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Leaning Out Over His Skis . . . .with Jeremy Sirota, CEO, Merlin
Episode 215th March 2022 • Creative Innovators with Gigi Johnson • Maremel Institute
00:00:00 00:44:47

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Jeremy Sirota, Merlin

Our first guest of Season 2 shares his tales of two loves: music and technology. His journey to Merlin includes early fandom in the Orange County punk rock scene, learning brand design in New York City while launching a mini fashion brand, and a road through technology law, Warner Music, and Facebook. He shares his adventures "leaning out over his skis" and growing outside of his comfort zone. He talks about relationships and "finding enough space that luck finds you." Jeremy shares his learnings and beliefs in managing organizations and teams, as well as his challenges in managing as a new CEO into the heart of the Pandemic.

Bio

Jeremy Sirota is CEO of Merlin, the Independents’ digital music licensing partner that strikes premium deals for its members with services like Apple, Facebook, Spotify, TikTok, and YouTube. Sirota has been recognized four times by Billboard, including Indie Power Player, International Power Player, and the 2022 Power List. Last year, Merlin added 32 independent labels and distributors from 17 countries to its membership and represents over 15% of the global market share. Prior to Merlin, he was an executive on the Facebook Music team, where he helped shape its music strategy as well as licensed rights from independents worldwide. Sirota previously held a number of senior positions at Warner Music Group, culminating as Head of Business & Legal Affairs for WEA and ADA. Early in his career, he was a technology lawyer at Morrison & Forster. For more, visit https://merlinnetwork.org/

Mentioned Links

Timecode

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 01:03 Merlin
  • 03:51 Growing Up: Punk Rock & CIA?
  • 06:42 College in Rhetoric?
  • 08:33 New York in Design
  • 14:03 Luck Finds You
  • 19:28 Managing in Large and Small Companies
  • 22:03 Merlin in 2020-22
  • 28:12 North Stars and Team Goals
  • 31:34 Big Ahas
  • 36:14 Personal Side
  • 39:19 Encouraging as a Parent
  • 41:05 Intersecting Music and Tech

Our Mission

Through our guests’ stories, we aim to inspire current and future change agents who are creatives, entrepreneurs, researchers, or community leaders who are seeking inspiration and support around creative innovation — changing the ways we create, collaborate, engage, change lives, and build communities.


Your Host: Gigi Johnson, EdD


I run transformative programs, speak/moderate, invest, advise, and produce multimedia on creativity and technology.  I taught for 22 years at UCLA, where I ran the Center for Music Innovation and the podcast "Innovating Music," built four industry-connecting programs, and taught undergraduates, MBAs, and executives about disruption in creative industries.  Before UCLA, I financed media M&A at Bank of America for ten years.


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Transcripts

Gigi Johnson:

Jeremy, I am so excited to have you on the show.

Gigi Johnson:

And I am very excited because you live a really different

Gigi Johnson:

life than many of our guests.

Gigi Johnson:

Many of our guests are those rebels who can never fit in an organization.

Gigi Johnson:

That they left this big organization to go start their

Gigi Johnson:

own thing, to change the world.

Gigi Johnson:

And you actually kind of flip it around . . . That you started as a

Gigi Johnson:

designer creator person then went in a bunch of interesting areas and have

Gigi Johnson:

mostly thrived in large organizations.

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm going to have you talk about the mid-sized organization you're

Gigi Johnson:

at now to maybe get us started.

Gigi Johnson:

Can you tell us about Merlin?

Jeremy Sirota:

Absolutely.

Jeremy Sirota:

And thanks for having me.

Jeremy Sirota:

And if we have time, I could go back even further and talk about my origins,

Jeremy Sirota:

where I used to be really into punk rock.

Gigi Johnson:

Ok, we're going to do that, but talk about Merlin first,

Gigi Johnson:

but I definitely want to go there.

Jeremy Sirota:

Let's talk about Merlin first, which I am a huge

Jeremy Sirota:

proponent of and still feel humbled that I get to lead this organization.

Jeremy Sirota:

Merlin's been around for 14 years.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it was born of a vision to ensure balance in the digital marketplace.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what Merlin does is strike premium deals with digital music services.

Jeremy Sirota:

So -- think services like Apple, Spotify, TikTok, YouTube, our recently

Jeremy Sirota:

announced Twitch deal -- to ensure that Independents not only can have access to

Jeremy Sirota:

the digital marketplace, but that they can have access with best-in-class terms.

Jeremy Sirota:

And even further, Merlin serves as a bridge into that ecosystem.

Jeremy Sirota:

So instead of being an intermediary, what we do is we strike the

Jeremy Sirota:

deals with the partners.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then our members that are around the world representing the largest

Jeremy Sirota:

and most far-reaching collection of independent music -- they can have

Jeremy Sirota:

direct access to digital partners.

Jeremy Sirota:

They deliver direct, they market direct, and they manage their relationships

Jeremy Sirota:

direct -- and they do it through the deals that we strike on their behalf.

Gigi Johnson:

So we're going to unpeel that?

Gigi Johnson:

I keep...

Gigi Johnson:

my metaphor....

Gigi Johnson:

My brain was opening an onion up.

Gigi Johnson:

But we're going to kind of end up back there again, cause I want to

Gigi Johnson:

hear about the punk rock thing.

Gigi Johnson:

Okay.

Gigi Johnson:

So, you were interested in punk rock?

Gigi Johnson:

Or that you were doing punk rock -- or both?

Jeremy Sirota:

I would say more interested than doing it.

Jeremy Sirota:

My career in music was luckily short-lived for the fans who benefit

Jeremy Sirota:

from me not being in the music space.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I have a huge passion for music.

Jeremy Sirota:

I love it.

Jeremy Sirota:

I've been a devourer of it forever.

Jeremy Sirota:

It got my start with punk music and I then sort of evolved into Britpop.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then now it's virtually any genre you can think of, I enjoy..

Jeremy Sirota:

But

Jeremy Sirota:

. . . And represent.

