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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Alumnae News March 9, 2020

Mika El-Baz ’85: Rocking the Music Business

Mika El-Baz

Mika El-Baz ’85 is one of the most powerful executives in the music industry. As executive vice president, West Coast/executive vice president, publicity at RCA Records/Sony Music Entertainment, she leads the West Coast office and is head of publicity for the entire company, with superstar artists such as P!NK, Justin Timberlake and many more. 

A 30-year veteran of the music business, with past positions in publicity and media relations for Island Records and Interscope Geffen A&M, El-Baz is a two-time Billboard Women in Music honoree, who has managed to weather dramatic shifts in an industry that has been reshaped by technology. “There was such a sea change around 2000 [with the advent of music streaming], and I’ve been in companies that have morphed in many fashions—new leadership, reduction in staff size, labels folding into other labels,” she says. “I am proud of the fact that I’ve been able to adapt to what’s been happening.”

Here El-Baz talks about her time in the music business and what she’s learned along the way.

OUR ARTIST ROSTER POSSESSES INCREDIBLE, UNIQUE TALENT WHICH MAKES EVERY DAY EXHILARATING. We have global superstars Alicia Keys (who recently did a fantastic job hosting the Grammys, on a very difficult day), P!NK, Justin Timberlake, and Usher. We took Khalid from the beginning all the way to where he is today—it’s just so incredible. Really fabulous women like H.E.R and SZA. We’re so lucky we get to be in the trenches with these artists. Becky G on our Latin side and Cam on country. What’s great about it is that two days are never the same because you’re dealing with such a breadth of artistry.

NOW THAT MUSIC STREAMING AND APPS LIKE TIKTOK HAVE TAKEN HOLD WE’RE DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY. The workload is getting bigger all the time. We’re signing more and more artists. How do you stay focused and get these artists where they need to go? Which artists are emerging and the ones to really put your strength behind? Who are the ones behind them just coming up? You have to look at artists from a multitiered perspective. And then, how do I keep my team from losing their minds? How do we keep everybody energized and keep their eyes on the prize knowing what needs to get done?

I HAVE A FANTASTIC TEAM, THE CORE OF WHICH HAS BEEN WITH ME FOR A VERY LONG TIME, and throughout the years it has largely been all female. I believe in mentoring, and I believe in moving people up the ladder. If you’re investing a lot of time and effort in someone, why not get the benefit of what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown and feed that back into the company?

THERE IS A PUSH RIGHT NOW FOR INCLUSION IN THE STUDIO, with engineers, producers, songwriters. Alicia Keys co-founded an organization called She is the Music that is helping to increase the number of women in the studio by creating a database. So, if you’re in Minneapolis and want to work with women producers there you can easily find them. Plus, while you do see females at the executive level, there definitely needs to be more.

RISK-TAKING IS ONE THING THAT I GOT FROM SMITH. When I was at Smith, there was no program in London for junior year abroad. I had to take a leave of absence and go to a different school so I could go through their program. And while I would never have described myself as a risk taker, that was a bit of a risk. I didn’t know what the program was, and I didn’t really know about the university—I just knew I needed to be in London for that year. It was one of the best lessons I learned at Smith.

MENTORSHIP REALLY DRIVES ME because I had so many people who were so great to me when I was starting out. I also feel it’s important to provide opportunities to people who [are] disenfranchised and don’t even have the vision yet for what they could do. I think that is something that I’ve done from the beginning of my career and will always remain important to me.