Russell Kaplan on Loote, Luck, and Longevity
Photos by Will Wu for MOXI MAG
Russell Kaplan, co-manager of pop duo Loote, understands the definition of luck.
As Monte Lipman (CEO of Republic Records) often references, the definition of luck "is when preparation meets opportunity."
Translation: success doesn't happen overnight.
You’re probably thinking: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve heard that before.
It’s true, we have. It’s an age-old concept that can feel oversimplified and, at times, grossly overstated. But the fact remains. Rome wasn’t built overnight.
Four years ago, Russell Kaplan was an eager Berklee College graduate with big dreams of making it in the world of A&R.
Four years ago, Jackson and Emma, of Loote, were two eager musicians paired by a professor to write a song together at SUNY Purchase College for a class project.
Today, Loote has a publishing deal with Universal, a label deal with Island Records, a hit record “High Without Your Love,” and a platinum cut, “No Promises,” recorded by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato, co-written and co-produced by Loote.
Today, Russell is one half of Loote's management team. Russell began an intern at Universal in 2013. He then interned at Photo Finish Records, was hired as a temp at UMPG, and scored an A&R assistant job where he worked his way quickly into an A&R research manager position. He then left Universal to manage Loote independently with co-manager Joseph Pineda, an industry veteran of almost 10 years.
With “No Promises,” Loote now has a top 10 song at Top 40 radio, over 287 million Spotify streams as songwriters, and over 50 million of their own artist streams (Spotify, Apple Music) for hit debut single “High Without Your Love.”
To the naked eye, both Loote and Russell have experienced accelerated paths to the big leagues of major labels and huge hits.
But how did it really happen – is it due to that whole luck thing?
And better yet – how do you turn BIG streaming numbers into real fans and career longevity?
Luck is one thing. Sustained success is another.
Lucky for me, Russell is a close friend and a trusted colleague. So, I decided to ask him.
First, how did it happen? How & why did Russell become Loote’s manager? And how & why did Loote become a successful, major label artist?
I’ll give you one guess: songs
After graduating from SUNY Purchase, Jackson Foote and Emma Lov were signed with a modest publishing deal to Universal Music Publishing Group through Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers’ joint venture, SRP. The duo used a writing room in the UMG building as their studio, right down the hall from Russell’s desk.
The three became friends, and Russell began to take an interest in their work, looking for opportunities for them where possible.
In 2015, when he was still an assistant, Russell was assertive enough to coordinate a session for Jackson and Emma with a new act he found via Soundcloud – Quinn XCII. The session resulted in a record called "One In The Same,” written and performed by Quinn XCII & ayokay with a vocal feature by Emma.
Quinn XCII soon signed a label deal with Columbia Records and the song was included on his EP, 4ft to Infinity.
For Russell, this was a defining moment, where he had the feeling - "Oh wow! I can do this!”
As Russell progressed as an A&R, Jackson and Emma were doing the same as writers.
HINT: Here’s where the song comes in.
“Soon after I got promoted into the A&R research position, Loote's A&R left UMPG so I started to fill in the gap by helping Loote out as much as I could,” says Russell. “There was one song that really stood out to me, one in particular called "No Promises.”
It was a song that screamed pop “promise” (no pun intended), and it hit home for Russell. He already loved Jackson and Emma’s music, but now, he was fixated on the idea of Loote as artists.
“'No Promises' pushed the button on my obsession with the songs Emma and Jackson were making,” says Russell.
“'No Promises' was a next level song for them. And it was a song I felt could successfully launch their artist project.”
“I sent it around to a variety of industry people at the time. One of them was you, which is kind of funny because now I'm doing this interview,” Russell laughs. So do I.
Sidenote: This is why we love what we do.
During this time, Russell ran into an A&R colleague from Republic Records who was with Nick Cannon. Russell asked Nick what he was working on, and Nick said he needed pop songs. Russell quickly set a meeting with the A&R afterwards and played him a song from Loote's back catalog called "Famous."
The A&R looked intrigued and asked Russell to play the song again...and again...and again...and another time. A couple of label executives heard it from across the hall and came in to find out what the song was and who had written it.
From there, a frenzy of attention spiraled into a label deal with Island Records. Soon after, Russell began managing Loote with the help of JP from Jrne Mgmt.
Behind the scenes, Lauv (who is now having an incredible career of his own and who co-wrote "No Promises"), sent “No Promises” to his publisher. Cheat Codes wanted it and were figuring out plans to release it with a featured artist.
"What we didn't realize at the time,” says Russell, “is that Cheat Codes were working on securing a huge female feature for the song, and that just happened to be Island Records artist Demi Lovato.
A couple weeks after the release of "No Promises," Loote released another song as their debut single on Island Records called "High Without Your Love."
With the full support of the label’s commerce team, the numbers started climbing.
Song – check.
Label deal – check.
Streaming numbers – check.
So, next question. How do you turn big streaming numbers into real fans?
“We've learned the hard way that streaming doesn't automatically translate to fans,” says Russell. “It really depends on the artist. In this case with Loote, their strength is in writing and producing the music.”
Loote has millions of listeners, but it takes time to establish followers. And it takes consistent content to turn those followers into fans.
“You have to be able to recognize strengths and weaknesses. So for us, our strength is writing and producing a catalog of incredible songs,” says Russell. “Even though 50 million streams may not immediately translate into fans/followers, we are building content around every song (lyric video, music video, etc.) to create multiple moments that give us more exposure to the world outside of streaming. Eventually people will start recognizing the name “Loote” from all different platforms."
In addition to “High Without Your Love,” Loote has now released their second single, “Out Of My Head,” along with six additional tracks – acoustic versions of their singles and remixes – and two official music videos. The duo not only doubles as writers and artist/performers, they also produce all their own music. This opens the door to remix requests from other artists as well. A notable remix being the official Shawn Mendes “Mercy” remix, clocking in at over 11 million Spotify streams.
"The sound is cohesive," says Russell. “It’s just about playing to their strength. Writing, recording, and producing music that people are drawn to.”
And it’s working.
“We’ve started to see fans pop up all over the world, in places like Brazil and Japan – people changing their profile pictures to Loote – things like that,” says Russell.
Yes. Loote IS lucky. They were given an opportunity, and they were prepared to take advantage of it. They spent years in the studio honing their craft, and now that it’s taking off they’re maintaining a level of patience matched by a healthy sense of urgency and hard work.
“It's never going to happen overnight,” says Russell. “So our goal is to start building a real solid fan base and get people hooked on Loote's music. Any artist can potentially have a hit song or even become a viral sensation in a short span of time, but having longevity is a slower and more rewarding feat to accomplish. Let’s grow a fanbase of people like me – people who are obsessed with Loote's music.”
Listen to Loote music HERE.