Reach Records A&R Ace Harris Talks Daily Duties and How Artists Can Improve
Every powerhouse team has a group of people behind it that help steer the ship in the right direction. In the case of Reach Records, you’ll immediately think of Ben Washer and Lecrae, the two founders of the company. Other behind the scenes people involve the marketing team, in house producers and engineers, booking and tour managers, and the A&Rs. For this article, we are taking a look at Ace Harris, the Senior Director of A&R at Reach Records, and a Grammy-nominated producer.
Ace Harris the A&R
“My day to day is a combination of creativity and administration,” said Harris. “My function and role is to help the artist deliver quality music. From the label side, get that music to where it needs to be when we release it.”
Ace says he spends a lot of time going through music, beats, and hooks. He is looking for “Anything that can spark the creative interest of artists.” From there, he connects with producers, writers, and tries to gauge what’s out there.
“I’m trying to service the artists creatively. We as a label have to give them the opportunity to create. That’s the bulk of my day,” he explained. “Then you have the admin side where with the help of my team we do paperwork, process all the stuff on the backend, do contract splits, and also work with the studio team on mix notes.”
He continued, “On the business side, I’m sitting in budget meetings, planning briefs, skip rate data, seeing all that stuff that makes some creative people nervous. To me, it makes me sharper. I like to see how many times a song streams in a day or if I can bug my business department, I can bug them for skip rates on a song. I like that data so I can be sharper on how people consume music. If we’re going to push this music on someone, we need to make sure it’s going to impact people’s lives.”
The Reach Records Exec said they need to be considerate of how people are perceiving the music. He wants to make sure it’s a good experience for them.
“I’m mindful of their ears. It’s like serving someone food that doesn’t taste good. I hope I give people the best experience to hear a dope message.”
Something Ace always does it put his “A&R hat on.” In fact, it’s something WHATUPRG makes fun of him for saying. He even bought him a hat! If he says it a lot, it’s because it’s true. He gets into a different mode with this “figurative” hat on.
“I’m listening for, ‘I think we need these type of songs’ and every now and then, I hear something that I wasn’t looking for, but creatively it’s great. There may be a lot of dope beats that I get, but sometimes a particular beat isn’t going to move the needle for an artist, for their career. I’m trying to find something that’s going to be signature,” he shared.
According to Ace Harris, one of the longstanding misconceptions of the A&R is people see you as a “suit.” That means they are looked at as just a businessman or woman out to make money or do business without much regard. Sometimes, artists see the A&R as a “label liaison and/or pro-label.” They may also believe that his vested interest is to keep the label happy.
“Actually, I was an artist before. I’ve rocked stages. I wasn’t good, but I produce. I’m a creative person. It’s kept me relevant with the artists. If you locked me and Andy Mineo in a cell for two weeks with a keyboard and drum machines, we can make a record. I can give out hook ideas, we can bond in that creative space,” said Harris. “People assume you are here for the bottom line and not the artist, which is not true.”
Part of what makes Ace’s job so easy is the Reach Records staff. “It’s a true team atmosphere where everyone helps everyone and pushes for greatness.” He also mentioned there is a “real good” community of artists and talent from top to bottom.
“Lecrae being an artist, he really kind of shepherd’s and wears that hat really well. He can communicate with Tedashii in a way that’s different than me. Because of that blessing, I don’t have that much pressure,” Harris explained. “The label is in the business of putting out music consistently. The artist has to put out music consistently but in a way that doesn’t stress them out. We’ve just historically been pro-artist. At the end of the day, the artists are the drivers.”
This artistic freedom allows him to work directly and closely with artists with a high level of trust. He can act like a project manager for the artist and help them “organize their creativity.”
“I love arranging songs. ‘Light Work’ was an example of keeping a song under five minutes. Some people’s verses may have been chopped, but I can’t say who,” he said. “We had to find a creative way to put everyone in the right space and give them their shine. We gave RG a four-bar verse and he wasn’t even signed with us at the time. I had to be mindful of giving each artist a creative space to be their best, but make it enjoyable for your everyday fan. Then I was like dang, ‘Where are we going to put Trip Lee at?’ I like taking the chaos of creative minds and streamlining it to a place where the listener can enjoy it.”
Ace Harris the Producer
Being an A&R is just half the fun Ace Harris gets to have. His other “hat” is as a Grammy-nominated producer who has worked with the artists of Reach Records and some other big names you may know. Those names include Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, T.I., and No malice to name a few.
And if anyone has a problem with a Christian working with secular artists – “I have no internal wrestle. I’m clear about my faith in God and in my pathway to music.” With that perspective, Harris feels like he’s serving his purpose and providing an opportunity to point back to God.
When working with some of those huge names, he doesn’t get to spend time in the studio with them. Many of his beats are sent out for placements and picked up by a label’s A&R much like he does at Reach. “Often times when making a beat for someone else that gets selected, you may not get asked anything further, or other producers will come in and work on it more.”
He continued, “Working in the studio with the artist is always cool. It’s always fresh. The synergy in the room helps make the song better, it’s a different vibe.”
Ace feels one of his biggest producer credits is “Light Work.” He believes it was a big moment because it established a new sound for Reach.
“It reaffirmed the unity with the guys when I think there had been some debate about it,” he revealed. “To kick down the doors of 2018 and rally the troops. It meant a lot for Christian rap fans.”
As far as what Ace thinks up and coming Christian hip hop artists can do better: “Work on your presentation of the music and the art. Just be mindful of how you want people to see you. Don’t overthink. When dealing with labels or journalists, be respectful and be memorable. Be so good we can’t ignore you. Sometimes people make a bad ‘Shark Tank’ pitch. Be assertive but be poised and confident with what you got. Also, be mindful of who your audience is and get to the point too.”
Lastly, who are Ace Harris’ top producers of all-time: Timbaland, Kanye West, and a toss-up between No ID/Rick Rubin.