Jeremy Sirota:

And represent.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what I learned though, is that my passion at the time

Jeremy Sirota:

was -- I'm a huge creative.

Jeremy Sirota:

I have a lot of creative outputs.

Jeremy Sirota:

I write.

Jeremy Sirota:

When I had time, I used to do photography pretty diligently.

Jeremy Sirota:

I love to draw and I always wanted to be in music, not because I necessarily

Jeremy Sirota:

wanted to be a famous artist, but I just love the creative output.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what I've learned over my career is that I've taken my creativity and

Jeremy Sirota:

channeled it into the spaces that I understand and work with best.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's in the technology space that intersects with music.

Gigi Johnson:

Growing up where?

Jeremy Sirota:

So I was born and raised in Los Angeles but then

Jeremy Sirota:

spent a great deal of time in Orange County . . . and Orange County

Gigi Johnson:

So this is the Orange County punk scene...

Gigi Johnson:

Or the Long Beach.

Jeremy Sirota:

It was both in fact, so you know, your history,

Gigi Johnson:

I know Long Beach punk rockers, so that's part of it.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm actually trying to remember.

Jeremy Sirota:

There was a store in Long Beach where I used to buy my Manic Panic hair dye.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I still can recall my dad's face when I dyed my hair purple..

Jeremy Sirota:

That was also a very short-lived phase because I have, well, when I had hair.

Jeremy Sirota:

It's very dark.

Jeremy Sirota:

Yes.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I had to bleach it to be able to dye it and I, I can recall 30 years

Jeremy Sirota:

ago, I don't think I terribly loved the bleaching process, which may be why

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm no longer in the punk rock scene.

Jeremy Sirota:

So if I had had lighter hair, perhaps I would have very different life.

Jeremy Sirota:

But yes, there was a very vibrant music scene in Orange County at that time.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I was a huge part of that with friends.

Jeremy Sirota:

I can recall going to shows two, three times a week

Jeremy Sirota:

throughout my high school years.

Gigi Johnson:

So Jeremy in high school wanted to do what?.

Gigi Johnson:

And what did Jeremy's parents think that Jeremy was going to do

Gigi Johnson:

when Jeremy was in high school.

Gigi Johnson:

What did you tell, what did you tell yourself?

Gigi Johnson:

And what'd you tell your family?

Jeremy Sirota:

It's a great question.

Jeremy Sirota:

So the short answer is I had no idea.

Jeremy Sirota:

An even shorter answer is I thought I wanted to go into the CIA.

Jeremy Sirota:

Now, why did I actually want to go into the CIA?

Jeremy Sirota:

I think I was just really into James Bond films.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I thought there was something enticing about the idea of what that could entail.

Jeremy Sirota:

I presume the reality of being in the CIA is quite different

Jeremy Sirota:

than the image I had in my head.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what I then discovered is that I really had a passion that developed

Jeremy Sirota:

later in life around academics, which is what led me into college.

Jeremy Sirota:

Doing what I've now done my whole career, which is always being a bit

Jeremy Sirota:

over my skis, always doing more than I'm may think I'm capable at the time.

Jeremy Sirota:

And just to give a concrete example about that -- I was taking graduate

Jeremy Sirota:

level classes my second year of college.

Gigi Johnson:

As one should.

Gigi Johnson:

I totally believe one should be doing that.

Gigi Johnson:

My favorite people, when I taught graduate students, were the undergrads

Gigi Johnson:

who begged in and snuck into my classes.

Gigi Johnson:

Those were my favorite people in the world

Jeremy Sirota:

I definitely begged and snuck in and had to convince

Jeremy Sirota:

them that I could hold my own.

Jeremy Sirota:

But I really, I really enjoyed it.

Jeremy Sirota:

I definitely felt outside of my comfort zone and I realized at an early age, that

Jeremy Sirota:

was something that really appealed to me.

Gigi Johnson:

So college for you was where?

Jeremy Sirota:

So college for me was UC Berkeley.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I, it was a fantastic experience for me.

Jeremy Sirota:

I started off as a rhetoric major.

Gigi Johnson:

What is rhetoric for those people who think of Cal as a science

Gigi Johnson:

school or maybe a liberal arts school.

Gigi Johnson:

What the heck is rhetoric?

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah, the, the best way I can describe it is

Jeremy Sirota:

philosophy meets the Socratic method.

Gigi Johnson:

So your parents were going, "We love this.

Gigi Johnson:

Our kid's getting a rhetoric degree.

Gigi Johnson:

We can see what the heck this is going to do for him."

Jeremy Sirota:

Yes.

Jeremy Sirota:

Between my, my punk rock phase bleeding into my rhetoric or potential rhetorics

Jeremy Sirota:

degree, which then translated into an international relations degree.

Jeremy Sirota:

I think my parents just probably threw their hands up in the air.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was the third kid and I, I think they had just had a sense [of]

Jeremy Sirota:

"He'll figure it out at some point."

Gigi Johnson:

I sympathize because probably not a totally

Gigi Johnson:

different period of time.

Gigi Johnson:

Maybe a little, a ways ahead of you.

Gigi Johnson:

I did the same thing and ending up three degrees trials into USC film school,

Gigi Johnson:

and my parents were going, "We don't know what she's going to do with it.

Gigi Johnson:

We aren't really sure if she'll have a job, but we will just hold

Gigi Johnson:

her breath and see if it works."

Jeremy Sirota:

Well that, so if my parents were concerned enough at that

Jeremy Sirota:

phase, I then decided to move to New York without a job and without any

Jeremy Sirota:

sense of what I was going to do next.

Jeremy Sirota:

And if we come back to this theme of, I always like to be a

Jeremy Sirota:

little bit over my skis because I like, I like to feel challenged.

Jeremy Sirota:

I started applying for jobs as a brand designer.

Gigi Johnson:

Oh, ok.

Jeremy Sirota:

And this was, this is a sort of two-year

Jeremy Sirota:

journey or part of my journey.

Jeremy Sirota:

Before I went to law school, I took a job as a brand designer at an ISP.

