(Original Photo by: Undrgrnd Sound)
Kate Ross is someone that exists via URL. An interview via Google Hangout hardly constitutes an IRL (in real life) friendship. Through interweb interactions, it has become clear that she is more mild mannered and soft spoken than one might speculate. To update an old adage about a book and its cover, Internet profiles and even web-based interactions are mere covers, not by which to judge the devilish details dictated within the pages, especially not the story of one, the one, Kate Ross.
She is humble and sweet, seemingly unaware of her superior admirability, and the air of respect that surrounds her bright, amazing aura. One cool ass cat amongst an industry of big dogs…she holds her own and does what she wants. That is the type of stuff we like, and the reason she is a quintessential candidate for this Aspire to Inspire feature.
Here is her story.
Once upon a time, a Mathematics and Economics double major (graduated from Vassar College in New York) obtained gainful employment as a finance director making six figures. While she was miserable, financial stability was something that was important to her from a very early age, especially growing up in a society where individuals are defined by income, job title, what type of car he/she drives, and other materialistic things. Kate became super successful in that superficial business world, and her background in business helped shape the life she now knows.
Plot twist. The economy went to shit and she lost her job, which led down an interesting path: nonprofit mission work that paid less money but still privately funded and somewhat steady work, until it too faltered, then a job on the hill (aka our nation’s capital – Washington D.C.) lobbying for healthcare where she quickly realized the unlikelihood of making a difference. It is quite obvious even now how that would have been frustrating with such little impact in the years since that position. Progress in this country has been so slow and unsteady.
Kate moved on to odd jobs doing freelance work and dog walking…anything to pay her bills.
One day a friend, the owner of a construction company, needed some help with the business side of his endeavor. Then another friend asked for some help with his Audio Visual company. Her days as MC Lab Rat long gone, Kate had no idea she was stumbling into the offices of the AV company, which designed and installed the sound system for a famed D.C. venue called U Street Music Hall. U Hall is a basement club on U Street that holds a couple hundred people. U Street, a cobblestone road was a haven for jazz music many moons ago. The team liked Kate’s work and asked her to help some artist friends with their finances.
This was Kate Ross’s entry into the music industry.
“I remember walking into their office and there was all of this artist memorabilia everywhere and I was like oh my god I love ______ [artist]. Do you like him too? My boss said, ‘He is a friend of mine and he needs help too.’”
It wasn’t much money compared to the finance world, but she was around passionate people whom enjoyed her company when she wasn’t “Corporate Kate.” In fact, she no longer had to be Corporate Kate. Working doing the stuff you love is the best of both worlds. Even if it takes a little pay cut to be happy. There are always tradeoffs in life; the universe is about give and take.
For Kate Ross, this opportunity seemed to be one that brought balance and meaning to her life that she didn’t even know was missing. It is like Kate landed on this dream by circumstance. Growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was about becoming financially stable. Playing guitar and rapping in college were just things that made her happy. Hindsight might dictate that this was her destiny all along though; she was always connected to music. It made her happy, got her through difficult times, and she always leaned on it. DJ Paul Nice, a mentor of Kate’s, helped her to secure an internship with Triple 5 Soul the summer after her junior year. This was in the early days of dance music, when DJ Diplodocus (now known as Diplo) was throwing basement parties for Hollertronix mixtape releases with LowBudget, Y(o)ung Kate Ross was working the door watching Diplo and Mike Lowbeezy hit decks hard with crates and samples and scratches for no more than 150 people, but never thought it was a viable career option. Even without her financially stable mindset, who would have considered involvement in something like this a viable career? You’d have to be crazy to choose this life, right?
Even though she was passionate about music, producing it was not one of her dreams. At the suggestion of a client, Kate started Ross Business Management (RBM), which focused on handling finances for artists and other creative businesses. The goal has always been about sustainability, a testament to Kate’s sensibility even in this industry where sustainability is rather difficult.
About two years into RBM, artists began asking for more help outside of business management; they wanted her to completely manage them. This came as a shock to her, humble as she is wise, because managing artists was unchartered territory. Artist management is an unforgiving and difficult terrain, land mines and booby traps (pun intended) hidden in the friendliest of places.
