Some of our best ideas come in the most unexpected places. For Natalie Edell, it was her shower. Somewhere amidst the steam and suds, the then 18-year-old music maven came up with an idea that could revolutionize the music industry: a Los Angeles-based company called 18Love Music.
Borrowing from the online-based success stories of artists like Macklemore and The Based God, 18Love Music will function as an Instagram-like music app, connecting independent artists to a targeted demographic in a college-aged fan base. Through a hand-picked network of national representatives from various schools across the U.S., artists will be able to post their original music to the app, link to upcoming shows and sell merchandise. Users will then rate and share music amongst college campuses.
Say you’re a band living in Bloomington, Indiana and are looking to target Indiana University—”the school has 50,000 students, so [the app] is really attractive [for that market],” Edell says, expanding on the possibilities the platform affords to indie bands. “If the band can then find popularity with those 50,000 students and becomes one of the top five [on the app], then they might have a chance to play at the [soon-to-be-formed] 18Love Music festival where labels will really take notice.”
While a regular label in theory offers a lateral plan for the artist, including marketing, merchandise, tours, etc., they do it in an old-fashioned way, Edell says. Instead, 18Love gives artists a platform to make a name for themselves independently, allowing them to grow their fan base organically.
“We’re not trying to be a record label, we’re not trying to do all those things for them. It’s more like we give them the tools and then they do it themselves,” she says. “I have nothing against labels. I think they’re here to stay and I think that it’s very important for artists to be signed to a label, but I think that there’s an intermediary step that’s being skipped.”
The idea came to Edell after signing her first artist, Luke Christopher, to Interscope Records. She’d only recently began working in music, receiving her first glimpse of the industry as a senior in high school. While attending a New Boyz concert in her home of Los Angeles, her friend suggested she try to book the then-hot hip-hoppers for her upcoming 18th birthday party. Edell put on her finest pseudo-professional face and knocked on security’s door, where she was handed a card for Greg Johnson, music industry veteran and the New Boyz’ then-manager. The group agreed to perform and Johnson met with Edell several times prior to the party to plan, eventually bringing her on as an intern at his company Genuine Music Group. From there, she’s interned at a variety of big-name businesses, including International Creative Management and Virgin Records, though she signed Christopher when she was only 18 after scoring a meeting with music mogul Ron Fair.
“After he got signed, nothing was really happening. He was making some really sick music that I was keeping track of, but he wasn’t famous. He was given everything he could be given, so how did he not gain traction?” she questions. “There were so many talented artists that were going unnoticed by labels, or that were signed to them but weren’t gaining any traction. I wanted to change that.”
Edell recognizes that breaking into the industry won’t be easy, and she’s already seen her fair share of heartbreak throughout her three-year experience.
“I think you need to realize that everyone is in there for their own benefit. I’ve had times where I literally have left a show or a concert or anything music-related, and I’ve sat in my car and cried,” she says. “It is really tough, but you just have to put a front on and act like nothing bothers you. Especially being a blonde woman in the music industry—people don’t see me as an executive.”
Despite being founder and president of 18Love Music, the now 21-year-old finds herself constantly dismissed when it comes to the business side of things. Investors will often e-mail her father, who Edell appointed as 18Love’s CEO, addressing him and only CCing her, or even leaving her out of their correspondences altogether.
“I had one meeting where somebody said, ‘We won’t need you going to all the meetings, but if we need a good-looking girl to add we’ll bring you along,’” she recalls.
Still, Edell persists, following the same drive that took her from 8-year-old tennis star to world traveling pro by the age of 17. Though she was still playing on Northwestern University’s team by the time she’d formed her company, after several tennis boarding schools, multiple injuries and tournaments in Korea, Mexico, Bosnia and the like, she was burned out.
“I wasn’t sure that I was enjoying it anymore. I had started this music company and wanted to put all my focus into that,” she says. “To be a top tennis player, your focus needs to be solely on tennis, and I just wasn’t doing that anymore. My heart was somewhere else.”
Though her tennis career had ended, her spirit of determination stuck and Edell threw herself fully into 18Love.
“I feel like if I hadn’t started the music company it would have been a lot harder for me to stop playing tennis, because I’m an extremely driven person, and I need goals and dreams to fulfill and look forward to,” she says. “When I stopped playing tennis and started doing the music company, it was the same drive.”
Three years later, 18Love’s future is looking bright. It has a slew of investment offers, a mobile app coming out mid-November and a growing team of over 60 representatives from universities across the country. And to think, it all started in a shower.
*Dana Getz is currently a representative for 18Love’s Northwestern sector.