Jeremy Sirota:

It was called Juno Online.

Jeremy Sirota:

It was a competitor to AOL.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm now dating myself.

Jeremy Sirota:

And if there's two things I can tell you, I didn't know how to do

Jeremy Sirota:

when I got that job is number one.

Jeremy Sirota:

I didn't know how to design and number two is I didn't know anything about branding.

Jeremy Sirota:

And so I took a job that I had absolutely no skillset to be in, which also speaks a

Jeremy Sirota:

little bit to that initial dot.com boom.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what they were looking for and the need for talent

Jeremy Sirota:

and just threw myself into it.

Jeremy Sirota:

I think for the first week I probably spent a hundred hours just learning how

Jeremy Sirota:

to use different programs and design.

Jeremy Sirota:

And throwing myself into it and really had a very unique experience

Jeremy Sirota:

in New York in the creative space.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was a brand designer.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was doing copywriting.

Jeremy Sirota:

I started a mini fashion line.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was doing a fashion blog.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was really like threw myself into the creative space, which is that other side

Jeremy Sirota:

of myself that always asserts itself.

Jeremy Sirota:

This need for creative output, which I get that from my mom, who's an artist.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then the other side of myself asserts itself.

Jeremy Sirota:

My dad, who's an engineer.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's when I decided to do another 180 and go back to school

Jeremy Sirota:

and decided to go to law school.

Gigi Johnson:

So we go from love punk rock.

Gigi Johnson:

We go to rhetoric.

Gigi Johnson:

We go to Poli Sci, we go to brand design.

Gigi Johnson:

We go way over your skis and to the . . . So, so you've got lots of

Gigi Johnson:

risk-taking of this age and stage and then law school, which is such a risky.

Gigi Johnson:

Now this is, it's a risk-averse field.

Gigi Johnson:

Yes?

Jeremy Sirota:

Yes it is.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it, on its surface, it looks like someone who's kind of almost rudderless,

Jeremy Sirota:

not quite sure where they want to go.

Jeremy Sirota:

Or do in their career.

Jeremy Sirota:

For me, it was in fact, a very intentional decision about what

Jeremy Sirota:

I wanted my career to look like.

Jeremy Sirota:

And this was me deciding for the kind of final time that I didn't want the

Jeremy Sirota:

creative fields to be my profession.

Jeremy Sirota:

Right.

Jeremy Sirota:

I wanted . . . I wanted to continue with creative output which I've done

Jeremy Sirota:

and continue to do at a personal level.

Jeremy Sirota:

But I had this real strong desire to engage this more strategic part

Jeremy Sirota:

of my brain, this logical side.

Jeremy Sirota:

That's very, process-oriented and likes problem solving.

Jeremy Sirota:

My wife would call it "figure-it-out-itis."

Jeremy Sirota:

I have figure-it-out-itis syndrome.

Jeremy Sirota:

And when I went to law school, I had a lot of conversations with friends

Jeremy Sirota:

that a lot of people told me not to go, but I had a very conscious plan

Jeremy Sirota:

in mind about what I wanted to do.

Jeremy Sirota:

And as sort of, kind of crazy as it might sound I'm actually doing.

Jeremy Sirota:

. . And my career has reflected, exactly what I've wanted to do.

Jeremy Sirota:

I had a very conscious decision that I wanted to eventually run a company.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I thought at the time, at least when I went to law school, if there

Jeremy Sirota:

would be one little pivot around, I thought I would start my own.

Jeremy Sirota:

But what I'm doing now as CEO of Merlin is in fact what I intended

Jeremy Sirota:

to achieve by going to law school.

Jeremy Sirota:

It was, in a sense, the flip side of going to business school.

Jeremy Sirota:

A lot of people go to law school with the intention of getting into the business

Jeremy Sirota:

side and that's how I approached it.

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm going to play devil's advocate.

Gigi Johnson:

Why have you not started?

Gigi Johnson:

Why did you not start your own business?

Gigi Johnson:

And when you've had pivot times, why have you not started your own business?

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah, well, I, I did start a mini business in terms of

Jeremy Sirota:

the fashion line I was doing, where I was selling to four or five stores

Jeremy Sirota:

and just sort of kicking that off.

Jeremy Sirota:

So I've always had this entrepreneurial sense to what I wanted to do in life.

Jeremy Sirota:

If I had to say why, I think there's never been an inflection point where I

Jeremy Sirota:

haven't had the next opportunity come my way . . . Where I've had the space

Jeremy Sirota:

to . . . To determine what I would want to do on my own, whether in terms of

Jeremy Sirota:

starting my own business or creating space to do this to a venture on my own.

Jeremy Sirota:

Whereas the five years I spent at a law firm, the next opportunity

Jeremy Sirota:

presented itself as I was looking to make my decision about what to do next.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that happened, that sort of happened at each stage of my career where the

Jeremy Sirota:

next opportunity has presented itself that I've been really excited about.

Gigi Johnson:

So I tend to call these postcard moments.

Gigi Johnson:

Back in my time and people who listen to the show heard me talk about this,

Gigi Johnson:

that when I was thinking about what I want to do, I had a TA send a postcard

Gigi Johnson:

with my grade to me, saying you should think of applying to film school.

Gigi Johnson:

And so to me, it's the thing that sort of Planned Happenchance.

Gigi Johnson:

. . Actually, there's research on this, which I find fascinating.

Gigi Johnson:

It dumps into your lap and you kind of go, oh -- I'm at the framing

Gigi Johnson:

point where that looks cool.

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah.

Gigi Johnson:

How, how have these things walked in your door?

Gigi Johnson:

How have the postcards or planned happenchance for the next thing walked in?

Jeremy Sirota:

I like that term a lot.

Jeremy Sirota:

I've always viewed it as creating enough space that luck finds you.

Jeremy Sirota:

And the example . . . I'll actually use the example of how

Jeremy Sirota:

I got this opportunity at Merlin.

