5 Questions with Jerald Cooper
The man behind Young Guru’s Era of the Engineer movement talks inspiration
At 33, talent manager and entrepreneur Jerald Cooper is living the type of life he’s dreamed about since he was just some kid from Ohio. He travels the world managing some of the illest talent in entertainment—and technology—and is the brains behind Era of the Engineer, a social enterprise focused on research, education and philanthropy in the STEM space. Talk to Cooper long enough and you’ll walk away inspired to chase your own dreams. After all, he says, everything is engineered, designed by someone. His goal is to encourage others of color to own that power.
1. What attracts you about the intersection of technology and culture particularly as it pertains to music?
There is a start-up mentality that has developed in contemporary music culture. Which makes sense because we have a legacy—blues, gospel, jazz—of inventing something out of nothing and figuring out who do we it out so that it impacts culture. The Chitlin circuit, for example. The big difference is the access provided by the Internet and the Millennial thought process. There are three to four billionaires in the hip-hop genre. I’d say 80% of them don’t have higher-education degrees. Instead they “hustled”, a word that has a negative connotation, but it’s what they and successful start-ups do. They hustle, and they know a little bit about everything—omniculture. It’s a billionaire trait. It’s a start-up trait, and it’s a hip-hop trait. Look at sampling … taking beats and sounds from all over to create world music.
2. Where do you find inspiration?
Everything. Everybody. I am always paying attention. I want to know about women’s make up and skincare as much as I want to know the score of last nights’ game. One of my core traits is curiosity. This fascination with everything, its really my drive. Everything hits me and reverberates off my soul. I wouldn’t say I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but I do have a desire to know a little bit about everything. I’ve gotten deals talking about Bordeaux wine for an hour. I don’t think a lot of minorities get that. Those blocks will continue to be a hindrance. They block equality. I’m a world traveler. I’ve traveled the world three times over, but I’ve traveled more as youth in Cincinnati who didn’t have a passport. I read. I researched. People would be like, “What’s your favorite city?” And I’d say “Seattle,” even though I’ve never been there. But I researched it. Mind travel is a part of imagination. Imagination is a creator’s best tool. Freedom of thought is one of your best tools.
3. The term “innovator” gets thrown around loosely these days. What does true innovation look like to you?
To be an innovator you have to know the history of things you’re trying to reinvent. Know the history and respect it. Innovators look at the small details and ask “Why?” The answer is where the opportunity lies.
4. Tech continues to change the way artists create and share music. Put on your futurist hat: what do you think the landscape will look like in the next five years?
First of all, I think that there’s going to be networks, like how network TV looks, for streaming music. Right now, we have three of four major layers in streaming. I think each genre and sub-genre will have its own streaming service, kind of like radio online. The monetization pattern is so weak right now … three million streams but I’m only getting $3,000. I think there’s going to be as many streaming entities as television channels.
I also think there’s going to be a renaissance of titles. Right now you have the artist, the producer, the engineer and the writer. And, for the most part, they are separate roles. But look at the way music is being made. It’s being made at home. Artists are being encouraged to do it all. So I think there’s going to be the creation of new type of creator in the music space. Doing everything will become the standard. Artists need to continue to step up and get to know all facets of the industry. The more informed people in the music-making process the better.
5. You straddle three worlds—entertainment, technology and business. What do you know to be true about working in all three?
Clarity of intentions seems to be part of the narrative in all three. “What is the project and the intention behind it?” I’ve found that stating my intention allows me to work faster. I also know that those three areas aren’t tremendously separate from each other. Once you tear down those walls and realize that …