General manager for AOL Music; former BMG mailroom boy, now go-to guy for Britney, Avril Lavigne
On Dec. 1, Evan Harrison was pacing up and down the balcony at Webster Hall. Wearing a tan trucker hat over his chin-length red head of hair and clad in an orange button-down shirt and brown sweater, he surveyed the crowd of 200 or so fans leaning over the railing, straining to get a look at Alicia Keys as, downstairs, the crowd bounced up and down to the beat of her music.
The 33-year-old convened this invitation-only concert for AOL for Broadband as part of a series of events meant to promote AOL Music, of which, at his tender age, he’s become the vice president and general manager.
He’s the man behind the upper-right-hand corner of the AOL welcome screen, where the mug of the next pop sensation looks out at some 17 million users, enticing them with the chance to hear their songs before they debut on the radio or in stores. It was Mr. Harrison’s program that broke out new acts like Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch.
Mr. Harrison had heard Ms. Keys’ new single, which premiered on AOL Music, before anyone else there had. First Listen and “First View,” created by Mr. Harrison, have become an essential part of the major labels’ strategy for bringing their biggest acts to the market, priming them for major radio and television coverage.
When it came time to bring out Britney Spears’ new single, Mr. Harrison got the first listen-and three million people heard it on AOL before the song hit the radio.
“To me, there was a huge opportunity that radio and TV had left open,” he said. “How many songs do they really play on the radio? And MTV now focuses on their shows and less on music, so there are so few outlets for new music.
“The biggest problem with selling records is that no one knows that records are out. We saw that void and we filled it, and have invigorated the business-and artists, record labels and consumers have all taken notice.”
Now, even brand-new acts are breaking out on AOL. Six months before Ms. Lavigne released her new album, she was in the AOL music studio with an acoustic guitar recording a private performance.
“We took a huge risk,” Mr. Harrison said of the pouty punkette. “We really put her on the map.”
Mr. Harrison’s place on the map is in Montclair, N.J., where the Jersey native lives with his wife and kids. It was in New Jersey that Mr. Harrison started his music career, behind the counter at Sam Goody, before he started a string of internships at various radio stations up and down the East Coast.
But after college, he found himself at the bottom of the ladder: in the mailroom of record company BMG on that other coast, in San Francisco. After a year, he was promoted to the sales and marketing division: He was the one who hung posters and went door-to-door to record stores pleading with store owners to play his company’s biggest acts.
Just when the shoe-leather was getting thin, BMG moved him to New York to build BMG Web sites, and with no prior knowledge of the Web, he used his marketing skills to build bugjuice.com and click2music.com. After running their online marketing for two years, he moved to AOL’s Radio City Music Hall office to build their music site. Getting in early has meant Mr. Harrison’s little Web job has put him on top of the pile-and the Internet bubble still looks pretty sturdy from where he sits.
“What I’m doing right now is changing so quickly, so I’m happy where I am,” said Mr. Harrison. “But if my career allows me to run a whole corporation, I’ll rise to the occasion!” he added with a laugh. “All I know is that I didn’t enter the mailroom of BMG saying, ‘One day I’ll be the general manager of AOL Music!'”