Jeremy Sirota:

When in between law school and then where I eventually went to work at

Jeremy Sirota:

Facebook, I spent nine years working at Warner Music, which is one of

Jeremy Sirota:

the larger record companies or one of the big three record companies.

Jeremy Sirota:

And part of that was working for a division called ADA, which was

Jeremy Sirota:

their independent distribution arm.

Gigi Johnson:

I think it all the majors . . . Aren't there independent distribution

Gigi Johnson:

arms at all, all the majors, still?

Jeremy Sirota:

Each of the majors, yes, has its own independent distribution arm.

Jeremy Sirota:

Some of them have their own DIY platforms as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

Think of DistroKid but owned and operated by a major.

Jeremy Sirota:

So yes, they're all looking at that space and have services in that space.

Jeremy Sirota:

So ADA was the equivalent for Warner Music.

Jeremy Sirota:

One of the people I got to meet at that time was a gentleman named Dave Hansen

Jeremy Sirota:

who was GM of Epitaph Records at the time.

Jeremy Sirota:

He eventually became, and just recently stepped down.

Jeremy Sirota:

. . He was the executive chairperson for my first two years of Merlin.

Jeremy Sirota:

In between where I met him at ADA and the outreach they did looking

Jeremy Sirota:

for the next CEO of Merlin, I spent time with him, not because I had any

Jeremy Sirota:

expectation of something in return, not because I wanted something from him.

Jeremy Sirota:

I simply, I enjoyed his company.

Jeremy Sirota:

I thought he was incredibly smart.

Jeremy Sirota:

I thought he was incredibly talented.

Jeremy Sirota:

I sometimes went to him for perspective.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's what I mean by creating space for luck to find you.

Jeremy Sirota:

He was the one who recommended me as part of the search to

Jeremy Sirota:

apply for the opportunity.

Jeremy Sirota:

Obviously I got it because of the full board and going through the

Jeremy Sirota:

entire process, But this is just one example in my career, at least where I

Jeremy Sirota:

always called this "The network effect with nothing expected in return."

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's a lot of what I've found in my career.

Jeremy Sirota:

The same thing happened to me at Facebook.

Jeremy Sirota:

The woman who hired me at Facebook was -- who ran the music team -- was

Jeremy Sirota:

women named Tamara Hrivnak.

Jeremy Sirota:

We had actually overlapped at the law firm and Warner Music.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I'd once again, simply stayed in touch with her when she left to go to YouTube.

Jeremy Sirota:

Not because I had any expectations of something in return from her.

Jeremy Sirota:

The same thing as Dave.

Jeremy Sirota:

I thought she was really smart.

Jeremy Sirota:

I thought she was really strategic.

Jeremy Sirota:

And when she went over to Facebook to start the music team, she,

Jeremy Sirota:

once again, here's someone who reached out to me, seeing if I was

Jeremy Sirota:

interested in, in the opportunity.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's something that, you know, I would recommend to anyone

Jeremy Sirota:

in their career, which is the outreach without expectation return.

Gigi Johnson:

And that would also suggest the investment too.

Gigi Johnson:

So it's not just the outreach.

Gigi Johnson:

So I've just finished 22 years of teaching at UCLA.

Gigi Johnson:

And I tend to bring lots of people in to come talk to students.

Gigi Johnson:

And what I've been getting more and more from young people -- "get off my

Gigi Johnson:

lawn" -- from young people, is that they go, "How do you know so many people?"

Gigi Johnson:

And it's like, well, you need to keep sprouting and investing in other people.

Gigi Johnson:

And I actually had a a young person -- young person -- talk to me recently and

Gigi Johnson:

go, how do you know who to invest time in?

Gigi Johnson:

And I always have to come back to "You mean, why they should invest time in you?"

Gigi Johnson:

Because it's those people who then, you know, diaspora around that,

Gigi Johnson:

then, you know, you've got that reputation you've invested in each

Gigi Johnson:

other as human beings that then sprout something in the later date.

Jeremy Sirota:

I, yeah, absolutely.

Jeremy Sirota:

I've always had people throughout my career.

Jeremy Sirota:

who've invested in me and made time and space for me and that's

Jeremy Sirota:

become so critical to my success.

Jeremy Sirota:

That it's a huge component of what I also want to give back.

Jeremy Sirota:

I, as, as I, as I develop more, as my responsibilities become more, it's more

Jeremy Sirota:

challenging to continue to do that.

Jeremy Sirota:

But because I had so many people who did that for me, it's critically

Jeremy Sirota:

important to me to try to get back to that -- to the ecosystem, to help

Jeremy Sirota:

that next generation breakthrough, find their lane and figure out how to

Jeremy Sirota:

succeed in what's increasingly a really complicated world that we live in.

Gigi Johnson:

So then you went from law school to time as a lawyer to time

Gigi Johnson:

working with the independent distribution.

Gigi Johnson:

So you were moving into a "I'm in a big corporation and I'm facilitating

Gigi Johnson:

for Independents maneuvering within a large organization."

Gigi Johnson:

How did you bring your superpowers to bear for that?

Gigi Johnson:

And what did you learn?

Gigi Johnson:

Cause you actually, from my understanding, you did a similar role of Big

Gigi Johnson:

Facebook and Independents as well.

Gigi Johnson:

So how does, how do you balance that standing between and working with large

Gigi Johnson:

organizations and smaller organizations?

Jeremy Sirota:

Each one is unique.

Jeremy Sirota:

There, there's no doubt about that.

Jeremy Sirota:

You know, Warner, at least at the time, Warner Music was

Jeremy Sirota:

probably around 5,000 people.

Jeremy Sirota:

Facebook, 60,000 people.

Jeremy Sirota:

I currently have a team of about 40, around.

Jeremy Sirota:

Which is great.

Jeremy Sirota:

It's a, it's a new experience, a very much a new experience for me to

Jeremy Sirota:

be in a much smaller organization.

Jeremy Sirota:

Even the law firm was probably several thousand people around the world.

Jeremy Sirota:

What's great about a smaller organization is your ability to have a dramatic

Jeremy Sirota:

impact on people and your ability to learn more in depth about each person.

