Lucas Keller (CEO of Milk & Honey) is killing it right now! His team is dominating the US pop charts with 25% of the songs in the Top 40 this past fall! A few recent highlights include Justin Bieber/DJ Khaled/Chance The Rapper/Quavo’s “No Brainer”, Alessia Cara’s “Here”, “Scars To Your Beautiful”, and “Growing Pains”, Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF”, Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder”, Justin Bieber/Daddy Yankee/ Louis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” Demi Lovato’s “Sober” and “Sorry Not Sorry”.
Milk & Honey is a 21st-century hybrid entertainment management company driven by two important disciplines — A&R and Marketing. The company is a privately owned boutique with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville with the launch of a European office imminently approaching. With under 15 employees, the company is able to move faster than larger, slow-moving, companies, and the results have paid off in only 4 years of business. Milk & Honey’s employees all came from distinguished roles at major companies with a desire to be a part of a more focused, mid-sized, organization. Simply stated, the desire to design the perfect management company forged the name — you are in the land of Milk & Honey.
The company’s synch arm clears nearly 30 placements per day in tv, film, and advertising. Milk & Honey and its clients made an overwhelming dent on the global pop charts in 2017 – 2018, and continue to expand. In fall of 2018, the company was featured in Inc 5000, Billboard Power 100, and Billboard 40 under 40.
We got a chance to sit down with Lucas Keller to chat about his career, ventures, and tips for up and comers!
I know you were in a rock band back in the day, what was your favorite part of that and what inspired you to transition into what you are doing now?
I loved playing guitar, I still do. I still play for fun. I realized one day that the odds were against me and it probably wasn’t going to happen for MY band. I realized I could go find the best bands and be their manager, and that I had all of this intuition that I couldn’t get my band members to listen to, but that if I was the “manager” for someone else, the band would immediately listen to me. It worked, for years, I mean I spent the first 11 years of my career managing countless bands. Another thing I learned was that there was no replacement for the touring experience, I’ve been all over the country whether it was with my band or more proficiently the years I spent touring with bands I managed. I had a long run in rock but was glad to reinvent myself as the genre seemed to slow a bit.
What’s the name Milk & Honey stand for?
It’s actually a biblical reference, the land of Milk & Honey. It was widely referenced as the promised land. When I think about wanting to build the perfect company, this name seems to fit.
What’s a defining moment in your career thus far?
Hard to say, could be winning a Grammy with Jimmy Cliff, or being listed in the Billboard power 100 and 40 under 40 issues in the same year, or having 9 songs in the top 40 at once (happened for us earlier this year), or managing Scott Weiland from my favorite band growing up, Stone Temple Pilots. Those are high up on the list.
Now that you are managing artists and producers, do you find yourself wanting to make your own music more?
Not at all, the guitar’s up on the wall for good!
Do you have any networking tips for upcoming producers and songwriters?
Move to a real music market where you can immerse yourself in the community, meet other people that are coming up and meet people in the industry that can help you. That would be Los Angeles, Nashville, London, Atlanta or Stockholm. Not really worth being anywhere else as a producer/writer. That’s right, New York isn’t on that list. Writers come up in classes, the freshmen come up together and often get frustrated that they can’t hang out with the seniors, and with enough hard work and elbow grease before you know it, you’re in the senior class. Figuring out who are the other talented freshmen that will be hitmakers in 5 years is crucial. Meet publishers, meet record label A&Rs, meet managers, and stay in touch with all of them. The secret is figuring out how to engage with people and seeing which people engage back and actually do real work. Figuring out who those people are is important.
Do you have any tips for upcoming producers and songwriters in terms of making sure they are getting their fair share of the pie?
Get a reputable publisher and manager, you can never learn as much as they’ve been through in all of their years with all of their writers/producers, so get someone that can help you jump the line. They can also teach you the value of good cop and bad cop — let them be the bad cop. Also, think big picture. Nobody ever said, “I wish I hadn’t given up that 5% publishing on that hit song.” As in, don’t be cheap, or short sighted — do what’s best for a song to become a hit, and try to not end up with less than 20% of the song. (the difference in where it goes from real revenue as a hit to inconsequential revenue)
How do you know when a song is done?
You just know, I wish I had a better answer than that. If you listen to the radio, you hear the sounds of production at that time, and you just start to learn what a finished pop record sounds like. Serious recommendation to all writers — listen to everything else on the chart, always know what’s on the chart, also always know the culturally important hits that are out that maybe haven’t hit the pop charts but are big in alternative or urban. Pop draws off a lot of these records.
How do you choose who to pitch songs to or who to bring on to produce/write songs?
Again, if you’re familiar with who’s on the chart, what artists sound like vocally, and you know the types of songs they cut — you will be able to create a list of where a song should live. Also, understanding the inside baseball on who controls projects, and how to get your records heard, or how to get the artist in the room is important. That’s one of the things we are great at inside the four walls at Milk & Honey.
What’s your fav song that you have been a part of thus far?
It’s a tie between Christina Perri A Thousand Years and Nick Jonas Jealous. Those were important hits for me when I started the company and marked a real turning point in my career. We’ve been winning since then, that’s probably about 5 years ago…
How do you stay focused and productive?
Taking some time off here and there to hang out with my dogs, and hangout with my friends that aren’t in the music business. It’s nice to close the laptop once in a while. 15 years in, I didn’t learn this lesson until this summer.
Where do you get inspiration?
Traveling. I spend my year divided between La, NY, Nashville, Amsterdam Netherlands, Sydney Australia, and even summer in Ibiza. I love going to different places in the world, and understanding their music and culture.
Who are some of your biggest influences and why?
David Geffen and Jerry Weintraub — two of the biggest animals to ever run Hollywood. They are gods to me.
What are you listening to right now?
This Is CamelPhat playlist on Spotify
How do you feel about the current state of music?
Very, very good. The business is on a strong upward trend thanks to streaming music. We all know this so I don’t need to go into all the details, but all of our DJ clients touring is up, all of our publishing catalogs and writer’s current cuts are incredibly healthy. It’s a great time to be in the music business and will be for the foreseeable future. Masters and publishing are worth more than they have been in years. See, Goldman Sachs report on the music business from last year.
Tell us about a time when you needed to change a producers production style to accommodate an artist.
I don’t want to go into specifics, but it happens a lot. A&R people also like to bring in producers that are big names and are currently on the pop charts. I represent some of the best like Oak, Sir Nolan, Charlie Handsome, the list goes on, so we get a lot of phone calls for our clients to come in and finish records for other producers that maybe can’t get the record all the way there.
What do you do for fun when you aren’t working on music?
I work for a living as they say I live to work, I don’t work to live — so I build all of my fun into work if I can. I love to travel, love to sail, collect first edition first print books, collect watches, a few other things, but that’s it.
What’s a crazy experience you’ve had in the industry?
There are a couple different milestones, being the youngest of 6 managers in the music department at The Collective was an amazing experience, I was in my 20s…our department represented big artists like Kanye West and Linkin Park, a long list of talent, it was a really strong company in its hey-day. Having a quarter of the songs in the top 40 at radio earlier this year was a pretty crazy experience — that was great. I think the craziest experiences were all of the amazing artists I’ve met along the way, and the wild stories I have about them, but we won’t get into that right now.
Is there any artist you want to work with that you haven’t had an opportunity to yet.