Managers are the glue of the music industry. They exist to keep artists and their careers from entirely falling apart in the face of mild and extreme calamities alike.
Jason Geter—the mogul, CEO, and the man best known for managing T.I.—is no stranger to solving complex problems in the industry. His pursuit of a music career, in itself, solved a complex problem: How could Geter make money on his terms?
A man dedicated to hustling, building relationships, and growing every day, Geter stands as a model artist manager and wealth of knowledge.
Jason Geter was kind enough to call me up and break down his journey in the music business: Career highs and lows, managing T.I., his newest venture, Heavy Sound Labs, and the trick to maintaining his sanity while maneuvering the industry.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you realize you wanted in on the music industry?
Jason Geter: I grew up in New York, obviously a fan of it all in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Hip-hop was all around me in New York. I was born in Brooklyn, moved to the Bronx. Literally, Joeski Love lived upstairs from me. D-Nice lived in my building. It was a bunch of rappers that lived right in the community. I always had that love for it. I moved to Montclair, NJ, to go to high school.
Going back to day one, my father was a record collector. I [was] always accustomed to reading the credits, which evolved to reading credits to hip-hop records. Once I got to high school, I started reading Billboard, and I met a guy who told me about internships. I was selling mixtapes. I was a little too young [to be an intern].
By the time I got to 12th grade, I went after the internships. I conjured up stories that I was a freshman at Montclair State University, as opposed to a senior in high school. I got an internship at Arista Records. This was the first time I realized this is what I wanna do for a living. I’m [at] Arista, I’m interning, and I’m seeing executives walking around with sneakers, jeans on. Comfortable. Making more money than my parents. That was the moment to me: “I’m good. I know what I wanna do.”
What about your character makes you a good artist manager?
I’m always looking for a newer venture. I love building and creating something new from zero. An artist is a creator, and an artist is always gonna have a new idea, new goal, new vision. You have to have the ability to chase that down and take your artist into new territories and cultivate new opportunities. In my career, I was able to take my artists into so many different ventures and diversify their portfolio. So many managers are only booking shows. So many managers are not truly building a diverse portfolio for their clients.
What was the biggest struggle you faced in your early managerial days?
The music business is a dirty game. [When] I first got with T.I., I was 21 years old, and he was 18 years old. Back then, in ‘99, there weren’t a lot of young managers. [It was difficult] trying to maintain respect, or earn respect in the business and have people take you seriously. Me and T.I., we are three years apart, but we didn’t grow up together. When they see we’re the same age, they assume: “Oh, he’s just your homeboy manager.” It was the opposite. I moved to Atlanta to get into the business. I found an artist, and I invested. We just happened to be in the same age range. It wasn’t nepotism. That was a big challenge.
Also, being so close in age to my client and trying to maintain a professional relationship beyond being friends. This person has to respect you. You’re managing someone, in a sense, you’re leading them. A leader has to be respected.
Was T.I. easy or difficult to manage? Recently, Jeff Dixon told me Ludacris was perfect.
T.I. was the opposite of Ludacris. I’m dead serious. Listen, we were both in Atlanta, coming up at the same time. Those two guys were arch-nemesis for years. I would always say to myself: “Man, Ludacris is a cakewalk!” Tip was fresh out the streets. Tip was locked up; he got arrested so many times. This is before we even got a record deal, the early times of us just trying to put out music… It was a challenge in that sense because you got a lot to deal with—life issues.
What was your first real success in the game with T.I.?
I was onto something when we got off Arista Records and pretty much went independent. T.I.’s first album [I’m Serious] came out in 2001, and Grand Hustle Management was my management company. That whole Arista Records [deal] didn’t go well. We asked for a release; we got a release. Then we were on our own. We formed our record label: Grand Hustle Records. We were running around the South, booking shows ourselves, selling merch, being the DJ, sound man, and everything. We were booking shows like crazy, not really in Atlanta. The surrounding area.
In Atlanta, there was a club that came about called The Bounce. Everything was happening in that club. We got booked for [our first] show at The Bounce. We’re in Atlanta, going to the show, and the highway is backed up with traffic. Everybody’s playing T.I.’s music! We finally got off the highway and realized the line [of traffic] was all leading to the club. The club might’ve held 2,500 people legally. There might’ve been 3,000 people there. That was the moment where I remember being in the car: “Okay, this shit is on.” That was the moment of confirmation. Keep doing what you’re doing.
I think that energy happens on socials now. How has social media changed the game?
Socials have changed the game in so many ways. You can sit at home and feel that energy. You can sit at home, in your bedroom, work your socials, and get that rush: Ah! I’m getting followers! Sure, things can happen so fast. For us, to achieve that, we had to get in a car and drive all around from Miami to Detroit. From the South to the Midwest.
As you know, social media has made things easier, but I’ll tell you… On the flip side, what happens fast often unhappens fast. That is the downside to the difference in times. People can forget you fast and move on to the next person. Whereas, when you have those physical moments, people hold on to those forever.
Earlier, you alluded to how “dirty” the business can be. Would you ever leave the music industry?
Nah, I don’t think I’ll leave the music industry for a while. I’ve had my ins and outs. I’ve had moments where I’ve been more active than other moments. I got into the clothing business, and that’s what’s cool about management. Management is like a gateway. Some people will be career-managers, and other people will get other opportunities and may go into something else. Management and success in management have allowed me to venture off into other businesses within the whole culture. When it comes to leaving the music industry? You figure out ways to do things in a more efficient way for where you’re at in your life.
You recently started a new company: Heavy Sound Labs. Tell me about the venture.
Heavy Sound Labs is taking my experiences from my career and saying, “How do I do this now, today?” We know technology has disrupted the music business. Now, the business is recovering. There were years where the business got punched in the face, without understanding how to counter. I’ve always found an artist, signed an artist, developed an artist, displayed traction on an artist, and departed a major label. With Heavy Sound Labs, I wanna do just that: Find new, young artists, back them, show traction on them, and grow careers with them.
I took T.I. from being a rapper [who] no one knew to be a rapper with multiple clothing brands and a movie career, content career, and beyond. It all started at the humble beginnings. I want to do the same thing with other artists. I want to partner with an artist and grow their career and invest in businesses around their career. I want to develop artists into creative entrepreneurs. [I’m] redefining what a record label is today. A label should help with development as well as mentorship because we’re dealing with super young kids.
How do you maintain your sanity while also doing your job as well as you do?
Listen, man, I live a double life. I say that because music is a fast-paced [business]. On the flip side, I’m into antiques; I’m into hiking. I’m into all of these other activities. I’ve always felt like music is something I love, but it’s something I do. I’m an entrepreneur, so I get to do it in a dope way. That’s a lifestyle thing, for me, but I make sure I take care of myself. I move by passion and not by money.