A collage of a man's face on a green background

Mauricio Ruiz

With COVID-19 leaving the music industry questioning how to support their artists, the Toronto-based CEO of 8 Til Faint management and co-manager of Jessie Reyez launched an online conversation with fellow managers to exchange ideas on how to navigate lockdown

By Jess Kelham-Hohler   Portrait by Joe Cruz   Images courtesy of Mauricio Ruiz

When COVID-19 hit, there wasn’t one corner of the music industry that didn’t feel the impact. For Mauricio Ruiz, as the CEO of 8 Til Faint and one half of the management team for R&B artist Jessie Reyez, the most pressing questions were how he could protect and support the singer, who was on the cusp of releasing her debut studio album. 

The first step was opening up the question to his fellow music managers. On 5 April, Ruiz announced that he would be hosting a public Zoom panel with some of them to discuss how they could approach the unknown terrain ahead.

In a post announcing the panel on Instagram, Ruiz wrote: ‘In the music business, every single day new information is challenging us to do our jobs more efficiently for our artist. In this current climate, the adversity the entire industry is facing is completely new and foreign to everyone. We’re all trying to figure out strategy in real time. So, I called a few friends, mentors and peers who are Canadian managers or work with a Canadian artist on a global level to have the conversation in public.’

It was an idea that struck a chord with people more than Ruiz could have anticipated. Within five minutes of the panel beginning, the Zoom call had hit its cap of 500 attendees.

By galvanising the industry’s music managers and creating a forum to share concerns, ideas and potential solutions, Ruiz was able to build a sense of community that enabled each of them to feel supported. In turn, they could support the artists they are responsible for through this unchartered territory.
A collage of a man's face and a panel discussion.

'In this current climate, the adversity the entire industry is facing is completely new and foreign to everyone. We’re all trying to figure out strategy in real time'

A woman wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask looking at the camera
Less than a month later, George Floyd was choked to death by a White police officer and Black Lives Matter protests around the world were challenging businesses as much as individuals on the streets. For the music industry, new questions were raised about representation behind the scenes, as well as on stage, and many insiders spoke out – a number through #TheShowMustBePaused, a movement launched by music executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. Both Ruiz and Jessie Reyez felt it imperative that they add their voice to the outcry.

‘I also see a lot of you in the Latino community are very quiet right now when you should be more vocal and standing in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters,’ Ruiz wrote on Instagram in May. ‘Whether you like it or not, we have more in common with the black community than those who rally against. So if you read this and feel attacked, I’m ok with that. Do better.’

For Ruiz and Reyez, the push for change and solidarity went beyond words. After featuring on the track ‘Scar’ from Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King, Ruiz organised for Reyez to perform the Canadian and American national anthems from the top of the CN Tower for the first game of the NBA Playoffs. On top of the tallest structure in North America, Reyez sang – wearing a mask emblazoned with the name Breonna Taylor – while taking a knee in solidarity with those standing against racism.

‘I think there’s a lot of things that the music industry at large can do for the betterment of our community and culture,’ Ruiz reflects. ‘One of the things that record labels in particular can do is enter into only fair deals with recording artists.’ 

Through it all, Ruiz notes how loyal the fans have been to Reyez. With the pandemic making physical promotion of her new album, Before Love Came To Kill Us, impossible, the duo was doubtful as to whether to release her debut studio work. Ultimately, Reyez put the question to her fans. ‘They spoke and said you gotta drop it, you gotta release it, so we made the decision to do that.’ And sure enough, the fans showed up. 2020 may have posed its challenges, but it was also the year that Ruiz’s artist scored 13th place on the Top Billboard 200 chart, and fourth on its Top R&B Albums chart.

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