Chantel Le is just about everywhere, doing just about everything. She’s helped produce videos with Munachi Osegbu, and also sourced honey on a bee farm for Joji’s latest record release. Based in Los Angeles, Chantel’s work spans the globe—she wakes up to text messages from Asia, but finishes her day on Pacific Coast Time. Needless to say, she has her finger on the pulse.
We spoke to Chantel about navigating various personalities, workflows, and social media platforms in order to find the middle ground that nurtures creative growth. Read on to hear about Chantel’s take on the music industry in a post-pandemic world and how the industry’s continuous evolution is something to be excited about.
This interview took place over the phone between Lyzbeth Lara in Bogotá, Colombia and Chantel Le in Los Angeles, California.
LL: How did you get to where you are today?
CL: I struggled with figuring out what I wanted to do and what to study. I grew up studying music and doing a lot of art. My dream was to design album artwork for my favorite artists or be a tour manager—which was weirdly specific. Both my parents were immigrants from Vietnam, and they struggled immensely—they sacrificed a lot in order for my brother and me to be successful. Their idea of success was a job that would allow us to make money and be secure, so art was out of the question. I had to put my art dreams aside and figure out what I wanted to study because I needed to get a solid, foundational education.
I went into Pre-Business at Rutgers, but I've never been good at being forced to learn something that I didn't want to or to think the way that my teachers wanted me to think. I always thought differently, and I knew that about myself. In the end, I failed a class for my Pre-Business requisite, I couldn't even get into the Business program.
Then in my freshman year, I took this course called Consumer Media Culture. I found out the class was under Journalism and Media Studies, which was known around campus to be one of those majors that people just take because it's easy. But I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get my degree.
In my first week of college, I went to the Involvement Fair, where they had this one student organization that puts on all the concerts on campus, which I eventually joined later that spring. I was never ever sure of anything, but I spent way more time doing that concert planning committee than schoolwork.
Joji & Diplo - Daylight (Official Music Video)
How was that experience for you?
I liked seeing something come to life from start to finish and being a part of something bigger that has an impact on so many people. I think that's when I realized, “Oh, music could do this.”
Through this organization, I ended up meeting one of my first mentors, Justin Duran, who is currently a marketing manager at Def Jam. He was two years older than me, so when he graduated he was working at Complex and looking for an intern, and he helped get me in the door.
He would always say, “You're not successful unless you bring all the homies up with you and they're successful with you.” And that really stuck with me. I ended up staying at Complex and later became their Brand Partnerships Project Manager.
What did that role entail?
We were a team of account directors, account managers, and strategists. Brands would run a campaign with us and tell us who they're trying to target. Then, the strategists would come up with ideas that the account directors would manage and present to the client. Once the concept of the entire campaign was confirmed and contracted, it would then be assigned to a project manager, which was my role.
So I would get assigned a campaign, a total budget, as well as all the deliverables. It was my job to kick off the campaign, shuffle all that information through the client and manage the communication with them, as well as our internal communication.
What skills do you think are particularly helpful for that role?
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the biggest ones. As a project manager, you're essentially making sure that everyone's doing what they need to do. Being able to communicate effectively saves a lot of headaches—for yourself, for your team, and for the clients.
Also, being organized, punctual, and flexible because so many things do go wrong.
Things can go in different directions, and you can never predict what's going to happen. Rather than harping on those moments and questioning why, you’d pivot instead. It’s about being able to bend whichever way things go, and being quick to solve problems.
Being a project manager is also being able to understand people because not everyone works the same way. I'm a very empathic person, to a fault. I can feel other people's feelings, literally, through email. It’s really helpful when you know how to speak to someone in the way in which your information will be best received.
Do you feel your growth was organic or do you feel that you were actively pursuing and stepping into the role you wanted?
The timing was organic, but I always had this goal of being a project manager. I wanted to be in a creative space and still do what I'm good at, which is being organized. I'm not a full-blown strategist—I can't sit down and come up with an entire concept and pull mood boards and things like that.
I knew where I wanted to end up and what helped me is that I was vocal about what I wanted to do. However, I didn't want to overstep, so I took my time with my trajectory, but also kept an eye out for opportunities.
Which is one of your favorite projects and why is it important to you?
I helped a handful of clients put on activations at ComplexCon. For Mountain Dew, we did a pre-party with influencers. We curated the music and organized the dinner. I really like IRL events. It's awesome to see how your work has impacted people and how crazy the kids were on the floor and bum-rushing the door.
I like being behind the scenes because there's so much that people don't see, but then you get to watch them experience it.
You were at Complex for a little over five years, what is your biggest takeaway from being with a company for so long?
I held seven different positions. I first joined out of college and wanted to dedicate all my time to the job to prove my worth. Looking back now, I wouldn’t do that for any company anymore. The idea of brand loyalty is interesting to me…I don’t want to sound too cynical, but working from 8 AM to 10 PM every day does not get you that much more than most people would think.