Jeremy Sirota:

One of the things that I learned about people at Warner was that

Jeremy Sirota:

concept of walking the halls.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I remember when I was first introduced, this is back when we were

Jeremy Sirota:

in offices and could walk the halls.

Jeremy Sirota:

When I was introduced to this concept by someone who once again taken

Jeremy Sirota:

an interest in me, I didn't really fully understand what it meant.

Jeremy Sirota:

What do you mean?

Jeremy Sirota:

Just pop into people's offices and just wander around and talk to people?

Jeremy Sirota:

And it's very much like the, the network effect of people, which is

Jeremy Sirota:

the more conversations you have, the more commonality you find, the more

Jeremy Sirota:

opportunity that you can uncover.

Jeremy Sirota:

And with my company now I've translated that into, obviously I have my calls with

Jeremy Sirota:

my team leads, but I also tried to create space for every individual on the team by

Jeremy Sirota:

having one-on-ones and not just check ins.

Jeremy Sirota:

But very, once again, intentional conscious conversations about

Jeremy Sirota:

"what are they working on?"

Jeremy Sirota:

So each one-on-one I have, isn't just let me pick up the phone and see how

Jeremy Sirota:

they're doing or get on zoom with them.

Jeremy Sirota:

I try to speak with people around their teams, or I look back at the goals that

Jeremy Sirota:

they set for themselves for the year, so that I can actually lean in and have

Jeremy Sirota:

this much more productive conversation.

Jeremy Sirota:

And create this commonality, these bonds, within the company that are always being

Jeremy Sirota:

created within the company, but that I sort of treasure myself and leading it.

Gigi Johnson:

So you've said a couple of times leaning out over your skis.

Gigi Johnson:

You came into this current role, not that many days ahead of the pandemic.

Gigi Johnson:

So how has this role that you've had since early 2020 b een leaning out

Gigi Johnson:

over your skis and what's been your biggest takeaway from that lean out?

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah.

Jeremy Sirota:

Let me provide some context for that.

Jeremy Sirota:

I started in this role at Merlin in January of 2020.

Jeremy Sirota:

It was the first time change in CEO for the company.

Jeremy Sirota:

And similarly I was a first-time CEO.

Jeremy Sirota:

And the . . . COVID . . .I think we shut our offices down

Jeremy Sirota:

about 60 days into my tenure.

Jeremy Sirota:

And suddenly I was running a company dramatically differently, like many

Jeremy Sirota:

people around the world, than I expected.

Jeremy Sirota:

And for me, I felt a huge responsibility, not just running the company, but the

Jeremy Sirota:

nature of our members is that there's a huge dependence on how we perform to

Jeremy Sirota:

ensure that they can run their businesses.

Jeremy Sirota:

They can maximize value that can provide more to their artists.

Jeremy Sirota:

And suddenly not only am I a first-tiime CEO of a company, but

Jeremy Sirota:

we're in this really unique situation.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it was a little terrifying to be honest.

Jeremy Sirota:

I wasn't, you know, there was that moment where you just sort of like, you're

Jeremy Sirota:

a deer in the headlight and you just freeze like, oh my gosh, what do I do?

Jeremy Sirota:

And then if you just stop and think about all the things you've

Jeremy Sirota:

learned over your career, all the people you're surrounded by.

Jeremy Sirota:

I have an incredible board to lean on.

Jeremy Sirota:

I had an executive chairperson.

Jeremy Sirota:

I have a really strong leadership team.

Jeremy Sirota:

All these were people that I could lean on where I didn't have to solve it myself.

Jeremy Sirota:

I had to identify the challenges.

Jeremy Sirota:

Identify the blockers and then put teams in place and process in

Jeremy Sirota:

place to provide more, to get more out of whatever the situation was.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then once you recognize that, then you, you know, once again, if you're not

Jeremy Sirota:

dealing with supply chain problem, right.

Jeremy Sirota:

I literally can't get parts from my machines.

Jeremy Sirota:

Right.

Jeremy Sirota:

We're not that.

Jeremy Sirota:

We're a digital-only company.

Jeremy Sirota:

And so we didn't have the problems that, say, you would have in manufacturing,

Jeremy Sirota:

or you would have in retail.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it actually provided us a very unique opportunity to help our members

Jeremy Sirota:

in what was a really challenging time, whether it was through the

Jeremy Sirota:

deals we did, whether it was through the perspective we could provide for

Jeremy Sirota:

them, whether it was the support we could give them behind the scenes.

Jeremy Sirota:

And for us, it was really energizing because it made our mission, which

Jeremy Sirota:

was so important in the first place, even more important for our members.

Gigi Johnson:

So from my understanding of Merlin that you guys bring the

Gigi Johnson:

superpower of both scale and context to smaller labels who otherwise you

Gigi Johnson:

would say, "Hi, Apple Music, Spotify, please give me a better deal."

Gigi Johnson:

"Please give me information.

Gigi Johnson:

Please give me context."

Gigi Johnson:

And you in a business where it's a big company matching up against a big company.

Gigi Johnson:

Help make smaller labels together into a bigger company to talk with you.

Gigi Johnson:

Large digital service providers.

Gigi Johnson:

Is that a decent synopsis or is it way too simplistic?

Jeremy Sirota:

It's both.

Jeremy Sirota:

It's a really good synopsis.

Jeremy Sirota:

You know, we leverage the collective might of the independent space

Jeremy Sirota:

and our members to give them best-in-class deals, but still allow

Jeremy Sirota:

them to work directly, with digital.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that means that they get the best of all worlds.

Jeremy Sirota:

They get the ability to own their futures and their independence to work

Jeremy Sirota:

directly with the digital partners, get access to best-in-class deals

Jeremy Sirota:

that they couldn't achieve on their own so that they can compete in the

Jeremy Sirota:

marketplace and then have our support.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that means if they needed support on operational issues and

Jeremy Sirota:

they need support on how to get more value out of the partnership.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that ranges from small labels that may only have a team of 10 in a single

Jeremy Sirota:

country to some of our distributor members who may have hundreds of

Jeremy Sirota:

employees and are quite large.

