“What better way to learn about the music industry than to be an artist myself?”

Image courtesy of Daniel Yearwood.

Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, Daniel Yearwood never expected to become a rap artist or start his own label. Eventually, though, he would go on to attend not only Harvard but also the Wharton School of Business. His unique journey has given him a special edge in navigating the music industry. Read more about Daniel in conversation with WHRB below. [Interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity]

What made you decide to start Mission Road Entertainment as its own label instead of remaining independent or signing to a more established one? Was it your Harvard/Wharton Grad edge?

Daniel Yearwood: Yeah, so I, unlike most people my age who are involved in music, have not been harboring lifelong dreams of being an artist, I did not grow up necessarily in an overtly musical family or anything like that. A couple of years back, I was between jobs and reached out to my cousin's boyfriend and I was like “Hey I want to go to the studio I want to record,” and he thought it was hilarious. He and the engineer were both like “it's like not terrible.” So fast forward a few months, I had more time to think about music and the industry from an investment banking standpoint since my career for the last 10 years has been in finance and investing. I thought, with my sort of investment hat, it might be interesting to think about using a hedge fund lens in the music streaming industry. I also felt like we're at the point where, because of all the data available from streaming and advances in data science and AI, it would be possible to use a more quantitative approach to tackle the industry and think about capital deployment and things like that. We have technology that we use to map the whole music industry and find pockets of particular sub-genres and geographies that are more attractive. We are able to forecast what opportunities look like going forward and then on an individual song basis. If there is a particular song that we're interested in tracking, we get daily time series and then forecast the revenue-generating capacity. Eventually, we will use the same technology to acquire independent labels and artists. This was sort of an investment thesis-driven activity, but I figured what better way for me to continue to learn about the music industry than to be an artist myself. So I continue down this path as a musician and, you know, I enjoy it! I never lose sight of the fact that it is in service of the broader investment objectives, but definitely enjoy going to the studio, recording, and making music videos.

That's really unique and I think that's reflective of your style, in that you're not pigeonholed into one kind of area. Is that your motivation [of being able to forecast different song types] why some of your songs are so different in genre?

DY: The easiest category of music for me to write, I think scientists would call it “ratchet ass bullshit,” I could walk into a studio right now and write that very easily. But I get inspiration for very different types of songs, so as an example, I also wrote a love song for my wife. Over time, I feel like I've progressed as an artist, grown and improved as a songwriter so I’m always making a better version of my songs. If you think about the concept of product-market fit until I get feedback from the marketplace insights I have no idea what sub-genres will be more attractive. The traditional advice to somebody signed to a major label would be “You need to make songs that have a sort of identity, so you'll find get used to a particular style,” but because I have the luxury of being CEO of this company and my main contribution is in strategy, development, and leadership, it's okay that Yearwood the artist’s revenue will only be a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of songs that we accumulate over time. I'm happy to be the guinea pig and experiment with different types of songs, even though they don't really fit together. My objective here is not to be like a superstar artist, but to be a good steward of my investors’ capital. Me trying to make other types of music forces me to be more plugged into what's happening, today.

Very cool! And it’s not all just data numbers, last summer you did a whole campaign with the Trevor Project that was all about LGBTQ+ representation. Are you gonna continue that kind of trend of activism, through your music as you're exploring, or is that, like you're trying to check off and figure out if it works?

DY: A great question! I would say that a lot of what I do is informed by the things happening around us. The album that I'm working on right now is called Animal Farm and I'm going to be leading with a video I just shot called “Black Panther” which, as the name would sort of suggest, is a bit of social commentary about anti-racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I think a majority of my songs probably don’t have a social justice conscious sort of message, but I think it’s pieced into some of my other songs. Over the last few months, the unfortunate events have also affected me personally because my wife is Filipino so I’m connected to people that could be victims of these sorts of things. On May 31 of this year, will be the hundred-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots, so I knew that I wanted to make a song that talked about not just my own personal experiences, but also what I sort of saw happening more broadly. I also felt it was very important that the visuals for the song conveyed the feeling and the emotion, but also useful information that people need. One of the elements throughout the video will be the current statistics like the impact of redlining in communities or differences in incarceration rates for the same crimes across ethnicities. We’re hoping to get a trailer for the video within maybe the next two weeks to build a buzz for the full release. I’m curious to see people’s reactions, especially if this somebody’s first introduction to Yearwood because it’s deeply personal and also a meaningful social commentary.

You've mentioned that there's an album on the way, which I’ll be excited to listen to once these come out, what else is on the horizon for Mission Road Entertainment as a whole?

DY: So right now we are in the midst of, in venture capital speak “our pre-seed round,” so we're raising $250K from a good group of strategic people that could be useful to us. I’ve also spent a lot of time building out the Advisory Board of the company so we have some really high-quality advisors who are helpful on the research side and finding low-hanging fruit challenges for us to try to solve or things to build to give us an edge. We also have a mentor of mine in the music industry who’ve been phenomenally helpful in making introductions for me and an old friend of mine went to Wharton who’s raised a lot of money successfully from venture capital, as well as entertainment lawyers. We're also building subsidiaries in Mexico and Brazil, so my CTO is based in Brazil, whose main function is building the technology and I'm excited to find more local partners in Brazil and Mexico. One of my biggest takeaways over the last six months, there's only so much I can do as one person, but now that I’ve gotten this group of people together, I’ve magnified my reach. We're sort of at that inflection point where a lot of what we're doing is going to start paying off. I think we get into I think we have a lot of interesting stuff coming down the pipeline.

I'm so glad to hear that it's been fruitful and I'm so excited to see where you continue to grow. On a lighter note, what have you been doing to keep yourself sane, anything fun or interesting?

DY: In the bits of spare time that I have, more recently I’ve managed to get my wife into anime! She's really into cooking shows and I discovered this anime called Food Wars which is basically like an animated version of like cooking shows, and as I expected she was completely hooked so we binge-watched that. We’re still recently married, so I think it's a fun, new thing that we’re doing together. Once we work our way through anime though, maybe I can sneak a PS5 into the house, but I’m taking it one step at a time, I think.

That's gold!

// Olivia Carter ‘23 is a writer for The Darker Side.