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Creativity and passion are deeply interconnected, oftentimes leading to a career path that both unfolds organically and doesn't necessarily feel like "work" all the time. As many creative-minded people can attest, following your passion and finding different ways to express yourself can lay a strong foundation integral to one's professional experience, regardless of which direction ends up becoming the focal point. For J.D. Tuminski, a love of exploring New York City turned into teaching himself photography, which ultimately helped open the door to different facets of the music industry and shape the course of his impassioned career today.
"I think it's up to people like me and other creatives to figure out what we can do with this technology to integrate it into music specifically."
Years before arriving at his current position as the VP of Digital at the legendary Def Jam Recordings, J.D. found himself inspired by simply getting out of the house and bringing his camera with him. As he attended live music events and started honing his knack for capturing candid moments out at shows, J.D. began carving a lane of his own, allowing his love for music to guide his experiences outside of his work in corporate communications at HBO. From building his own blog from the ground up to cultivating relationships with key players in the music community in New York, J.D. began leading what he retrospectively refers to as a double life. After spending time balancing his love for music photography and videography with his day job, he found himself embracing the opportunity to start working at a record label and begin a new chapter for himself.
While the rest may now be history after first entering those doors at Columbia Records and now Def Jam, J.D. hasn't abandoned his love for the visual arts whatsoever, nor has he lost sight of the unwavering passion that led to his current position. In fact, the beauty of specializing in marketing, digital and social is being able to draw from a wide range of influences and interests, something that J.D. embraces wholeheartedly to help better inform the campaigns he oversees for different artists. With a love for photography, videography, art, design, new technology and, of course, music, at the forefront, J.D. comes to work every day eager to see how his wealth of knowledge and experiences can help bring an artist's vision to life. He has since worked on projects for a slew of today's top artists, including Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, Alessia Cara, Jhene Aiko, Kanye West, Logic, YG, Pusha T, Big Sean and many more.
During a recent conversation with the DropLabs team, J.D. shared more about his journey finding his footing as a music executive, how it all started with a camera and how technology and creativity comes into play in his current day-to-day.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you first got into the music industry?
I'm from outside of Philly and I've been in the Northeast my whole life. I've been coming to New York City my whole life essentially, just to explore, take photos, go to concerts, stuff like that. I wound up going to school down in South Carolina at Clemson University and graduated with a degree in communications and journalism. It was pretty cool to have that intersection of being in the city and around Philly and New York City, and then being down in rural South Carolina. It was a pretty cool experience; definitely shaped me and who I became.
After graduating from Clemson, I wound up getting a job at HBO in New York. It was a newly created role at the time, so I was doing corporate communications and towards the end of my career there, I started getting into the social media aspects of HBO and the HBO brand. I was one of the people tasked with setting up the voice of what HBO was to become. While I was doing that at HBO, I was also immersing myself in the music culture in New York City so I was, you know, going to my day job at HBO, and at night, I led sort of a double life [laughs]. I was out and about going to shows, going to concerts, going to events and eventually I picked up a camera and self-taught myself photography and videography. While I was going to all of these shows and events, I started bringing my camera around, shooting shows, shooting events, shooting artists and then figuring out ways to get those photos and get that video content back to the artists and the managers through social media or email at the time.
What helped inspire your shift from working at HBO to working at a record label?
As time went on, I just started going to more and more stuff. While I was doing that, I also had a pretty popular music blog at the time. So I was doing my day job, I was doing my blog, I was doing videography and photography. I was in the mix of music culture. Through networking, I met someone who became a friend and then that friend eventually referred me to a job at Columbia Records as a digital manager. I wound up getting that job. One of my first projects in the music industry was a Daft Punk album, which is pretty cool. I worked on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, and a slew of amazing projects at Columbia for all these great artists like J. Cole, Nine Inch Nails, Beyoncé. It was a great time. I was there for about five years and then that eventually led to an opportunity at Def Jam.
Def Jam was shifting their regime and a new president was coming in so I took it as an opportunity to come here and make a difference in what Def Jam was doing in the industry. I came on board as the head of Digital Marketing and I've been here for about two and a half years now. So far, so good! I've worked on some cool projects, everything from 2 Chainz to Alessia Cara to Kanye West to YG. It's been a super cool experience thus far. I still do photography and videography on the side but it's hard being wrapped up in the day-to-day grind of everything we have going on here.
Would you say traveling between NYC and Philly helped encourage your photography early on?
I've been going back and forth, just wandering the city and taking in the energy of the city, which was exciting to me. I'd always bring a disposable camera with me and just sort of walk around and take it all in. For some reason, I just sort of gravitated more toward New York City rather than Philadelphia so I think it was just the energy of the city and everything it had to offer. I would come in and I would go to a store called Fat Beats, which doesn't exist anymore, and I'd go to in-store events with hip-hop artists. I'd go to shows whenever available. It all just sort of gravitated towards me and I fed off that energy. It was a big inspiration to me. I wound up going to a school that was nothing like the city but I really enjoyed that juxtaposition of having an appreciation for the city and then having an appreciation for more of a laid back town.
In what ways would you say technology and creativity comes into play in your current role?
I work in digital, which is on the cusp of all things technology and emerging platforms online. I'm always thriving off of new concepts, new technologies and seeing how I can creatively integrate them into what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis with my artists. You know, whether it's a new act, whether it's a company like DropLabs, it's really exciting to be able to present new technology to artists who may not be familiar with it, especially for potential opportunities to work together. Not all artists are ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, but as the Head of Digital, it's really my job to present these new technologies and opportunities to see what we can do to push boundaries. That's what's exciting to me. We've been able to pull off some cool things in the AR world and with different apps and things like that. I just think it's exciting and the great thing about digital is that it changes month to month, year to year, so it's always progressing and that's why I have a passion for it personally.
What surprised you the most about trying out DropLabs EP 01?
I think the team got a recording of me but one of the first things I just said was, 'Woah.' I could feel the vibration and the technology going through my entire body. The team explained the physiology and how it works with your body and the nerves and all that; it was just an incredible feeling. It was something that I hadn't experienced before so I think it's an interesting technology that's on the forefront. I think it's up to people like me and other creatives to figure out what we can do with this technology to integrate it into music specifically. I think there's a lot of opportunity out there, especially considering how you can customize the settings to what you're listening to.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience?
I would say it's a transcendent experience for your body in relation to music. I think calling it a transcendent experience is the right way to explain it. I guess I would also say it's a little unexpected because truthfully, I didn't have full context to the technology beforehand. I kind of went in there blind so it was unexpected but it was super positive and really interesting.
What are some projects you're working on or goals for the year ahead?
We just recently put out the new Justin Bieber album, Changes. It's his first album in a long time. It's been an all hands on deck experience with Def Jam and UMG and we're really proud of everything we did with Justin Bieber’s team for the roll-out. We also recently put out a new album from Jhene Aiko that has done quite well and has resonated with so many people. I’m extremely excited for upcoming projects from Big Sean, Kaash Paige, Trouble, and Fredo Bang, in particular.
Personally, I've set a few goals for myself and some of the goals include more public speaking at events, mentoring younger folks in college wherever need be and reading more. I want to get out a little bit more and get back to my roots with photography. I want to keep building on my hobbies, especially because I get so wrapped up in work day-to-day. Trying to find creative outlets is always something I'm striving for.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to share?
Make sure to keep sight of what's important in life and do what makes you happy at the end of the day. I think it's as simple as that.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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