Former TikTok music exec Mary Rahmani launched LA-based Moon Projects in 2021 and has partnered with UMG’s Republic on streaming sensation Em Beihold, as well as forming a JV with Warner Chappell.
Here, in an extended online version of her Music Week magazine interview, she shares her vision for the industry, platforms and artists…
Moon Projects covers multiple areas in music. Was that important for a new company?
“As I come across artists, I want to also be able to bring them into partnerships that will help to flourish their career relationships and give them a really good foundation. I always thought about potentially starting my own label. The partnership with Republic has been fantastic. It then just made sense to expand on the publishing side as well to give more resources [for music creators].”
How can you support artists in the fast-paced and demanding music industry?
“They need more advocates to stand up for them. Artists need to come with a vision, and we’re here to empower that. With the boom in DSPs and apps, it becomes confusing to artists, who ultimately just want to create music. It’s important to have a consistent voice in the executive space that has their back. We need more rock stars, we need to be building legends so our children can have someone to listen to. People like me and others need to be that safe space for artists.”
What achievements are you proud of so far?
“The key achievement was when I was invited to Sir Lucian Grainge’s home, when I was at TikTok, to have a meeting with him, just to talk and chat. I was like, ‘Okay, something’s happening.’ I had started off my career as an intern, I had three jobs and my car would break down on the freeway. I didn’t have a hand helping me get into these roles. But I have always been so connected to music and just knew that I have these instincts and the heart to want to be involved – and taste too! When Wendy Goldstein and Avery Lipman at Republic presented me with a joint venture, that was literally a dream. I was still at TikTok when that offer came up. I didn't quite want to leave, but I also didn't want to say ‘no’ to having a label – that was something I've always wanted. So that was [an achievement] for sure.”
At a time when some question the need for labels, what does that partnership give you?
“I chat with artists who are independent and use distribution partners and they’re making great money. But there’s only so much that some platforms can do. I saw the power of Republic when Em [Beihold] launched. She was getting a million streams, it was like fire, they catapulted her – she was all over the radio or doing videos, they gave a lot of support on the tour side and the content side. Indies sometimes have limited resources, so it really depends on where you’re at in your career and your goals. You have to assess what your long game is.”
When Wendy Goldstein and Avery Lipman at Republic presented me with a joint venture, that was literally a dream
What does the Warner Chappell joint venture bring to the Moon Projects operation?
“My partner there is Rich Christina, he's fantastic. He's an industry veteran, and he's also an artist guy. I tend to be drawn to those types of executives that really just understand the big picture, who are looking for artists that are building their own lanes. I wanted my projects to have more resources where I could develop artists and essentially give them the gift of time, because timing really is everything.
“Having a partnership with Warner Chappell will allow artists to put some money in their pocket, but more importantly give them resources where we can set them up with sessions with producers. I can work with them on their content strategy, and they can build their career in their own timeline. Then they will get to that point where, if they want to sign a deal with an indie or major, they can.”
How can artists cut through the digital noise?
“For us as executives, the ones that have seen the marketplace shift, evolve and grow, we have to really remind ourselves that we're curators as well. You know, we need to be really selective on who we want to amplify. I understand that during the pandemic, it was sort of a frenzy, and no one really knew quite what to do. A lot of these platforms blew up and it became really chaotic. But now that the dust has settled, we have to sit back and think: how do we want our music industry to really look and feel for ourselves but also for future generations?
“We need to find artists that are creating something new and different. I miss hearing the wave of incredible bands coming out of the UK, or scenes in LA, San Diego or New York. So we have to go back to basics, be a bit more selective and not get so caught up in the data and the hype. Those things do fade really quickly.”
How does the creative services element at Moon Projects draw on your background in tech and TikTok?
