We had the good fortune of connecting with Michaela D. Jordan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michaela, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I saw the distrust that had been sown between musicians and music executives over decades of mismanagement and lack of respect in the music industry. It is almost a cliche at this point to to see a manager take advantage of a musician. I have been a professional musician since I was 13 and have been working for record labels for years; so, to me, there had to be a way for the two sides of the industry to meet in respect and harmony. I had the opportunity to work for Ropeadope Records before I moved to Los Angeles. I loved how they put their artists first and, as a musician, I wanted to start a company that held onto that spirit and also offered musicians an alternative to a traditional record label and management structure. I was noticing that, as artists begin to take more control of their marketing and fan connection via social media, the structure of a traditional record label and management company had begun to become more and more obsolete. I had seen so many artists not being advocated for in the ways that they should have been and not being taken seriously. In addition, taking a percentage of their royalties and ownership of their work never sat right with me so I set out to restructure this archaic arrangement. With that, I started Golden Poppy Artist Services which offers all of the services of a record label and management company while the artist retains full control over their work and career. They can choose some or all of our services based on what they need at the time. The goal is to provide guidance and educate artists to be empowered to make their own management decisions. They are involved in all of the decision making typically reserved for closed meetings with management so that they can see how and where their music is making an impact in the world and can make fully informed decisions about their career. Above all else: Golden Poppy is by artists, for artists and in the service of artists; empowering them to forge their own path in a rapidly changing industry.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I began my career as a professional musician at 13-years-old. I did not grow up in what you would call an easy or privileged environment so I quickly found a way to get out of the house and have a creative outlet. My father was a musician so there was always space to play music and he was down to bring me and my band to gigs. I just began writing songs constantly. Thinking back on it, it definitely kept me out of trouble. Nothing was more important than music to me so I wasn’t going to do anything to put it at risk. I was in an all girl band in a backwoods New England town so that came with it’s own set of challenges. We had instances where people would heckle us before we got on stage and even local places that wouldn’t book us because “no one wants to hear a bunch of little girls play” (the male bands in town did not have the same issue). But, we were determined. We played shows constantly anywhere we could. Our high school was small, only about 350 students, so our teachers would excuse our absences from morning classes if we had a gig the night before. But, it became clear after we graduated high school that continuing a career in music was not feasible where we lived and the band dissolved. I moved out on my own at 18 and college wasn’t really an option financially so I went right to work. I was able to teach music lessons on the side of my day job and play the local bars every now and then, but I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I made music my full time job. After teaching lessons for a few years, as if by divine intervention, my then boyfriend, now husband, Brian, got a job offer in Philadelphia. We had been looking for any way out of our hometown, so we packed up our apartment and our cat and headed to Philly. To put the culture shift of moving to a major city into perspective, Brian grew up on a 500 acre farm in a town of 3000 people, our graduating class had 160, the nearest Starbucks was 45 minutes away. The change was the equivalent of a tectonic shift but we quickly adapted. It seemed as if the world had cracked open for us. I was able to begin teaching as my main gig and fell into being a freelance artist manager with a local musician. Soon after that, Ropeadope Records came on my radar. A friend of mine and the percussive third of my newly formed band The Sea Tease, MuzikalDunk, was on an imprint of their’s so I ended up going to one of their shows at the iconic World Cafe Live. My mind was blown. This was a caliber of musician that I had only seen glimpses of and I knew I wanted to be involved in anyway possible. I connected with MuzikalDunk’s manager, Melody Forrester and it wasn’t long until I caught wind of an internship opening at Ropeadope. At this point I was 25, not enrolled in college and unsure of my direction in the industry. All I knew was that I wanted to help artists navigate record labels and management. I wanted to empower them. I knew that it would be a long shot, just like moving to Philadelphia, just like getting gigs in a small town but, with Brian’s unending support and encouragement, I applied to the internship. I was up against students from some of the best music programs in the world. UArts, Drexel, Berklee, any music