Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.“I’m a music fanatic. Music is my first love—nothing else can top it.”
When the alarm goes off in the morning, how many of us want to hit the snooze button and go back to bed? Not Omar Grant. “I just love doing what I do,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s work.”
Mr. Grant is senior director of creative artists and repertoire (A&R) at Roc Nation, a record label, management, music publishing and entertainment company founded by Jay-Z. “A&R is an old school term, but basically, you’re a creator,” he said. “You go out there and find the talent and sign the talent to the record label. And then it’s your job to build and create the record from scratch.”
He has a frenetic schedule that begins early. During the day, Mr. Grant is fielding calls and meeting with songwriters and producers who play him music and pitch ideas they think will fit his artists. “I sit with a lot of other departments. Being the closest one to the music, you are in control of it,” he said. “Anytime something leaks or goes out to the public when it’s not supposed to—it’ll be on me. I’m the only one who is supposed to have the music at the time.”
“I’ll visit a radio station and say, ‘I think this is gonna be the next single we’re going to go with,’” he said. “If I’m dealing with marketing, I’ll play it for them. If they like the song, they want to know what the video is going to look like…” After a long, full day, you can find Mr. Grant in studio session with his artists, often late into the night.
Mr. Grant works with big names such as Rihanna, Kelly Rowland and Willow Smith, as well as new artists such as Bridget Kelly and Rita Ora. “You’ll hear about them soon,” he said. In addition to making albums with artists like these, he is also responsible for managing songwriters and producers, including No I.D., who has produced songs for Kanye West, Big Sean, Jay-Z and Rihanna, and Makeba Riddick, who has written tracks for top artists like Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez.
Mr. Grant’s favorite part of the job is seeing results. “So much work goes into creating a record. There’s nothing better than hearing a song go from nothing to being played on the radio, seeing it turned into a music video or winning an award for your work,” he said.
If you tuned into the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012 and were scanning the audience, you may have caught a glimpse of Mr. Grant enjoying the show. Mr. Grant is A&R executive of Kelly Rowland’s No. 1 album Here I Am. That night, her song “Motivation” was nominated for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Mr. Grant made his entrance into the music industry as a freshman at Adelphi University when he landed his first internship at Columbia Records. From there, his career skyrocketed. After graduating from Adelphi, he was the road manager of Destiny’s Child, after which he became the creative director of urban A&R for the EMI Group Limited. From there he landed the role of senior director of A&R at Epic Records, before joining Roc Nation.
Nearly 10 years after graduating from Adelphi, he still feels the value of the education he received at the University. “A lot of people in this field, especially on the creative side, haven’t graduated high school. They have relationships with musicians, songwriters, artists…they have a great ear. But the best A&Rs in the business—which I’ve learned from being around them and growing in the field—are the people who went to college and had a strong business background,” he said.
While he encourages current Adelphi students to get involved in clubs and activities, network and get to know others in their field of interest, he can’t stress how relevant the material students learn in class can be to their future careers. “At Adelphi, I was a person who thought nothing I learned would be used in music—nothing could prepare me for it. But then, after the creative part went away and I got to the next phase…putting everything together for albums and dealing with the business side of music, it just clicked,” he said. “You have that wow moment, when it all makes sense, and you realize you learned that in school.”
He credits his Adelphi experience, and the business and marketing classes he took in particular, for preparing him well, “School is the backbone—having a strong background in business in this field is huge,” he said. “I feel like I have a leg up on the competition in a sense—the A&Rs who haven’t had that college experience that I had.”