Jeremy Sirota:

So we have a really broad range of members, all of whom have different needs.

Jeremy Sirota:

And the great component to Merlin that's so unique is because we

Jeremy Sirota:

operate like a not-for-profit.

Jeremy Sirota:

All I need to do is cover an operating budget.

Jeremy Sirota:

As long as I cover my budget, then the rest is really just about

Jeremy Sirota:

driving value to our members.

Jeremy Sirota:

We only succeed if they succeed, our interests are

Jeremy Sirota:

entirely aligned with theirs.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that was what was so ,provided so much sort of value, to our us as a team.

Jeremy Sirota:

During this COVID period that we knew the impact we were having on our

Jeremy Sirota:

members' lives, their artists' lives.

Jeremy Sirota:

And there's something to that.

Jeremy Sirota:

And the resilience that it can build by know that you're

Jeremy Sirota:

having an impact of that scale.

Jeremy Sirota:

That's provided a lot of, sort of meaning to people during the last two years.

Gigi Johnson:

So you've got an interesting set of challenges or

Gigi Johnson:

set of being "out over your skis."

Gigi Johnson:

We're recording this during the Winter Olympics.

Gigi Johnson:

So I keep coming back to others, you know, snowboarding, I don't know.

Gigi Johnson:

But thinking about that you're having now working from home still largely

Gigi Johnson:

both clients and your own core team.

Gigi Johnson:

I'm assuming you've had a little bit of the Great Resignation

Gigi Johnson:

to deal with, or maybe not.

Gigi Johnson:

I know that.

Gigi Johnson:

A lot of the creative companies I'm working with, they've had significant

Gigi Johnson:

turnover over the past year and needed to create strategic directional changes.

Gigi Johnson:

How do you have a north star into your work?

Gigi Johnson:

How are you kind of dealing with some of these time-based challenges or, or, or

Gigi Johnson:

pandemic-based challenges as a new CEO?

Gigi Johnson:

How do you sort of think about this stuff?

Gigi Johnson:

How do you frame it?

Gigi Johnson:

There's like 12 questions in that question.

Jeremy Sirota:

No, I love all of them.

Jeremy Sirota:

Why don't I start with our, our north star.

Jeremy Sirota:

Our north star is enable Independents and celebrate music.

Jeremy Sirota:

Those are the two guiding lights for everything else that drives our company.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'll I'll answer.

Jeremy Sirota:

Let me give one answer and then you can dive into or ask

Jeremy Sirota:

one of the other questions.

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah, exactly.

Jeremy Sirota:

When we were structuring our values, our company values, obviously

Jeremy Sirota:

we started with our north star.

Jeremy Sirota:

And one of the values that I found extraordinarily important was this concept

Jeremy Sirota:

of build a culture of shared ownership.

Jeremy Sirota:

And by that, I mean, it's not your anyone's responsibility

Jeremy Sirota:

to do someone else's job.

Jeremy Sirota:

But what it is -- is a motto, a theme of value of, I care

Jeremy Sirota:

about everyone else's job.

Jeremy Sirota:

I care what they're going through.

Jeremy Sirota:

I care that they have their own challenges that they're dealing with.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm cognizant of those.

Jeremy Sirota:

I know that if I can help them do their jobs better.

Jeremy Sirota:

Then we can have more impact collectively as an organization.

Jeremy Sirota:

And a simple example of that is I'm cognizant of constraints that others

Jeremy Sirota:

might have, whether what week payment runs go out to our members and being

Jeremy Sirota:

cognizant of, of their time and how that's a very busy week for them.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm cognizant that we've just signed a new deal.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that our commercial partnerships team is helping all of our members to action

Jeremy Sirota:

that and to lean into the partnerships.

Jeremy Sirota:

So they may have constraints on their time.

Jeremy Sirota:

So taking this concept of we all here at Merlin, because we want to have

Jeremy Sirota:

impact because we love music because we have this incredible platform

Jeremy Sirota:

across our global membership to achieve that through our partnerships.

Jeremy Sirota:

Then if I take that interest . . . if I care more about everyone I

Jeremy Sirota:

work, with we can do more of that.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's been really helpful into reframing how we approach our jobs,

Jeremy Sirota:

especially when we're working from home.

Jeremy Sirota:

I feel very lucky.

Jeremy Sirota:

We have not had a Great Resignation.

Jeremy Sirota:

I think we have an incredibly strong culture and I think people value

Jeremy Sirota:

what they're able to do across our partnerships and memberships.

Jeremy Sirota:

And in fact, it's very vast, what we do.

Jeremy Sirota:

We punch above our weight.

Jeremy Sirota:

If we go back to always feeling a little over our skis right now, we're only 40

Jeremy Sirota:

people managing about 40 partnerships and 500 plus members from every corner of the

Jeremy Sirota:

world, representing every genre and every type of label and other sort of rights

Jeremy Sirota:

holder and distributor you can imagine.

Jeremy Sirota:

That's a really exciting challenge to be involved in.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I think everyone appreciates that.

Gigi Johnson:

So other than the pandemic, which is . . . other than

Gigi Johnson:

the elephant in the room, what has been an aha for you in coming into

Gigi Johnson:

this leadership role and in this opportunity after being in big companies?

Gigi Johnson:

Has there been something about this change that made you kind of go, oh

Gigi Johnson:

crap, I didn't see this coming or I now see how something of my past

Gigi Johnson:

is unfolded into this opportunity?

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah, I like this question.

Jeremy Sirota:

I would say the biggest aha for me that I wasn't fully appreciating when

Jeremy Sirota:

I came in is how much, well, twofold.

Jeremy Sirota:

. . One is how much more challenging it is when you don't have the

Jeremy Sirota:

same level of resources that you might've had a different company.

Jeremy Sirota:

Now there's all sorts of resource constraints of large companies as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

So I didn't fully appreciate the resource constraint.

