When Gina Tucci’s musician and producer father would present work to A&R at labels, at times they would “rip apart the records.” But Tucci had an unexpected reaction to observing this. “After a while, I kind of realized, that’s kind of cool…you get to listen to music all day and pick apart the songs to make them better.”
It’s that spirit for critique and exploration that’s led Tucci to her current positions of Big Beat Records General Manager and a Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records. Listen in as she details her path through the music industry, including what advice she’d give to young music professionals, and how she got involved with her “first big record ever”: B.o.B’s “Airplanes.”
This is the story of Gina Tucci.
Gina Tucci: I like to do a lot of phone calls because if I’m really passionate about a song, or if I’m really passionate about a writer, then I want the artist to hear my passion. A great song can change a life for everyone.
Intro: Hello and welcome to Landed, the story of the music business told by the people behind the scenes. On each episode, we’ll welcome in someone from the music industry, discovering how they started out, how they got the skills to work with the biggest artists in the world, and what advice they have for up and comers. Each conversation will show how they’re navigating the ever evolving landscape of music today.
On this episode, music producer and author Jesse Cannon will be speaking with Gina Tucci, the General Manager of Big Beat Records and a Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records.
Gina Tucci: Hello, my name is Gina Tucci and I’m currently the General Manager of Big Beat Records and a Vice President of A&R here at Atlantic.
Jesse Cannon: What does that mean you actually do at Atlantic?
Gina Tucci: So, in my general manager role for Big Beat Records, I oversee a staff of around roughly 12 people, and I deal with anything from issues, personnel issues, and just the normal day to day of staff stuff, to overseeing all the campaigns that we run on Big Beat. All the artist releases, all the marketing plans, not just domestically, but also coordinating that globally to our partners around the world.
Jesse Cannon: What made you want to work in the music business?
Gina Tucci: I grew up in a really musical family in New York, Queens. My dad was a singer, songwriter, producer. He was in a group called Gary’s Gang, signed to Columbia Records. So, I grew up with a recording studio in my house and I kind of don’t know anything else other than music. Growing up with a dad as a producer, it just immediately made me want to work in music, and I’ve never strayed.
Jesse Cannon: What were you doing that made you qualified for your first position that was paid in the music business?
Gina Tucci: Before I worked at a label, when I was in high school [and] into college, I taught kids piano. So that was my first music paying job. I also sang in a church choir that paid the choristers. And then my father had a small publishing company. In high school he would pay me a small salary to just oversee the royalties coming in and do the bookkeeping for that.
Jesse Cannon: Can you tell me then how you got into the music business?
Gina Tucci: With a dad as a music producer, he would work on records for a long time and then take me to meetings with A&Rs, and he would play the records, and the A&Rs would rip apart the records. And I would look at my dad like, “Yo, you spent three months on this song and this dude is just ripping it to shreds.” After a while I kind of realized, that’s kind of cool, that’s a cool job. You get to listen to music all day and pick apart the songs to make them better. After that point, I just said, “I don’t know if I’m going to be a writer or producer, I think I want to do that A&R job.” And that was it.
Jesse Cannon: So, there’s that meme that says, what my family thinks I do, what my friends think I do, what I actually do. What do you actually do all day?
Gina Tucci: As an A&R, and overseeing all the releases on the label, and then obviously A&Ring my own projects, I am responsible for A&R, Artists and Repertoire. Signing the artists and bringing in the repertoire for those artists. It’s the songs that the artists are either writing, recording, or working on. With my roster in particular, Big Beat, it’s a very producer-based roster. So, a lot of my artists aren’t singers and do co-write a lot. In my specific role, all day I’m listening to songs, outside songs that publishers are sending me, writers are sending me, and I’m constantly sending those records to my artists.
Also, a lot of my artists love cowriting. So, looking at the charts, looking at what writers are really reactive right now, coming up with ideas for my artists to write with writers that I think might be a good fit for them, and getting them in the studio together. And the repertoire is, obviously, song is king, so the repertoire part of my job, I really feel the pressure of that because a great song can change a life for everyone.
Jesse Cannon: What’s something you do each day that really helps your job go smoother?
