; and Justin Bieber’s New Year’s Eve concert from the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Originally launched in 2019 with the goal of translating the lucrative world of live sports media (think: boxing on PPV) to music, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated Moment House’s growth. As a result, the company is able to offer 6 and 7-figure payouts for creators, combining tickets, merch and tips from the audience, as well as meet-and-greet upgrades and after-parties, all on the Moment House platform. Creators keep all gross revenue, while Moment House profits from a 10% service fee charged to the customer.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about Anti- AAPI hate crime?

I am encouraged to see more AAPI representation in the industry, and honored to be a part of that progress, but there’s still so much more to be done. As someone in an executive-level role, I have a responsibility to use my voice to raise awareness, educate others and serve as a role model. Representation matters, and at Moment House we want to be a safe space for our AAPI employees as we all work towards a better future.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about Anti- AAPI hate crime?

It’s not enough to just condemn hate crimes against the AAPI community. We have to do more, starting with education, as well as supporting organizations that combat AAPI hate crimes such as Stop AAPI Hate. The music industry can uniquely contribute to the cause by amplifying AAPI creators, which is something that is a huge priority at Moment House. And we see it make incredible business sense, just look at 88Rising. The more that this is normalized and embedded into the fabric of culture, the better society is set up for the long-term.

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Courtesy of Spotify

Sulinna Ong – Global Head of Editorial at Spotify

In her role at Spotify, Ong oversees some of the biggest playlists in the world in collaboration with her teams, including Today’s Top Hits, Rap Caviar, New Music Friday, and more. She is also responsible for spearheading Spotify programs like the global emerging-artists program Radar, Equal, which highlights the work of female-identifying artists. The daughter of a Chinese father and Persian mother who fled the Iranian revolution when she was a baby, the Australia-born Ong previously held senior roles at Sony Music, Live Nation, and Deezer, and also founded her own artist management and marketing strategy firm, Silver Horse Entertainment.

How do you feel about the AAPI representation within the music industry?

For most of my career to date, particularly the earlier stages, I struggled to see anyone who looked like me, particularly in positions of power. On the rare occasion that you did see AAPI faces in the music business, they often would not be in senior or creative roles. There are certain stereotypes that still come attached, and we need to break down those stereotypes. In general, representation has been few and far between, both on the business and talent sides of the industry, but that’s started to gradually shift. Particularly in the last three to four years, as Asia has become an increasingly powerful economic and musical force and our cultures have come to the fore in the West, the need for visibility and representation of AAPI talent has become ever more pressing. And as music listening amongst consumers becomes increasingly diverse – largely because of streaming opening up cross continental exchange – the interest and demand for AAPI talent is on the rise.

So the tide is slowly turning, but we still have a long way to go on the road to increased diversity. And we need to ensure that as well as diversity in representation we don’t lose sight of the diversity within our own community. “AAPI” is not one homogenous group: There are over 50 ethnic groups from over 40 countries. Add to that the nuance of intersectionality: I myself am intersectional – I’m part Chinese and part Persian – and there are many stories like mine that involve the multiplicity of our identities, and the intersectionality of all of our identities.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about anti-AAPI hate crime?

It’s critical that companies and individuals actively speak out and condemn racism and hate crimes when they happen and not stay quiet. And also, check in on your AAPI friends and colleagues – because they’re not OK. I have personal experience of this as a family member was a victim of a hate crime in 2021. You just don’t know what someone may be dealing with in their personal lives so showing care and empathy is vital.

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Arjun Pulijal – President of Capitol Music Group

Pulijal oversees all areas of artist development at Capitol, which includes creative, marketing, and operations. He joined the company in 2013 as director of marketing,  was promoted to VP in 2017 and SVP in 2019. Earlier this year, he ascended to president for the company that’s home to Paul McCartney, Beck, Halsey, Sam Smith, Maggie Rogers, Lewis Capaldi, Norah Jones, Nine Inch Nails, Queen Naija and Sky Ferreira, among others.

How do you feel about the AAPI representation within the music industry?

As a first generation Indian-American contemplating a career path in music, there was a scarcity of representation to look at for guidance. I didn’t have a compass to follow and tell me, “This is a direction you can go.” In the past five years or so, there’s been a lot of positive progress, but we need to take steps to do more outreach via education, to meet people at that crossroads between high school and college or college and starting a career or entering a grad program and emphasize the arts as a path that’s available.

As my career progressed I came to learn about Bhaskar Menon, the President of Capitol/EMI in the 70s, who revitalized the label and was instrumental to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” It was reassuring and kind of thrilling to learn that I wasn’t the first, that there was some precedent, and I wish I had known about him sooner.

