Originally published October 24, 2017
For the past nine months, renovations on a three-story recording studio have been taking place in an inconspicuous building in downtown Atlanta.
What was once a barren structure, with nothing more than bare walls and water damage, has slowly transformed into the new headquarters for the co-founders and artists of the creative agency-management team-record label hybrid LVRN.
On July 7, the space was still incomplete but equipped enough for a grand opening. Inside, the building holds a full kitchen, lounge area, a recording studio (two more are under construction), and lofted office space. The full completion is scheduled for early November, but acoustic foam packages and miscellaneous tools still lay on the floor during the first week of October.
The careers of LVRN’s clients are much more developed. Leaning up against the walls on the third floor are two framed plaques. The first recognizes the multi-platinum success of D.R.A.M.’s Grammy-nominated single “Broccoli,” and notes that his debut album reached gold status. The second is a commemoration of 6LACK’s platinum single “PRBLMS.”
Downstairs sit the label’s co-founders, Carlon Ramong, Justice Baiden, Junia Abaidoo, Sean Famoso McNichol and Tunde Balogun. All are unwinding from a panel discussion they just wrapped up at A3C Festival & Conference, where they shared the myriad of experiences and lessons it took to become a sustainable record label.
The crew founded LVRN, short for LoveRenaissance, in 2012 while students at Georgia State University. The first artist under the label was singer-songwriter and then-teenager, Raury. The collective grew slowly in the subsequent years, only adding two more artists, D.R.A.M. and 6LACK, to their roster within the past five years.
Their innate skillset for scouting and grooming talent prompted courting from a number of labels, all of which they were reluctant to sign to. The team couldn’t subscribe to the thought of “Using all of our own money and resources independently just to, in theory, sell off our artists to someone else and give up everything we created,” McNichol said. But when Interscope EVP Joie Manda proposed a joint-venture deal in 2016 that allowed the LVRN team to retain creative control, offered a 50/50 profit split, and opened up a budget to makeover a new office space, they decided they finally found a worthy partner.
“Being young black men from Atlanta, we have great music but people don’t really respect our business,” Balogun said. “Instead of buying a whole bunch of fancy s*** when we got money, we got an office, and we renovated that office to a very high level and standard.”
Before their artists’ videos had millions of views, topped Billboard charts and sold-out shows across the country, each cofounder had to come up with creative means to fund the visions. Studio time and music videos were funded by selling cars, shoes, FAFSA checks, and loans.
In 2014, the team created the Anti Tour, a gorilla-style touring ploy to generate a buzz for their flagship artist, Raury. In lieu of an opening slot on an established act's tour stops in Atlanta ― such as Childish Gambino or Tyler the Creator ― Raury and crew set up shows in the parking lots of the venue and performed as fans walked back to their cars. Though the strategy was unpolished (they did not obtain the proper permits, and police eventually shut each event down), the word-of-mouth was the gold the team was after.
“Not every amazing idea is an expensive idea,” Abaidoo said.
Since then, the label has refined its approach. In 2017, D.R.A.M. appeared on the Cash Princes list, performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and opened for Kendrick Lamar. 6LACK’s debut Free 6LACK - released under the joint venture with Interscope - peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard 200 charts, later solidifying an opening slot on The Weeknd’s Starboy tour, and ultimately leading to his first headlining tour.
Alongside label counterparts such as Quality Control Music, LVRN’s presence adds to Atlanta’s growing prominence as a hub for the music business.
Recently, LVRN announced their latest signing, Space Jam Bo, and are open to scouting more artists. But the team isn’t just looking for the most talented vocalists. The prerequisite to getting a meeting is a work ethic equal to each of the founding members.
“We really don’t f*** with excuses,” Abaidoo says. “If you really want something to get done, you’ll figure it out.”