“I learned so much at TikTok. I was the first [music] hire. There may have been about 40 people in the US office when I started, and so we were doing everything from changing icons, logos, I was doing the licensing, I was importing songs. It was very early and, of course, as we staffed up, my role was really then focused on what I was hired to do, which was artist partnerships. So I've been able to take all my learnings from that role, and also working at labels and working with artists, seeing and knowing how labels think and operate and how A&Rs think and operate, and just give that education to artists and also to partners and managers. I've consulted for ad agencies and record labels. If they want to do a campaign on TikTok, Reels or Shorts, I'll curate influencers for them and give them guidance. For me, it's about just giving partners the tools and resources and being an honest partner and advocate. I'm not here to make a sale, I'm here to build success with them.”
You have a great inside track. How do you feel TikTok is helping artists to build long-term careers? Is it now even more crucial for success?
“I will be a bit selfish and say that I feel like the golden years of that platform were when I was there, because it was the early stages. So I loved 2019 to 2021, there was so much music on the platform, and we would find it under really unique verticals – under art, illustration. People [users and influencers] were so funny and so creative, and they had a great taste. They were using really good music, some of it from bands who had been around for a long time. Because they were tastemakers, they were cool kids, we could amplify that. Now it's definitely shifted because, as we saw from YouTube and Spotify, as platforms grow and get bigger their own priorities shift and change. So, unfortunately, I don't feel that it's quite the same. It's still important for artists and for the industry because it is still the number one driver to DSPs.
“However, I feel like it's difficult and more challenging to discover what's new or what has been released, and [instead] we're rediscovering [a song] again, because a lot of the platforms have just evolved with their own priorities. And that's part of my narrative to partners and artists. TikTok, Reels and Shorts are not music discovery platforms, they’re short-form video platforms and music is one vertical of many. I would love for these platforms to work with labels, publishers, management companies and independent artists on more long-term partnerships. [Not just] do a banner, playlist you and call it a day. Let's do something more meaningful, so people can actually have a chance to absorb it, process it, and then get connected with it too.”
We need more rock stars, we need to be building legends so our children can have someone to listen to
Do you have any favourite memories of working with artists at TikTok?
“I onboarded a lot of artists. As the platform grew, I worked with Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Meghan Trainor, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, The Weeknd, and so many incredible emerging artists. Artists in general are really funny and have a great sense of humour, but I think when they were seeing all these younger influencers just doing their dances, they didn’t know where their place was. But then once it clicked, it was really fun.”
In terms of the wider music industry, are you encouraged by any progress in terms of supporting women executives and mothers?
“Good question. I'm not encouraged. I've seen it be a lot more open and it's shifted since I started when I was 18,19 years old. But I remember, I had my son and I was 33, 34, and it was challenging getting back into the industry. I had some executives and some meetings, and I was taking interviews and trying to figure out my next steps. [Executives] were saying, ‘Well, you're a new mom, do you really want to do this? Do you really want to go to shows at night when you have a baby?’ I understand, maybe they're ‘concerned’, but it was hard to hear because I had made that decision, this is my career, I know how to balance my life. I didn't think my personal choices and my child would be essentially used against me.
“I definitely experienced things that many people have – harassment, sexism and just not being heard. But there are many people in the industry that will bring you up too. It's a tough place, no matter what your gender or situation is, and so really you just have to do your best and not try to take it personally even when it can be personal. It's them and not you, just listen to your instinct and gut and don't let it define you or bring you down. You'll get tested a lot in this business. But for me, I love helping anyone, regardless of their gender. We need more for women and people of colour. There's enough space for everyone, there really is. We don’t need to be so territorial. Everyone can have success.”
Finally, do you have plans to expand the team, would you ever launch an office in the UK for instance?
“I would love to. My family all live in Brighton in England. Hove is my second home. I’d go there every summer as a kid, I lived there for a couple of years when I was 18. I love it there, I love Europe. I work with colleagues and friends in those territories. I hire freelancers based on the projects that I'm working on. I'd love to grow and flourish when it makes sense.
“I also have to maintain my own personal peace, too, and make sure that I'm in the right mindset. I do give a lot of myself when I'm working with artists and working with projects. I love to really curate everything, and I don't want to let go of that. So I'm happy staying smaller versus getting overwhelmed and having my work suffer from it.”