There’s also a feedback loop when it comes to inclusion — representation on the executive side plays into representation in the artist community and vice versa. We should never underestimate how important it is to see someone with whom you have a shared culture and history in a position of prominence. Blazing your own trail is great in theory, but the point should be clearing a path for other people to follow in so they don’t have to spend quite so much energy figuring out which direction to go and can just excel and bring their talent and perspective to the industry.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about Anti- AAPI hate crime?

There’s a tendency to react by making a public statement of condemnation, which is important to do, but that becomes so much more powerful when there’s tangible action behind it. We should be honest and realistic about how we can actually make a meaningful impact beyond that moment, or else the condemnations become as commonplace as the violence and nothing changes. We need to encourage and model equity and inclusion within our industry in ways that aren’t always as hyper-visible but are capable of having a real long-term impact. We also need to put our weight behind our artists and artistic representation. It’s not a standalone solution, but greater diversity among the artists with the largest platforms would create an undeniably powerful pathway to breaking down barriers that contribute to stereotypes and bigotry.

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Courtesy of Columbia Records

John Vincent Salcedo – VP of Digital Marketing at Columbia Records

A Filipino Immigrant who moved to the U.S. before his teens, Salcedo has worked on campaigns for Polo G’s “Hall of Fame” album; Lil Nas X’s “Call Me By Your Name (Montero)” and “Industry Baby” featuring Jack Harlow, both No. 1 hits; Tyler, the Creator’s “Call Me If You Get Lost” album; and the Kid Laroi’s chart-topping “Stay.” Elsewhere on the Columbia roster, Selcado has contributed to the marketing efforts of Baby Keem, Fivio Foreign, Lil Tjay and ROSALÍA.

How do you feel about AAPI Representation within the Music Industry?

We’re entering a golden period for AAPIs where more creatives, executives and, of course, artists are starting to break into the industry. There’s always room for improvement and continuing to push for inclusion is a must, but I truly believe we are seeing more of us at the table making a positive impact across all facets, and in top-level roles. Whether it’s in the music-making process, the business or the visual creative that supports the music, there’s an AAPI in the room contributing. That’s steps forward that I wasn’t experiencing early on in my career. What’s even more exciting in my opinion is the wave of younger AAPIs that are jumping on opportunities to be involved and are hungry to be a part. That’s a testament to how much things have changed not just within the music industry but within the broader AAPI culture where careers like this are not the norm.

What steps can the music industry take to help send a message about Anti-AAPI hate crime?

Let’s first start with acknowledging and making sure that everyone with a platform is using their platform to educate and raise awareness on what’s going on. The first step is for everyone to recognize that there is a rapid increase of AAPI hate crime and that our elderly folks are being targeted.

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Shervin Lainez

Steph Shim – Head of East Coast Label Relations at YouTube Music

At YouTube, Shim works with a wide variety of labels and artists to help unlock the full potential of the video platform’s reach. In her day-to-day role, she consults on best practices and release strategies for her music partners along with finding ways to support their artists with promotional opportunities across YouTube and Google.

She’s been able to work on several noteworthy campaigns, including the global rollout of YouTube Shorts with BTS’s #PermissiontoDance Challenge, in which fans were encouraged to upload their own versions of the choreography which incorporated signs for “Joy,” “Dance” and “Peace.” This culminated in a compilation music video released on the BTS featuring hundreds of submissions.

Currently, she’s working on YouTube’s APAHM initiatives, which include a flagship playlist, dedicated social content, marketing, promotion, and digital billboards in New York’s Times Square and downtown Los Angeles.

How do you feel about the AAPI representation within the music industry?

“We have a long way to go, but I do see some glimmers of hope with a lot of us in high-level positions, a really promising class of emerging industry professionals, and so many talented artists who reflect the diversity and talent of the AAPI community. Speaking recently to Asian college students who are interested in our industry, I know what makes a difference for a lot of them in continuing to pursue their ambitions is seeing people who look like them both on stage and behind the scenes. Looking back, a major roadblock for me even understanding that this was a career I could pursue was that lack of representation, the concept just never entered my mind.”

“When people look at the diversity of their staff or their roster, Asians are often overlooked in that conversation and we need to be more vocal about that dismissal. To many, the AAPI acronym is still unknown and that is really unfortunate. What excites me now is that a lot of us have now realized our power as a united voice.”

There are a lot of amazing AAPI artists and artists across the Asian diaspora doing great things right now – check out YouTube Music’s Celebrating APAHM playlist. We want to amplify their voices so they can share their art, tell their stories, and build their audiences. This same principle applies to the many people involved behind the scenes trying to move their way through this industry. My hope is by showing that support and providi