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Industry Insider: Downtown Records A&R Briana Cheng Made It In Music Her Own Way

Unpaid internships, shady side jobs, and skipping college is one way to get to the top.

I've only personally been in New York City once, but if there was one thing I learned during my time there, Briana Cheng is the girl to know for both music smarts and a damn good time. She's currently working as an A&R at Downtown Records (who's artists include/included Justice, Smino, Tei Shi, Slow Magic, Mura Masa, and more). If there's anyone that understands navigating through the music industry better than anyone, it's this still-unexpectedly young rising star. From blogging at EARMILK to internships, she's figured out how to make it to the top her way. 

How did you start your career in the music business?

I started off as a music blogger at EARMILK while bartending at a DIY space called 285 Kent and interning at XL Recordings like a go all in or nothing just moved to NYC type of thing. I probably had at least 10 shady restaurant jobs on the side on top of that.

What is the best part of the business?

To me, as someone in A&R, the best part is probably discovering new music on my own without anyone pitching it to me. It’s usually me being a genuine creep going through someone’s soundcloud likes at 3am.


What are the biggest challenges?

I never got the full college/finding yourself experience so I guess maybe figuring what you want to do in the music industry and navigating your personal taste can be frustrating. I started when I was 18 years old and had just about every job in the industry until a year ago when Downtown hired me to be their A&R and now I have the best coworkers to back me up on my stalking habits.

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What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?

Be patient, do the unpaid internships, do your research, scam your way in. 

As the music industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?

Don’t lose love for the music and take breaks if you have to and take on non-music related projects, charity work, etc.

Did you start off as a fan of music and then became involved on the business side, or did business bring you into the electronic music world? Describe that process.

I started off as a fan of music and when I ran away to live in a windowless room in Brooklyn, it had to become a business. My parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and they never supported me so I had to figure it out and make a career for myself considering how stubborn I am. I remember there were days where I had to go an internship, scout or interview a band, go to my hostess job, then bartend a party at 285 and eventually coming home to finish a paper (I never finished school) on a twin bed in the same windowless room that my best friend also lived on.

If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?

I’ve always wanted to be a flight attendant but recently I realized I’m not a very good swimmer and have too many visibly bad tattoos so I guess I’m stuck doing music forever now.

Follow Briana Cheng on Twitter here

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