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Meet James Coholan of SYB Creative

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Coholan.

James, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, music was a big part of my life. During school, I’d take off during lunch to play the drums and jam with my friends and had vinyl records and rock posters lining the walls of my bedroom. I started producing in my senior year of high school after learning that professional grade music could be made using just a laptop and software.

At 18, I moved to LA and attended Occidental College in Highland Park to pursue a liberal arts education while having proximity and access to the Los Angeles entertainment industry. During college, I interned at a major record label for close to a year and spent a summer in entertainment banking. In my Junior year, I studied abroad in Berlin, gaining exposure to European electronic music culture, and was fortunate enough to travel extensively across four continents while doing so.

After graduating from college, working at a talent agency seemed like a great next step to develop my understanding of the industry. I knew I wanted to work for William Morris Endeavor because of their culture of entrepreneurship and expanding operations across music, film, sports and fashion. I didn’t have connections with anyone who worked there so I guessed the emails of agents and wrote them expressing my interest and asking about their business. A few agreed to meet and talk with me and I received guidance, a window into their careers and an overview of the industry from fantastic agents and founding and managing partners at the firm. After undertaking these informational sessions, I was positioned for an interview which landed me a job in the WME Music Department.

David Geffen once said that the William Morris mailroom is, “The Harvard School of Show Business – only better: no grades, no exams, a small stipend and great placement opportunities.” I spent seven months in training there and found this to be true, getting exposure to significant deals, cultivating discipline and developing relationships with highly professional, musically-engaged and ambitious people. While working, I started performing around LA, releasing remixes and getting traction on Soundcloud, as well as support from established dance artists. I was also doing work in music analytics and created a spreadsheet of the top artists based on streaming success. Topping the list of the 500 most streamed songs on Spotify at the time was Calvin Harris with 14, followed by Ed Sheeran with 12 and Drake with 11. The insight that a producer/artist could parallel the biggest acts in the world in terms of driving hits and cultural impact was invigorating for me.

My role models in the industry; Jimmy Iovine, Scooter Braun, Marc Geiger, Moe Shalizi, Ari Emanuel, and Justin Lubliner, are all entrepreneurs and I started thinking about how I could develop a business that would merge my hard skills, thousands of hours of practice, and love for music production, exposure of the industry across label, finance, and agency, and my passion for the arts and entertainment. I wanted to build a project and a company where I could have material influence on the quality of the core product and achieve cultural impact at scale based on my vision and values. In March of 2019 I ventured into full-time development of the music, brand, core ideas, strategy, infrastructure, and live show of SYB and SYB Creative.

In under a year the team and I have achieved strong resonance in the Los Angeles music scene, consistently playing packed houses at some of the most prestigious venues across the city; highlights including a set at the Troubadour and headline engagements at Warwick in Hollywood and the Sofitel at Beverly Hills for Halloween and New Years respectively. The music, released independently, has been featured in notable blogs such as Your EDM and River Beats, topped the Hype Machine charts three times, acquired more than 300,000 plays and counting across Soundcloud and other platforms and created an organic 120% month over month audience streaming growth trend-line from scratch without assistance from editorial play-listing. We registered as an LLC in the State of California, have delivered a consistent flow of content, such as show promotion and performance videos, across social media channels (@savyungblanc) and have expanded our offerings into visual art, music videos and a custom fashion collection designed for festivals which is distributed through our website; Most importantly there has been a crystallization of the vision, identity, and understanding of where we want to take the project along with a timeline and strategy to execute on.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
To establish this project, I sold my car and all of the holdings in my stock portfolio (which has since quadrupled, *sigh*) and used income from performances to fund development and expansion. I take an “every-waking-moment” mentality to my work and have sacrificed comfort and security for passion, mission and purpose. Starting something new is challenging and requires the embrace of ambiguity, risk, relentless work and investment, an alignment of lifestyle as well as a willingness to be misunderstood. You have to be okay with setting your own goals, designing your own structure, and not having anyone dictate your work life; there is no established curriculum and it can be stressful.

However, along with the challenge I get the intangible satisfaction of being excited about my work and its future. I apply the totality of my faculties to ownership and investment in a vehicle of identity and expression that I can be proud of and that brings people joy. I relate purpose in work to health; it takes upfront and continued investment and lifestyle alignment but is ultimately invaluable and cannot be priced. If there is something you think you will regret not doing, I would suggest getting started as soon as possible. My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier. The leverage capacity of your impact is correlated to the degree with which you execute and invest with immediacy on a long term vision, the longer the time frame the greater the potential for impact.

