Erika Montes Reflects on Her Journey in Music
Erika Montes Reflects on Her Journey in Music

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By Lisa Marie

December 11, 2023

Going from A&R Assistant to President of one of the most decorated independent record labels in music is a path that many would love to take, but only few are able to walk down. One of the few who’s taken this trajectory is Erika Montes, the former VP of Artists and Label Relations at SoundCloud who is now the newly appointed President of Rostrum Records. Rostrum is known for discovering artists such as Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, and Rich the Kid, and as Erika takes the reins from former President/Founder Benjy Grinberg, she hopes to lead the next generation of talent under Rostrum’s umbrella. We recently sat down for a conversation with Erika where we delved into her experience working with Fall Out Boy, what she hopes to accomplish at Rostrum Records, and how her time at SoundCloud helped reshape her love for music. 


When did you first fall in love with music? 

Erika: Music was so present in my house. I grew up in Ecuador. I was born in New York, but I was brought to Ecuador as a baby, and I was there until I was 7 years old. I grew up in those years with my grandmother, and my neighborhood was just super lively. There are parties all night, and whenever you have a celebration, it’s a big deal. The whole neighborhood comes out, there’s so much dancing, and I think that’s what grabbed my love of music so early on. I grew up with all of this latin music, and seeing my family and neighbors and dance at these parties was something that just really resonated with me. 


How did you begin your career in the music industry? 

I went to BU for two years, and returned to Miami the Summer after my sophomore year. I needed a job, and had a family friend who worked for a latin record label called PolyGram Latino. She knew someone who needed an A&R Assistant, and I was like “what does that even mean?”. She told me that I’d be assisting her, and that she searched for artists to sign to the label. I thought “I’d get to listen to music and go out and see local bands? I want to interview for that job”. I got the job, and started working the next day. I ended up loving it so much that I never went back to school.


You’ve worked with artists like Rihanna, Kanye West, Justin Beiber, and Fall Out Boy at the early stages of their careers. What were these experiences like, and do you particularly like working with artists who are towards the beginning of their career?

I really love building, so I think early is a big deal for me. You can contribute so much, and though you can contribute at all levels, you feel as though you’re in it together when you’re at the beginning. I remember when I met Fall Out Boy, my boss at the time told me that they were going to give me the group to work on. We had The Bravery and The Killers, and they needed someone to work on this band Fall Out Boy who was on the come up. At the time, I was a video promotions manager, and I took the opportunity and killed it. I was with them through it all, and it was such an important part of me. I knew then that it was such an important thing for me, to be there from the very beginning. 


Prior to your current role at Rostrum Records, you were the Global VP of Artist and Label Relations at SoundCloud. What were some of your takeaways from your six year tenure in this position?

My role at SoundCloud was honestly the job that I learned the most from. Def Jam was the job that really shaped me as far as the person I wanted to be in this industry, but SoundCloud brought me so much educational wealth. I learned so much about the value of subscriptions, ad revenue, all the things that I never thought of. It also renewed my passion for music because I was discovering artists, and figuring out who they were at the early stages of their career. I not only was able to use my gut, but we had all this technology behind it that allowed me to give artists looks. This experience really teed me up for where I am now. 


One of the initiatives you helped launch during your time at SoundCloud was the “First On SoundCloud” program, which is a multi-phase, year-long investment into nine of the platform’s emerging artists. What sparked the creation of this program?

Funny enough, I wasn’t solo on that. There was another Erika, Erika Leone, who I worked with on this. We wanted to come up with a program where we could highlight artists. Before myself and Erika arrived, SoundCloud didn’t really have a way to recognize the artists who were growing on their platform. I first came in when 21 Savage, Lil Uzi, Post Malone, and all of these artists were just getting signed. There were all of these artists who started out on SoundCloud, but SoundCloud had never found a way to work with them. We wanted to create a program where we could recognize these artists on the come up. The first edition was about celebrating one big artist that had succeeded on the platform, and then give way for the discovery. Kehlani was that artist in the first campaign. From that point on, we focused on “who’s next?”. 


You’ve now gone from working directly with artists at the DSP level to working with artists at the label president level. Do you have any particular insights from your prior experience with SoundCloud that you’re taking into your new role at Rostrum?

The best part is, you already know what it’s like on that side now. Streaming is so important. Our goal when we were at the label was “how many records are you selling?”. These days it’s “how much is streaming?”. It was probably the best experience to have. When I’m talking to my artists now, I definitely let them know the real real.


You stated how the two most important factors that you were looking for in your next role were the opportunity to develop artists and to work in the independent space. How does your role as President at Rostrum Records check both of these boxes? 

When you think about Rostrum, they have such a big reputation as far as being an independent label goes. Benjy founded the label in 2003, and at the time, there weren’t many independent labels. They’ve done such a great job at being such a large independent, so it definitely checked that box for me. I couldn’t even believe it when this was being brought to me. Benjy has definitely built a reputation for taking his time with artists, and helping to develop them. You don’t do it because of the numbers, you do it because you really love the artist, and that was something that was super important coming in. It wasn’t about the artists meeting certain numbers. We stick by these artists and help them develop. It was the perfect opportunity for me. 


Slide 2 Erika


What do you hope to achieve at Rostrum Records over the next decade?

I want to break an artist this year, that’s not even a decade thing. To me, DC the Don is it. I’ve known DC since my SoundCloud days, and to me, this is all happening for a reason. He’s going to get to the next level this year. I want to break artists, and want to continue what Benjy built. I want to create the next iteration of it, so artists have a safe space and can remain independent. That’s super important to me, and will remain super important to me. The music industry is ever changing, and we need to learn to change alongside it and not resist it, and that’ll always be a big thing for me. 


You were recently recognized as one of Remezclas’s Major Mujeres – a list that highlights latinas in the music industry who are making their mark, and paving the way for a more inclusive future. How did it feel to be featured on this list, and what do you hope to change in the music industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion? 

It was such an honor, and I’m super excited and super thankful. Taking this job when it was brought to me was important because there aren’t a lot of women in these positions, and much less diverse, latina women. I knew that I was ready, and that I could step into this challenge and take it head on. What I want to do is bring in the next generation, whether it’s by mentoring them or hiring them. These are the things I hope to do. I hope to bring more women into this industry, mentor the ones who are just starting out, and open up these opportunities. 


Slide 3 Erika


What’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s latinx as they begin to navigate a career in the music industry?

There are a couple of things. One is to be kind to everyone you meet, and that’s just a human rule. This industry is very much made of relationships, and you never know who you’re talking to, so be nice to everyone. The second one is, when you’re facing issues, make sure you don’t let them bring you down. The way I was raised was to not ruffle too many feathers and to keep your head down. At some point, I realized I needed to be seen, and couldn’t walk through life and my career like this. Put your head up high, and walk through anything no matter what gets thrown at you. 


What would you say to the younger version of yourself? 

Don’t ever doubt yourself.


What’s one album that you’d take wherever you go? 

Lauryn Hill’s ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’


Slide 5 Erika


What does the phrase “big ass kid” mean to you? 

Never growing up, and I mean that in the best way. We get so caught up in the world around us, and to be a big ass kid is to be as carefree as we were as children, and take that with you forever. 

Slide 4 Erika


You can find Erika on IG here: @erikam0ntes