This post was originally published on St. Louis American
By Danielle Brown
“Some people say they won’t make it, so they’ll just do basic things because it’s comfortable,” Brandra Ringo, EVP of A&R, Quality Control Music, said. “I want to make sure I provide opportunities in St. Louis for Black girls and women to work with mentors in the music business so that it feels tangible and becomes a reality for them.”
Ringo, a St. Louis native, and Hazelwood Central High School alum, has joined forces with Simone Mitchell, Quality Control Music president, to launch the Black Girls Behind Music (BGBM) program. BGBM is a free nine-month program that will run concurrently with the 2022-2023 academic year. The program exposes and teaches Black girls and women from underserved communities about behind-the-scenes work in the music industry.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to the people who aspire to be in my shoes,” Ringo said. “I don’t want them to think, ‘I’m from St. Louis.’ No one will know who I am because it boils down to work ethic.”
Ringo said BGBM has three phases for girls and women: etiquette and development, mentorship, and a retreat. She also said the program offers an in-house life coach to administer mental health tools and resources.
“Etiquette and development will teach them how to navigate professional relationships and have skill sets to get through the music and business,” Ringo said. “The life coach will help with any conflicts and assist with coping mechanisms in various mental health illnesses. The goal is to help the girls and women navigate and cope while they go through things because you can’t stop going just because you’re going through something.”
Ringo’s music business career started over a decade ago when she interned with Nelly’s former management team, Tony “T Luv” Davis (co-owner of Prime 55 restaurants and lounges) and Dana Randolph. Having completed several internships during her undergrad years at Columbia College Chicago, she reached out to Nelly’s Derrty Entertainment company to inquire about internship opportunities. After college, she took her talents to New York to work at Def Jam and worked closely with the label.
Her wealth of knowledge and vast experience led her to Los Angeles, which directed her to work in publishing for Universal Music Publishing Group.
With her undeniable vigor, matched with drive and budding experience, she was under Ethiopia Habtemariam’s wing, working as her assistant when Habtemariam was senior vice president of A&R at UMPG. Habtemariam is now Motown Records’ CEO and chairman. The pair simultaneously worked at UMPG and Motown.
“It was a huge break for me getting my feet wet as an A&R [assistant] ,” Ringo said.
Under Habtemariam’s tutelage, Ringo witnessed her sign many talents ranging from artists, producers, and songwriters. As Habetamariam moved higher in the ranks with Motown, Ringo had the opportunity to oversee and A&R some of her talents.
“I assisted her for a while. By the time I stepped into the job as an A&R manager, I had so much experience,” Ringo said. “I had so many relationships from just working with her. I was able to use that as leverage and network from it.”
For three years, Ringo worked under Ryan Press (current Warner Chappell Music president) at Warner Chappell. She learned more about the publishing world and how to be an A&R and a dot connector, putting people in certain positions.
“I would find songwriters, producers, and artists, put them in sessions to make music for specific artists,” Ringo said. “The biggest reward is when the artist cuts the song after I do that, and then the song is on the radio. The song is charting and doing well, and people love the song. That’s my biggest reward from coming up with an idea and then seeing it come to fruition.”
Her publishing resumes with Warner and Universal have afforded her many projects to service artists through pitching them songwriters and producers, which then blessed her to do the same thing with the label QC Music. Her proven track record in the industry led her to put together a writing camp with QC during the height of the pandemic.
In response, Ringo said QC was impressed with her creativity and influence. They hired her for her current position with the label. She works closely with multi-platinum selling artists Lil Yachty, Lil Baby, Migos, City Girls, and East St. Louis native Layton Greene on the Atlanta-based Black-owned-and-founded label.
“It’s a bigger reward than my previous jobs because I’m directly connected to the artists, and we can talk about the vision for their project and move about it in that way,” Ringo said.
As an executive in the industry, how does Ringo feel about the current state of music? She said many of today’s rappers could use some room for improvement by expanding their lyrical content.
“I think a lot of what the rappers are speaking about nowadays in their music is very similar, and it’s hard to differentiate originality,” Ringo said.
Ringo gives a tip and words of advice for upcoming rappers from St. Louis in search of their big break — have a rigorous, dedicated work ethic because talent isn’t enough.
“Ultimately, I think hard work and work ethic are what keep people at the forefront, and it shows because a lot of times, the people who are getting the most attention may not be the most talented,” Ringo said. “They are not the most talented. They’re the ones who are just working the hardest.”
What was once an industry primarily controlled by wealthy white men has diversified with more representation of Black women power players like Ringo. However, challenges are still apparent for her despite her higher-level position.
She shared that she gets overlooked in rooms, especially in studio sessions, with men assuming she’s the assistant or an artist’s girlfriend.
“It’s disrespectful to not acknowledge the woman in the room and assume she doesn’t have power,” Ringo said. “Women are taking more positions of power than ever. It’s something to be mindful of and be more respectful about.”
St. Louis Girls and women residents aged 16-22 enrolled in high school or college can apply to Black Girls Behind Music. Applicants must submit a 60-90 second video or a 350-500 word response explaining why they want to be in the program.
Ringo said she and Mitchell hope to also bring the program to Dallas and Houston.
Applications are open until June 15. For more information or to apply, visit: https://www.blackgirlsbehindmusic.org/.
Ringo is bicoastal, splitting her time between Los Angeles and Atlanta.