Gina Tucci: I like to do a lot of phone calls because if I’m really passionate about a song, or if I’m really passionate about a writer, then I want the artist to hear my passion through the phone. And they’re always DJing and traveling somewhere in the world. So, I always make sure to get on the phone and explain to them why I think they should cut a song, or why I think they should work with a writer, and hear my passion and try to sell it to them that way. So, I’m on the phone a lot throughout the day. I’m also always, at least once a day, taking a meeting with a writer or a publisher. I always want to know who the newer songwriters are, who are the new published signings. Also when songs come back in, it’s a lot of listening and then giving notes to the artists. So again, picking up the phone, saying, “Can you change a bridge, can you change this lyric?,” giving my notes.
Jesse Cannon: So, when we’re talking about your notes, are you doing this based off emotion? What is a lot of the thoughts that go through your head that help you analyze what they’re sending in?
Gina Tucci: I do it based off energy. I’m a big Max Martin fan, he’s my-
Jesse Cannon: Makes two of us.
Gina Tucci: Personal God, and there is an article that, and he doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and there is an article I read recently and he explained this. But even before that article, even as a little kid, even listening in my dad’s studio to songs. If, by the chorus I didn’t care about the song, if by the second verse I didn’t care about the song, if it lost my interest, my brain would start going, “OK, well if ‘X’ changed, maybe I would care about the chorus.” Or “If this changed…” And I base it off my energy on how I feel about it. Also by body movement, if I’m really into it and I stay in it and it holds my attention, that’s sorta what I’m looking for.
Jesse Cannon: Can you tell me a common example of how, obviously you’re altering songs, how you guys make a difference in an artist’s career on a regular basis?
Gina Tucci: My first big record ever was a song called “Airplanes.” And “Airplanes” was a song by B.o.B, who was a big rapper on Atlantic, and it featured Hayley from Paramore. That song was written by my intern’s friend, and my intern brought that song to me at a time when I really was trying to be an A&R. I sorta dissected that song, the demo, and brought it to life with the help of senior A&R people. And then that song became a really big hit for B.o.B. To this day, every time he sees me or we pass one another, it’s always this really special hug that you’re going to get, and you just know it represents that he appreciates that song. And on the flip side, I appreciate the opportunity that that song gave me as an A&R person. So that’s just one experience I had where I felt I’d changed an artist’s career trajectory.
I have an electronic music group called Cash Cash signed to Big Beat. And I signed them and they really didn’t have big, big records yet. And I gave them a song that I had by a young writer named Bebe Rexha, put them together, and they worked on the song demo that I had. And it became a big hit for both of them. When the Cash Cash guys, and I work with them all the time now, but I constantly feel like a really extra close connection because I know that that record changed their lives, and for Bebe as well.
Jesse Cannon: If a student was in college right now and wants to do what you do, be the next Gina, what would you tell them to focus on to get here?
Gina Tucci: I had a really school of hard knocks upbringing here at Atlantic. I’ve only worked at Atlantic. So I started at 19, and I’m 35-
Jesse Cannon: Wow.
Gina Tucci: So, I’ve grown up here and now growing old here. I would tell a young college student that while they may have the ideas and knowledge to do the job, experience is way more important. And I would tell them to keep their head down, [and] if they didn’t get the dream job in the beginning, to take whatever job at a label and do that job, and do it well, and learn. Because there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look back the journey I’ve had and don’t use the things that I learned in my journey here.
So for example, I worked in legal. That was not my dream experience, but in that time I learned how the contracts work, who the lawyers were for which genre. I also worked in radio. Now I know how to run a record through radio here, and I understand how the different markets in radio work, and what markets affect the next market. And I also worked in the chairman’s office. And again, I always wanted to do A&R — all those things not A&R — but they definitely have helped me be a better A&R.
So, I would just tell a young person to get your foot in the door, keep your head down, and just be a sponge. Just make sure you play your cards right; you can always let human resources know you want to do A&R. When the opportunity comes up, you’re in the building.
Jesse Cannon: How about something you did before getting to Atlantic that has helped you? Is there any advice or skill you learned from your dad, or anything like that that you learned?
