The COO of Roc Nation, Desiree Perez is one of the most powerful female executives in the music industry. Her name is among the industry’s top women – legendary music executives, presidents of top record labels, promotion managers, heads of marketing departments as well as other key female figures who were behind the success of popular music artists for the last two decades. Her prominence within the music industry is so profound that the mere mention of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter undoubtedly brings up her name as a key figure in Jay-Z’s evolution from rapper to business mogul. She has been part of Roc Nation since 2009, and she was also involved in Shawn Carter (SC) enterprises as well as a critical part of the expansion of other SC business interests in the industry.
However, Perez’s recent media coverage is not about her power as a negotiator, but about something far outside that spectrum. Her recent media attention comes in light of a statement made by Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, in which he declared that women in music industry need to “step up” to advance their careers.
Immediately following the president’s comments, artists like Kelly Clarkson and Pink spoke up. “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’—women have been stepping since the beginning of time,” Pink wrote in an open letter. “Stepping up, and also steppin [sic] aside. Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this. When we celebrate and honor the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women STEP UP every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it looks like to be fair.” A group of lawyers and talent managers even called for Mr. Portnow’s resignation.
And while the top women executives at the major record labels and music publishers had at first been quiet regarding his issue, they did raise their voices, too. Desiree’s name is one of six of the industry’s most powerful women who have signed a letter addressed to the Recording Academy’s board of trustees, calling the organization “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly society,” and say that the academy, which presents the Grammy’s, needs to become more inclusive and transparent. The letter was signed by Michele Anthony, an executive vice president at the Universal Music Group; Jody Gerson, the chief executive of Universal’s publishing arm; Julie Greenwald, the co-chairman of Atlantic Records; Sylvia Rhone, the president of Epic Records; Julie Swidler, the general counsel of Sony Music; and Desiree Perez, the chief operating officer of Roc Nation. The strongly-worded letter stops short of calling for Mr. Portnow’s removal and instead highlights his words as alluding to deeper problems.
“Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview. They are, unfortunately, emblematic of a much larger issue with the Naras organization as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics,” the women wrote, referring to the academy by an acronym for its legal name, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Urged by the growing criticism of Mr. Portnow and the academy, the organization announced that it would create a task force to review its work, with aims to “overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”
The executives’ letter urges the Academy’s board to make sure that a thorough review is conducted by the task force, adding, “as senior music executives with true commitment to the welfare of the organization and the music community, we hereby put ourselves forward for service.” Adding to the weight of the letter is that the executives note that the write on behalf of their companies, encompassing the music world’s three dominant conglomerates.
This is in line with Perez’s indirect involvement in the rapid spread of the #MeToo campaign, as she has been the driving force behind several female artists, one of whom is Mariah Carey who recently vocalized her support for the Time’s Up movement.
About Desiree Perez
An example of Perez’s reputation as a notorious negotiator is Sprint’s $200 million investment in TIDAL that was announced in January of last year. This was paid off only a few months later with Jay-Z’s release of 4:44, his 14th Billboard No. 1. This was a Sprint-sponsored free download to 1 million people, and it earned the MC a platinum plaque before the album’s official release. Having racked up 600,000 equivalent album units, it has also served as an example of a powerful marketing campaign. Furthermore, in April of 2017 Roc Nation’s equity partner, Live Nation, signed a long-term $200 million touring partnership with Jay-Z. His 4:44 tour which was sponsored by Puma amassed 21% more profits than his 2013 Magna Carter Tour – all thanks to Perez.
The notoriously private Perez and her husband, Juan Perez, are members of a collective of influencers and investors involved in the music and entertainment industry known as the Hova Circle of Influence. Undoubtedly, it was not easy for Desiree Perez to rise to the top of a male dominated industry. Her clients’ successes are examples of her strength, and while she can be seen next to the many individuals she turned into celebrities, she does not consider herself as one. And while Jay-Z may be the face of Roc Nation, Perez can be considered as its heart. She has the character combination of success – a combination of both compassion and steadiness and toughness and shrewdness that a business world requires.