Discovering the Next Big Thing: Meet Katie Garcia, VP of A&R at Capitol Records

Following her four-year run as the Label Manager at Brooklyn’s beloved Captured Tracks, music industry powerhouse Katie Garcia founded the independent label Bayonet Records in 2014 with her husband Dustin Payseur of the band Beach Fossils. Bayonet is home to artists like bedroom pop up-and-comer Benét and Singaporean glitch phenomenon yeule. Some of its notable alumni include lo-fi indie project Frankie Cosmos and singer-songwriter Jerry Paper.

Not long after Bayonet’s inception, Garcia and Payseur approached the prestigious indie conglomerate Secretly about distributing Bayonet releases. It was around this time that Garcia was recruited as an A&R Representative for the music company. As Secretly’s A&R, she signed new artists and built rapport with prospective and existing clients for the next eight years. 

During a Zoom call with Remezcla, Garcia mentions that collecting CDs and vinyl records as a teenager first sparked her interest in working with music labels. “I remember reading the liner notes cover to cover–reading all the lyrics, all of the credits, all the thank yous–and just being so fascinated by that and looking at the labels that put out these records,” she says.

Now the Vice President of A&R at Capitol Records, she continues to channel her love for discovering the most buzz-worthy acts and helps artists bring their most ambitious creative concepts to life. We chatted with the Cuban visionary about her journey as a Latina in the music industry and creating more opportunities for women in hopes of seeing them succeed.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Could you walk me through a day of what your role as a Vice President A&R at Capitol Records looks like?

No one day is the same. It ranges from listening to new artists, wanting to reach out and start conversations with them about potentially working together, to [working] with existing artists. A lot of it is working together with the artist to think about the world they want to create, how they want it to be presented to everyone, highlighting the important pieces of information in terms of the themes of a record or the look of a record, and tying it all together so that people can connect to it… and just giving someone the biggest platform that they possibly could have. It’s something that I’ve always strived to do throughout my whole career. It’s also about coordinating with mixers, producers, and mastering engineers to make sure that we get a record on time and making sure that the artist is happy with it. If they give us sonic references for how they want something to sound, A&Rs will often put a list together and be like, “Okay, these people have worked on things that are adjacent to the stuff that you’re talking about. Let’s approach them about working on your next single.”

I imagine your workload shifts each day, depending on the folks you’re working with at that moment.

For sure. The A&R is the person at the label that should have the best relationship with the artist and manager. They’re like the point person to the label, which is awesome because I’m such a people person, so I love that I get to talk to artists and managers and be on the front lines of those conversations.

Is there a particular moment where you were like, “I am absolutely fulfilling my teenage self’s dream right now,” or a moment when you felt you were in the right place?

There’s for sure a few of them, [like] seeing Mac DeMarco play Coachella and blow up in a really big way. A big one for me was getting to go to SNL when Japanese Breakfast played and going to the Grammys with her. Both of those were just so huge! I have so much admiration and love for Michelle [Zauner of Japanese Breakfast]. She’s one of my favorite musicians… I’m getting emotional talking about this.

No, I think a lot of people have that response to her journey.

“Crying on the Zoom Call” would be the title of my book! [laughs] She’s just such an incredible person. She has such an incredible story to tell and I could not be more proud of her or to have worked on her project. Everything that’s happened with Phoebe Bridgers too. Just seeing her blow up in this really big way and have such a massive cultural influence in music right now is amazing… To have played a small part in that and helping people discover her is awesome. And who knows, there could be a kid right now in the middle of the country reading her liner notes cover to cover, and maybe they’ll find their way to work in music too, and that would be awesome.

Do you have any mentors, or were there other women that inspired you and helped along the way?

One of the things that I actually have found awesome, and it was something that I was really inspired by when Capitol approached me, was the fact that the CEO is a woman. Her name’s Michelle Jubelirer. She’s just such a powerhouse and also has a kid. That was another thing that we bonded about; just having a kid, having a career in music, and trying to balance it all. It’s really hard, but it is possible.

What would you say are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a woman and as a Latina in the music industry? Looking at the stats, women in general–but especially Latinas–are still so underrepresented within the music world, on artist or producer level to label executives…

Representation matters across the board. It’s important that there are people of all kinds of different backgrounds in the music industry, and I have seen it firsthand because so often, there are just certain cultural touchstones that people will have, that other people who are not of that same cultural background might not have. Providing that context and feedback is so crucial for the music industry, and for us as a society at large, to continue to evolve and be accepting and inclusive of people of every kind of background, all across the sexual and gender alphabet.

Being Latina is everything to me. Getting to work with Latin artists is something that I want to continue at Secretly. I was fortunate enough to work with Gabriel Garzón-Montano, who is incredible. He’s Colombian [and is] over at Jagjaguwar [which is part of Secretly Group]. We also just started working with a group called Kibi James, and they’re amazing. It’s important to have people who understand your perspective and to help amplify that part of yourself and your culture.

It’s important to have people who understand your perspective and to help amplify that part of yourself and your culture.  

You’ve been in this industry for over 10 years now. Do you feel like you’ve seen a noticeable shift in the way space is being made for women?

Definitely. I would say there’s a shift on both sides, on the label side and even on the artist side, across the board. We’re seeing music festivals be more conscious of the artists that they’re booking so that it’s not just all white male artists, frankly. The fact that people are conscious about that and are actively trying to make changes to, again, improve and be more inclusive is so huge. When I was at Secretly and now here at Capitol, having women in leadership positions is huge. It’s inspiring to other people who might want to enter the industry and have people to look up to.

Could you talk to me more about this idea of building something that goes beyond you, beyond one person, and working towards this bigger goal of bringing in more Latina women into the music industry?

That is something that I for sure am very passionate about. Our label manager at Bayonet for the last four years is actually also Latina, Stefanie Santana Bannister. She’s the freaking best.

I’m always open to mentor people. Whenever people email me or ask me questions, I try my best to hop on a call and just touch base with people. I had this one woman who was starting a label of her own and wanted some advice on that front, and I am happy to talk about my own experience in starting a label and just pass that knowledge down. I want to do whatever the opposite of gatekeeping is and absolutely give women as many tools as they can to succeed so that the music industry and the world changes into what I would want to see, which is definitely more women, and for sure more Latinas up in there.