Gina Tucci: I feel really fortunate when it comes to my dad, because at the time, when you’re young, you don’t realize it. But sitting on a studio floor as an 8-year-old, 9-year-old, my whole childhood, and watching a group of musicians record music, you’re learning song structure, you’re learning lyrical content, and what makes sense, and what moves people, and you’re learning arrangements. I never realized at the time that I’d learned all those things, but there isn’t a day that goes by that, again, I don’t look back and utilize something that I learned in that time.
Jesse Cannon: The music business has obviously changed a ton in the last 5 to 10 years. What do you think people aren’t focusing on, or you think something’s smart to focus on, that people aren’t always talking about these days?
Gina Tucci: Well, I think people are talking about a lot these days. I’m always really impressed, especially in this building, because the staff is super on point and everyone’s really aware of things. But just one thing in particular that kind of blows my mind is the amount of audience that’s online. For example, you could go to Barclay’s Center, and it’s a large venue, and artists will be playing their music. Or you can tune into some gaming thing online that’s also playing music, and that audience is 10 times the Barclay’s audience. And I always think, “Is there some futuristic thing we could do, some futuristic concert series that just taps into this audience because it’s crazy?”
Jesse Cannon: Do you have any stories about a modern thing that you guys have done recently, that really made a difference in a band, that would not have been able to be done 5 to 10 years ago?
Gina Tucci: We recently worked an underground dance record by CamelPhat and Elderbrook, a song called “Cola.” And just when we thought it was at its peak, it got a Snapchat filter. So, props to Shaw Miseyko in our digital department, she got us an amazing Snapchat filter, and 5 minutes later the song was No. 1 Shazam in the world, beat out Ed Sheeran. And I just couldn’t believe that that platform had that much power, but it happened.
Jesse Cannon: So, what advice do you have for musicians who’d like to work with you one day and be on Atlantic?
Gina Tucci: I’m a really, I’m a song person, song is king, I’m always going to say that. So as much as it’s important to be a great producer and get that sound down, I’m more interested in the song, and the melody, and the lyric, and the delivery of the song. So, I think for any young artist right now…a lot of kids because of technology and computer music, and the ability to make so much music, they’re focusing on these amazing productions. It’s so fun, especially running an electronic label, you hear so much sonic innovation. And it’s unreal, it’s so exciting every day. But what’s happening is that pen-to-paper songwriting is being forgotten and lost. So I just would advise all these young artists, and DJ’s, and producers out there, it’s like, “Yes, you should get your soundscape down, but you should also be studying older records, and older song structures, and just putting in your 10,000 hours in your songwriting to eventually apply it to your really amazing productions.”
Jesse Cannon: Is there something that you’re interested in outside of music that sometimes comes in handy here?
Gina Tucci: Because my whole life has been music, literally, I used to love listening to music for fun. I love it so much, but I don’t really have anything else. I don’t even have time for TV that much. So, I started taking tennis lessons. And my tennis coach is this older, hysterical Italian man who constantly gives me these one liners. And they’re sports analogies, and I have been applying them to how I think about advice I give to artists now all the time. It’s bizarre, but it works.
He recently had me play a match with a player that was much better than me, and I was really nervous about it. And he was like: “You’re never going to get better if you don’t play up. You have to play up and just study their technique, and the speed of the ball, and just get a whole new point of view on something. Whether you like the style or not, you have to get another point of view.” I used that analogy for a writer. I was like: “You need to work a bunch of other writers. You need to get other perspectives and you need to write up. You need to write with writers better than you.”
Jesse Cannon: What’s a music style, or a group, you wish would come back into popularity?
Gina Tucci: To be honest with you, right now, pop music, I’m so excited about it because my passion is electronic music. And so much electronic music is in the pop production right now. So right now this era is maybe one of my favorites personally. If I really had to say, it would be the ’90s era girl group, R&B girl-group style, where there’s just millions of harmonies and tons of ad-libs, and just amazing girl power in girl groups, and I just miss that.
Jesse Cannon: Is there any artist you wish you could work with, living, dead, that you’ve not gotten to work with?
Gina Tucci: I wish I could have worked with the Bee Gees. I’m just a huge fan of their songwriting style — same with ABBA. To have been able to have worked with those two groups would have been absolutely a dream.
Outro: Thank you for listening to Landed. Subscribe to this show for free at your preferred podcast service.
Today’s music is courtesy of Cash Cash.