major who knew anything about Soul and Jazz wanted one of few internship slots at Ropeadope. I threw my name in the hat along with hundreds of others and waited. While I was agonizing over whether I would get into this internship, cursing my own audacity for thinking I could measure up, Mel Forrester asked me if I was going to World Cafe Live one Friday night. I hadn’t planned on it but, pro tip, when your mentor asks if you are going to an event you go. I walked into the now familiar venue and Mel pulled me over to the bar. Standing in front of me were two men. One bald, holding a bourbon, quiet and analyzing everyone around him, the other his perfect foil bearded, bright and greeting everyone that passed him by. Mel introduced them as Fabian Brown and Louis Marks, the VP and CEO of Ropeadope Records respectively. I felt the immediate onset of nerves and probably talked way too much at that first interaction. I was standing in front of REAL record label executives! They were what I wanted to be and I felt like a little kid with tap shoes meeting Fred Astaire. Mel, eternally cool and collected, explained to them that I had applied to the internship and that she was personally recommending me. I was floored. I explained that I wasn’t in school so I wasn’t even sure if I qualified. I saw Louis’ interest pique. Fabian asked me why I wanted it. “I just want to help artists, you know?” I said, “I want to make the music industry better.” He rose his eyebrows. Impressed? I hoped so. They soon had to get back to mingling. I enjoyed the show; invited, for the first time, to the reserved table. Stunned. Feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could make something of myself in this industry. On Christmas Eve, I got an email telling me I had gotten the internship. The internship was mostly remote run by Fabian who, by some divine gift, had the knack and patience to mentor all of us at once while running multiple businesses and having ten kids. But every Thursday morning, I would drive from my apartment in East Falls, Philadelphia across the Ben Franklin bridge to Haddon Heights where Ropeadope was head-quartered (“East Philly” they would joke). There I had the privilege of working side by side with Louis. Most of the time those mornings were just him and I. It was intimidating at times, but always enriching and incredibly educational. What I remember most was that he treated me like an equal and expected no less out of my quality of work. Ropeadope is everything you want a record label to be. It is tight knit, honest and open. They have an internal Slack channel where everyone on the label, spread across 4 continents, can congregate and talk. Interns can communicate with Grammy winners, indie artists can hit up the CEO. There was no hierarchy and nothing is hidden from anyone. This was one of many pieces of that label that I would bring to Golden Poppy. As I worked my way through my internship, staying on through the summer as the new semester started and a new group of students rolled in; I began to look west. I had seen a few peers move out to Los Angeles in the years I was in Philadelphia and had to see what the hype was all about. Ty Asoudegan, a dear friend of mine and Brian’s, had absolutely blossomed out here and was urging us to visit. I knew my internship couldn’t last forever and Ropeadope was small and didn’t have any job openings. Before I knew it, what was originally a vacation out of the bitter northern cold, became an exploratory trip. Brian and I landed in Los Angeles and were smitten immediately. Three months later we packed our life into a 5x7x8 box and shipped it out to LA while we followed in our car with Zoey, the same cat we had moved from our hometown with 3 years earlier, and shining recommendation letters from Louis and Fabian in tow. While I got Golden Poppy Artist Services, as I had now named my little freelance management company, off the ground I started working for a record label by day and playing the Sunset Strip by night. It was like high school again; get home from the show at 1 AM, meeting at 9AM. It was at my first ever gig in LA, at the Whisky a Gogo where I had dreamed of playing since I picked up a guitar at 10 years old, that I met my producer Fernando Perdomo. He approached me after my set and told me he wanted to make an album with me. I had played my set with just myself and an acoustic guitar sat on a stool. It set our scene a-buzz because the move was considered bold. The reality was that I was just so nervous that I wanted to be in complete control of the performance. Regardless, that performance and the subsequent gigs on the Sunset Strip, coupled with the success my debut album ‘Resilient’ gave me the street cred as an artist that would be vital in giving Golden Poppy it’s edge over the competition. The label I worked for when I first found my footing in the LA music scene was old school and not in a good way. The owners were constantly trying to undercut the artists and squeeze any penny they could out of them. I would hear things thrown around like “the artist thinks they know what they are doing with marketing but they really don’t” (mind you this artist had built an organic social media following that numbered in the millions with their own branding and design while the executive in question couldn’t even sign into their own Facebook). Artists were kept in the dark about vital deals and opportunities that the heads of the label