Jeremy Sirota:

But coupled with that is a nimbleness that I didn't fully expect either.

Jeremy Sirota:

And the ability to quickly move in new directions or spin up new workflows.

Jeremy Sirota:

We use this concept of strategic popups . . . really effectively across the company.

Jeremy Sirota:

When we have maybe a knotty challenge that we're trying to deal with or

Jeremy Sirota:

whether we have a sort of deal cycle, we have these pods that we put together

Jeremy Sirota:

and we can spin those up really quick and we can spin them down really quick.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that really, I didn't, it it's like a tech company.

Jeremy Sirota:

I didn't expect how quick we could move in certain areas.

Jeremy Sirota:

And that was really exciting to see that.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then also just to empower people to lean into that at the same time.

Gigi Johnson:

Fascinating.

Gigi Johnson:

I mean, it, you, in many ways are working in a space of kind of poet/quant . . . of

Gigi Johnson:

needing people who can deal with creative and deal with technical.

Gigi Johnson:

And from your description, you are largely on the poet side though, the quant, maybe

Gigi Johnson:

of the law side and the figuring it out.

Gigi Johnson:

How do you think about . . . I'm assuming hiring has been part of most of your jobs.

Gigi Johnson:

How do you think of that in a smaller organization like yours?

Gigi Johnson:

How do you think when you bring somebody in or you're hiring them, especially

Gigi Johnson:

in this remote working dislocation environment, how do you bring in new

Gigi Johnson:

people into this kind of poet/quant world?

Jeremy Sirota:

Hopefully quite successfully.

Jeremy Sirota:

We've almost . . . More than I think, I think it's 60% of people

Jeremy Sirota:

have started in COVID right now.

Jeremy Sirota:

And in fact, we have seven or eight open heads that we're currently hiring for.

Jeremy Sirota:

The, I think, the number one attribute about the hiring process that's

Jeremy Sirota:

been most successful throughout my career, in fact, is transparency.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm a big believer that when you hire someone, they should know, as well as

Jeremy Sirota:

you can, exactly what is going to be expected of them and what the role is.

Jeremy Sirota:

And similarly, you want to know exactly what their expectations are from the role,

Jeremy Sirota:

and that's proven to be quite helpful in making sure that you have a good fit.

Jeremy Sirota:

The second, which we've also deployed which there was a little bit of

Jeremy Sirota:

nervousness when we started doing it, is everyone who comes into the company,

Jeremy Sirota:

whether you're coming in as an engineer, whether you're coming in on the reporting

Jeremy Sirota:

team, finance, commercial partnerships, everyone gets some sort of test.

Jeremy Sirota:

Now, if it's more technical, you might get tested in Python language.

Jeremy Sirota:

If you're coming to finance, we're going to want to make sure that you

Jeremy Sirota:

have really good SQL Alteryx skills.

Jeremy Sirota:

But everyone gets something that shows two things.

Jeremy Sirota:

One is just the writing capabilities, their strategic capabilities

Jeremy Sirota:

to think through issues.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then more importantly, it also shows how much they are interested in the role.

Jeremy Sirota:

Right?

Jeremy Sirota:

Is this something that they really feel passionately about?

Jeremy Sirota:

Because we want to hire people who are going to be passionate about what we're

Jeremy Sirota:

doing, because we think it's special.

Jeremy Sirota:

I think what we do for our members is really unique and I feel really good about

Jeremy Sirota:

our team and that not only the people who are here when I arrived but the people

Jeremy Sirota:

that we've hired feel that way and feel really strong about the mission and the

Jeremy Sirota:

culture, sort of how much we can help our members in what they're trying to do.

Gigi Johnson:

So we're getting near the end.

Gigi Johnson:

I kind of have one more question for you and then I'll ask you what you

Gigi Johnson:

want to make comments on . . . we haven't talked about maybe.

Gigi Johnson:

So you are creative and step out of the box person at heart.

Gigi Johnson:

We've shared how that's moved through your work.

Gigi Johnson:

How about the rest of your life?

Gigi Johnson:

Are you, how are you leaning forward into creative spaces or personal spaces?

Gigi Johnson:

Do you leave room for that and how do you challenge yourself?

Jeremy Sirota:

Great, great question.

Jeremy Sirota:

I think the personal life is such a big component of finding

Jeremy Sirota:

satisfaction and enjoyment out of life.

Jeremy Sirota:

I have a big part of my life which is my wife and my daughter.

Jeremy Sirota:

I am fencing dad.

Jeremy Sirota:

My daughter's 10 now; she's been fencing for four years, which

Jeremy Sirota:

is an incredibly amazing sport.

Jeremy Sirota:

And so I spent a great deal of my weekends at fencing tournaments.

Jeremy Sirota:

So my job is to record every bout that she has, so we can watch

Jeremy Sirota:

them afterwards and take notes with her about who she is fencing.

Jeremy Sirota:

with So that's become a huge component of my life.

Jeremy Sirota:

The last couple of years I recently joined their board of directors.

Jeremy Sirota:

Their mission vibes with me as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

They're a 501(c) and nonprofit.

Jeremy Sirota:

So I feel really good about being able to give value back there.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then just at a personal level, other things I spoke about earlier,

Jeremy Sirota:

you know, I, I'd . . . I can't do them as much as I used to like to, but the

Jeremy Sirota:

ability to write, the ability to draw.

Jeremy Sirota:

My daughter and I draw a lot together.

Jeremy Sirota:

Those are the sorts of outlets that I still have to sort of tap

Jeremy Sirota:

into the creative side of myself.

Jeremy Sirota:

And of course I listen to music nonstop if I'm not on Zoom.

Jeremy Sirota:

And sometimes even when I am, I have music.

Gigi Johnson:

And I want to give kudos to your wife, who's a designer, for

Gigi Johnson:

some of the beautiful stuff behind you.

Gigi Johnson:

So giving you a great environment also for everything you're doing as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

Her visual eye's incredible.

Jeremy Sirota:

I wish I could achieve what she does.