Please tell us about SYB Creative.
SYB Music and Brand
SYB is an expression of values and thematic concepts across music, visuals, performance, live experience, fashion and auxiliary products that relate back to music and the listener, which we value at the center of all activities. The aim is to create an incredible, fully realized music experience that unlocks emotion for an audience at a visceral level. I put everything I have into making every song amazing, every video engaging and exploring emotionally and intellectually impactful concepts that move people and strengthen identification and connection to the project. The approach is to develop trust with consistent value delivery and cohesive brand expression while pushing creative boundaries at the intersection of art and technology.

When creating the music I seek to incorporate and emphasize timeless elements; melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, and dynamics, elevating them with modern production tools, pairing strong emotional concepts and incorporating features from an array of artists characterizing their own identities. I conceptualize, write, produce, edit and set distribution and brand marketing strategy for every release with the intent that each song stand on its own in excellence while complementing the larger body of work. Each project relates back to a core theme and examines a part of life relevant to myself and our audience. Music is my medium of choice because it provides an emotional association to time and place and provides a space to explore identity in contrast to an immediately prescribed culture. It empowers community and validates unique expression as well as questions and perspectives that surface in a wider conversation. It provides a through line for global cultural exposure and generally finds its highest degree of impact at time in your life when you ask, “what do I want to be,” instead of “who do I have to be?” I am continually pushing my skill-set as a producer and work to find creative ways to elevate a song with the available tools. We additionally focus on capturing, curating and sharing all aspects of the project, collaborating with videographers on highlight footage from shows and using visual content as a means of complementing performances and exemplifying the concepts behind the songs.

SYB Creative:
Any effort with big intentions is collaborative and cannot be accomplished by just one person. It requires the skilled and focused work of many great individuals aligned to a mission and set of values. With that in mind, I incorporated SYB Creative and formed an organizational structure to streamline operations. It acts as an umbrella entity to house all aspects of the project and resides at the intersection of art, business, and technology. Over time we aim to maximize the value of the offering and its consumer impact across creative and cultural verticals at scale. The intent is to build one of the great lasting brands, trusted for a high degree of quality and authenticity, celebrating great artistry while staying relevant in culture beyond any one project. A flywheel approach is taken where activities and outputs are invested into reinforcing the project and facilitating engagement with our audience. We aim to optimize the available tools, software platform capabilities, and commercial infrastructure to drive value to listeners across the creative space with differentiated value offerings and a holistic conceptual expression.

Music is unique in business because it has space for youth in the high professional ranks. It arguably has the highest and fastest scale potential and ubiquitously occupies significant time, engagement and mindshare of the global population. Streaming platforms allow for zero cost global distribution, and modern production software empowers professional grade product development with immaterial upfront cost. In terms of organizational structure, I think of myself as a representative of the brand as the project needs to be bigger than an individual to allow for stakeholder ownership. Inspiration comes from great companies and brands, such as Nike, Apple, and Louis Vuitton as well as business leaders (mentioned previously) and great artists such as Calvin Harris, Avicii and Jim Morrison. The corporate structuring of SYB Creative provides an infrastructure framework optimized for legitimacy at scale and expansion into any brand avenue or product line we choose. It provides an entity for stakeholders and partners to invest into and endows and ties those involved to a defined purpose.

The mission is to design an infusion of business and creative work into the DNA of the company to bridge and the chasm between the industrial and the creative spaces. We are at the core a creative brand. Creativity, the fuel which propels the engine of innovation, is the cornerstone of any great lasting enterprise, equipping it to adapt to an evolving marketplace and consumer demand. Our culture of creativity focuses around one question: “How do we create and deliver value more effectively to our audience?” I am of the belief that art and capitalism don’t need to be mutually exclusive, they can complement and empower each other. Apple, the world’s most valuable company has design, artist inspiration, and differentiated thinking baked into their products and foundational values. The art of the Renaissance was catalyzed and flourished by way of the banking system implemented by the Medici.

Moving forward with SYB Creative, the focus is on creating and promoting a substantial music project complete with thematic through line and accompanying visuals and live show. We are professionalizing a media team for a greater degree of visual output, investing into fashion and product lines, and are dedicated to developing relationships and facilitating partnerships with infrastructure players and platforms across the industry to empower the project’s production, distribution and marketing capacity.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
It has been one year of full-time work on SYB and it’s just the beginning. The upcoming project, Savage Yung Romance, centers around the variability and tumult of life and relationships as a young person, amplified within the context of artist and music culture in Los Angeles. It is designed to be a visual album loaded with smashes. Moving forward into the new decade the focus is on realizing the potential of the debut project and reaching our global audience while continuing to invest into the foundations of a lasting creative brand and entity. We’ve planted the acorn, are seeing it sprout and are dedicated to providing the water and sunlight necessary for its development into an oak tree.

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