Around the same time, her good friend Paige Plissner had approached her about starting a record label. She knew so many artists and wanted to help them succeed by helping them mold/maintain their image/brand. The first artist they worked with was Rex Riot, and then they just kind of turned into a management company – CUFF MGMT. About a year before CUFF MGMT launched, Jan Rosenfeld, Jackson Kachor, and Plissner formed and hosted CUFF Radio. The show only lasted one year as a result of the shortage of bandwidth in D.C. to support the show’s streaming needs. Additionally, the label was put on hold indefinitely as a result of family emergencies for Paige, which forced her to focus the majority of her time on family and CUFF MGMT.
As with any startup, you do what you’ve got to do. Paige and Kate were working jobs to pay bills and dedicating everything they had to making CUFF MGMT a success. For them, there isn’t so much a secret formula, as it is just hard work and dedication that finally paid off. Kate mentioned nightly PB&J for dinner, as she has little time to spare. None of them know what vacation even means, but they are growing. They have integrity. They believe in what they are doing, and frankly so do I.
It’s not all bad either. Kate has started spending a lot more of her time in Los Angeles, which comes with a pretty view and warm weather. She hob knobs with some of the industry’s finest, snaps snazzy photos at upscale events, and works with some of the finest artists and people probably in existence.
CUFF MGMT is a boutique artist management company. They want to stay small. According to Kate, “Paige and I jointly own and operate CUFF MGMT. We have three managers on our team – Paige Plissner, Brice Sopher (aka Walmer Convenience), and myself. We’re supported by and work closely with Brent Tactic, a booking agent at World War Trading (manages Goon Bags as well), and Josh Messer, who is currently our in-house PR guy. Messer recently teamed up with Michele D’Amaro (formerly of Magnum PR) to launch One Elle PR. Our current roster of amazing guys includes BeazyTymes, Debroka, Goon Bags, Happy Colors, Infuze, Rex Riot, Tyku, and Woolymammoth.”
The staff serves as both individual managers to artists assigned, but the whole management team supports their every effort. This is one of the tightest knit teams in the industry. They have enlisted only the utmost elite, even in outsourcing some things outside their purview of expertise. For example, they work closely with Nappy (Michael Abernathy), a guru and mentor to only the most deserving. He introduced BeazyTymes, Happy Colors, Tyku, and Woolymammoth to CUFF MGMT and now serves as creative input, bringing them talent he believes in. He brings in artists he thinks would benefit from CUFF MGMT’s impeccable, individualized services. Those who don’t know Nappy should know at the very least that he is a well respected figure in this industry, and his support for CUFF MGMT speaks volumes about their outfit.
It would be a misnomer to say that Kate Ross is any kind of boss at CUFF MGMT, even though she seems to be something of a stronghold; the adhesive keeping this operation running steady. She is the essence of this group, but each member is this same caliber of being. They are homies cohesively working for each other and their artists. You might even go so far as to say they are renegades, fighting for equality against this industry that is predominantly run by white males.
This world may not be ready for them. It may not be ready for the intelligent, talented women also working twice as hard to prove themselves to a majority of people not even listening. It doesn’t mean that Kate Ross or CUFF MGMT won’t continue to rep and protect their artists. It is just a microcosm of some very large issues too taboo to discuss.
The human element, this idea of connectivity comes into play in a big way with CUFF MGMT. In this industry, there are a lot of people who try to take advantage of others. We hear this story over and over again and we all see our share of shady business practices. There are companies that view their artists as disposable, which ignores any ounce of human compassion or respect. CUFF MGMT however, treats each of their clients equally and with respect. For instance, some of their artists want to finish college so they encourage them to do so and make it a priority. They protect their artists and look out for each other.
For Kate, the inspiration is more of a que sera sera (whatever will be, will be) mentality. A series of events that began in tragedy, losing her job and the identity she thought defined her, only to realize MC Lab Rat and the classical guitar were calling her home all along. This may have been her destiny since day one. No one really knows what he/she is meant for until they figure it out. We should all take that lesson, and many more from the woman who has become one of my biggest inspirations.
It is her integrity and strong sense of identity that shines through humility and grace. In this marvelous woman, hard work and dedication literally materialize before our very eyes. Kate Ross is an unbelievably amazing and inspiring woman, with all of her rock star parts. From her head down to her toes, she’s got the look. The one that inspired a super fierce tune, that pretty much epitomizes Kate. And she doesn’t even know it.
Thing is, Kate is just scratching the surface, the cover of some chic matte cover novella about a girl in a black brimmed hat, a brilliant business mogul who has found a way to utilize her skills of uber practicality in the music industry to help make dreams come true.