Jeremy Sirota:

She's . . . She's a creative director and works a lot within

Jeremy Sirota:

fashion and within brand.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I've always appreciated

Jeremy Sirota:

. . . Gigi Johnson: And when did

Jeremy Sirota:

Oh, we met . . . We are actually celebrating 20

Jeremy Sirota:

years together next month.

Gigi Johnson:

Oh, cool.

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah.

Jeremy Sirota:

And we met in San Francisco when I was in law school through a mutual friend.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it was one of those relationships that sort of started off a little slow.

Jeremy Sirota:

I was in law school.

Jeremy Sirota:

Busy time for me.

Jeremy Sirota:

And then when I, when I graduated, I told her "I am pretty serious about moving to

Jeremy Sirota:

New York to go work for this law firm.

Jeremy Sirota:

You know, think about whether that might be a part of your life."

Jeremy Sirota:

And, you know, there was almost like asking, it was

Jeremy Sirota:

almost like proposing to her.

Jeremy Sirota:

She said, yes.

Jeremy Sirota:

And she came with me and we've been together now for all this time

Jeremy Sirota:

and really carved out a beautiful relationship for ourselves.

Jeremy Sirota:

You know, COVID is a great testing ground for, for how much you love your family.

Jeremy Sirota:

And.

Gigi Johnson:

Or rethinking, do you want to frame that??

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah.

Jeremy Sirota:

Yeah.

Jeremy Sirota:

So we've, we've really bonded as a family during this time

Jeremy Sirota:

and leaned into each other.

Jeremy Sirota:

We spent two summers a month away altogether on an island.

Jeremy Sirota:

And it's been really great learning experience for us as a family and for us

Jeremy Sirota:

individually and come out stronger for it.

Gigi Johnson:

So coming full circle, but not telling.

Gigi Johnson:

Your daughter wants to do what and how do you encourage that as a parent?

Jeremy Sirota:

Oh, wow.

Jeremy Sirota:

What is my ten-year-old daughter want to do?

Jeremy Sirota:

I've I've heard it all.

Jeremy Sirota:

She's she's gone through the litany of professions.

Jeremy Sirota:

So I don't pay too much attention because it seems to change every month or two,

Jeremy Sirota:

I think right now she wants to be a writer, which obviously I would encourage.

Jeremy Sirota:

The, what I, what I do is what really my parents did for me, which is give

Jeremy Sirota:

me the tools for success later in life.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm very much agnostic to what she does.

Jeremy Sirota:

But what I care is that she has the tools.

Jeremy Sirota:

She has the mindset.

Jeremy Sirota:

To find success in whatever she might want to do in life.

Jeremy Sirota:

And you know, when I look at what she's done in fencing.

Jeremy Sirota:

Fencing is a crucible, right?

Jeremy Sirota:

You can have a coach, you can have a community and you need both to

Jeremy Sirota:

succeed, but similar to tennis, once you get out there, you're on your own.

Jeremy Sirota:

There's no one else.

Jeremy Sirota:

And you're always winning points and losing points and

Jeremy Sirota:

you always have to come back.

Jeremy Sirota:

You always have to have the mindset there.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I feel like between the school and her teachers, her coach and fencing,

Jeremy Sirota:

what we try to do as a family, I hope we're giving her and preparing her for

Jeremy Sirota:

what I assume is going to be an even more complex world as we move forward.

Gigi Johnson:

Jeremy, it has been great talking.

Gigi Johnson:

Is there anything we haven't talked about that you'd want to mention that this.

Jeremy Sirota:

Oh, thank you.

Jeremy Sirota:

First of all, thank you so much for having me.

Jeremy Sirota:

I really appreciate the conversation.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm going to share something that matters greatly to me, which is, you know, my

Jeremy Sirota:

career has been a tale of two loves I'm huge and passionate fan of music.

Jeremy Sirota:

It's always been a big component of my life and simultaneously

Jeremy Sirota:

technology's been there for me as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

My dad, my dad, who I mentioned was an engineer.

Jeremy Sirota:

We used to pull computers apart and put them back together again.

Jeremy Sirota:

I didn't go down this other rabbit hole.

Jeremy Sirota:

We could've, I used to do, I used to be a computer coder or

Jeremy Sirota:

computer programmer in my teens.

Gigi Johnson:

:

Quant . . . You've been both.

Jeremy Sirota:

I really have been both.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what I've found is I found these two worlds that intersected and I found

Jeremy Sirota:

a way to carve a niche for myself.

Jeremy Sirota:

And what I would say is.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm very passionate about music.

Jeremy Sirota:

I'm very passionate about creative output, whatever form that might take.

Jeremy Sirota:

And I still have that as my, as a part of my life, but I made that sort of

Jeremy Sirota:

conscious choice about what would drive.

Jeremy Sirota:

Sort of my ambitions and where did that lie?

Jeremy Sirota:

And that's where I made a decision to move from the creatives, into

Jeremy Sirota:

supporting the creatives and this intersection of music and technology.

Jeremy Sirota:

And to me, it was all about making that decision and

Jeremy Sirota:

finding that inflection point.

Jeremy Sirota:

So look for those inflection points about places that you find most

Jeremy Sirota:

interesting that you want to spend your life on and dive into it because it's

Jeremy Sirota:

where I've really found my enjoyment.

Gigi Johnson:

Well, Jeremy, thank you very much for joining us.

Gigi Johnson:

Can people reach out to you at all?

Gigi Johnson:

And how would you want them to reach out?

Jeremy Sirota:

I would welcome it.

Jeremy Sirota:

You can find me on LinkedIn.

Jeremy Sirota:

You can find me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jeremy Sirota:

You can find us on our website MerlinNetwork.org.

Jeremy Sirota:

That's two N's.

Jeremy Sirota:

We're across the socials as well.

Jeremy Sirota:

I would welcome it.

Gigi Johnson:

And we'll put those links in the show notes.

Gigi Johnson:

Thank you very much for joining.

Jeremy Sirota:

Thank you so much.

Jeremy Sirota:

Really appreciate this