would pass up on because they didn’t understand the value of them. Watching this company have to cover up their own lies and incompetence, brought about by their own pride and stubbornness, was exhausting. However, it taught me important lessons on what I didn’t want to do and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to put my nose to the grindstone and strike off on my own. I was still unsure of Golden Poppy. Would this business model work? Would people be receptive to something so unorthodox? Above all else, would I be able to empower artists in the way that I wanted to? There was a party for Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Grammy nomination, thrown by Ropeadope out here in LA in January 2019. I gladly went, I was eager for a distraction from my current job and even worked the door for old time’s sake. Seeing my Ropeadope family was centering. It felt like coming home after a whirlwind of a trip. I hesitantly told Louis I was starting my own artist services company and he gave me a rare huge smile and told me how great of an idea it was, while introducing me to Christian he told him that I was one of the best interns he had ever had and that he was proud of me and my career, an interaction that to this day I remind myself of when I feel impostor syndrome coming on. Those words emboldened me to take the idea to Fabian, entrepreneur extraordinaire, and bounce my business model off of him. Fabian is a logistics man. He understands the inner workings of a business and would be straight with me about whether he saw any potential in my unconventional business model. We were sat at the bar of the venue after the party, much like how we had first met, when I laid out my idea. He nodded and mulled it over and said four words that officially lit the fire, “that’s a great idea.” Right as the pandemic hit, by the grace of every God in the known universe, I was able to begin working for Golden Poppy full time. It was not easy. Covid had thrown the entire music industry into upheaval and we were all trying to find our footing. But, I had gained a few important things over the last few years: a reputation as an honest person with good work ethic, strong connections, and a deep knowledge of the Pop, Jazz and Soul music scene. The Golden Poppy business model intrigued artists; many of whom had worked with labels and management in the past that had left a bad taste in their mouth. Some were just disillusioned with the music industry in general and wanted someone to represent them who understood what it was like to haul an amp out of the Viper Room at 2:00 in the morning as opposed to a suit with an MBA who’s only experience with gigs was a VIP room. I have been told that it is the straight forward authenticity that draws people to Golden Poppy. Unlike most management companies/labels every decision is run by the artists; they are in the room while deals are being made and nothing is hidden away from them. Me and the artist are a team, as it should be. The artist sets the amount of time they want me to dedicate to them in a week and I charge a flat hourly rate. The contract is at will and can be ended at anytime. The amount of hours can also fluctuate depending on the phase of an artist’s career. I created Golden Poppy to be everything I would want from a label. I borrowed the respect and integrity of Ropedope, fused it with my experience as an artist, stirred it up with my connections from a corporate label and, somehow, created something unique that resonated with artists in this wild west of a music industry that we are experiencing. To answer the question concisely what sets Golden Poppy Artist Services apart is said perfectly in our mission statement. Above all else: Golden Poppy is by artists, for artists and in the service of artists; empowering them to forge their own path in a rapidly changing industry.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ok, my top 10 spots in LA are: 1. The Sunset Strip 2. Rodeo Drive 3. Griffith Park 4. Melrose Ave 5. Venice (Beach or Abbot Kinney) 6. Barney’s Beanery 7. City Hall 8. Canyon Country Store in Laurel Canyon 9. Echo Park 10. Mullholland Drive. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First and foremost I have to thank the artists of Golden Poppy, without their trust and commitment this would just be an idea. In addition to that, my career would not have been possible without Louis Marks, Fabian Brown and Mel Forrester at Ropeadope Records. I was a 25-year-old intern there. I wasn’t in college and just really wanted to learn and they took me in anyway. The time with them shaped who I am as a professional. My parents were cheering me on from day one; when most kids say they want to be a musician their parents say “Pick something else” but that was never the case. My dad, mom and step-dad were always supportive of me making a career in music and that made such a huge difference. Above all else, I have to thank my husband, Brian. He has been my ride or die since we were 17. When I told him I wanted to walk dogs while I took an internship he was down. When I wanted to move to LA to pursue my career he was down. There were moments where I questioned whether or not I was good enough for a career in the music industry and he was there to talk sense into me and push me to keep going.
Other: Golden Poppy Insta: @goldenpoppymusic The Sea Tease Insta: @theseatease TikTok: @michaelad567
Joanna Heart and Cyndi Trissel