I regret leaving little time for myself and not having a balance between life and work. For five years, I didn’t do anything for myself. When I left, I realized that I needed to live my life for myself and not for other people. Leaving was my opportunity to do what I want with my time, on my own terms.
The brand loyalty thing really hits hard, but it's true. What happened next?
I left Complex in May 2018, because this UK-based media company reached out to me as they were starting their US division. They needed someone to help jumpstart their account management, project management, and integrated marketing teams. It sounded like a really good opportunity—great benefits, great pay. I wasn't looking to leave Complex, but the opportunity came and I thought it would be a chance to take more of a leadership role. At the time, things felt like they just aligned…but it ended up being horrible.
Coming out of college, I thought, “I worked at Complex for five years, there's no way that I'm ever gonna have a gap in my career”—not in a conceited sense, but in a way that was overly optimistic. Then all of a sudden, the UK company went bankrupt, and no one was communicating with me for almost a month. After, I found out they had cut my insurance, and they stopped paying me without telling me.
I was scrolling on LinkedIn, and I saw that my boss had gotten a new job. It was really, really bizarre. At that time, a lot of companies weren't hiring because they didn’t have new budgets at the end of the fourth quarter.
I applied to around 200 different jobs and barely heard back. That was a big dampener on my confidence and on my career. I started second-guessing myself and thought I wasn’t hireable—I started spiraling.
Luckily, I saw this position at 88rising on Indeed.com. I applied, got a message the next day, and came in for an interview the day after.
Can you tell us what the interview process was like?
There was no receptionist, it was dark, half the lights were on, and everyone was working really hard. The assistant brought me into Sean [Miyashiro, Founder and CEO of 88rising]’s office. I was used to corporate settings with an HR recruiter, but the interview was just, "Hey, so tell me about yourself." He was super casual, but he means business.
So I just chatted with Sean, and he brought in two other people to give me an idea of how things run. And then he was just like, "Cool. Are you interested?" I sent him some examples of work that I've done, and then he called me that night, and he offered me the job
Can you tell me about the move from New York to Los Angeles because the work culture must be very different?
I wanted to live in LA because I have family here and I’ve always loved the city. When I was in New York, I mostly worked on building our new e-commerce website. My role essentially changed when I moved because our Brand Partnerships team is in LA, so I started doing more of that.
You’re now their Creative Project Manager, can you give me an overview of what your day-to-day is?
Right now, I'm transitioning over from e-commerce and brand partnerships to working on artists releases which entails managing marketing, social, PR, and music assets within the release schedule.
Messages come in throughout the night—over email, text, Slack, WeChat, and WhatsApp because of our counterparts in Asia—so I'd check everything first thing in the morning. If we have to deliver a YouTube video or social assets, I’d help out with production and then work directly with our designer on creating titles, as well as with our video editor on what it needs to look like. When I'm not working on brand partnerships, I'm also doing email marketing. We don't have one specific person who does it, and that kind of happens a lot here.
What do you think sets 88rising apart? And how do you participate in the innovation?
It’s the space that we are in, being this US-based company, bridging East and West through Asian music, which is not exactly mainstream yet some of our artists have had really great hits. We're bridging cultures and that gives us this opportunity to do whatever we want, which is why we’re able to be so innovative.
Everything that we put out - every piece of content, music, literally everything, is the sum of so many people being able to put their creative input and to make it better. Our Slack channels are full of people throwing out ideas and offering suggestions and stuff like that. The environment just really allows us to be creative.
What are some of the long-term goals that you have in mind on the creative end?
I like being part of the experience.
We had plans for our Head in the Clouds Festival, which we've done in LA and we were bringing it over to Jakarta and also worldwide. That was going to be really exciting, but COVID-19 put things on halt. But we're in an incubator with many amazing ideas and plans, and I'm just excited to see it grow. I think that 88rising itself can be really unpredictable. So even if I have an idea what it might look like, we're all kind of always surprised with what we do next.
What have been your favorite projects so far at 88rising?
I helped Jackson Wang organize a Lunar New Year surprise in 2019 for Kevin Hart at his office. I had to get these five-foot-tall ice sculptures of a pig and throw the party at this really beautiful house in Hollywood Hills where we also were shooting a promo video, with all of the LA lights in the background.
But building 88nightmarket, our e-commerce website, was probably one of my favorites.
Before the pandemic, I started working on sourcing honey from Southern California as a merch item for Joji for his upcoming album, “Nectar”. We were trying to support local businesses and find a unique way to collaborate with them
Our fans really loved it, and I learned a lot in the process. The owner of his eponymous bee farm and honey business, Eli’s Bees, is really passionate about bees and caring for the environment. I’ve got to work with so many different people and learn so many things from them. I never would have thought that I'd ever learned from a beekeeper working at an Asian record label.
Joji Nectar Pure Honey - "Fresh From The Hive" 🐝🍯
For someone who knows they want to work in music and doesn’t necessarily have a full grasp on the industry, what should they be reading?
All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman. It's the music business 101 book that I think everyone who works in the industry knows about.
What advice would you want to give to somebody who wants to further their career in the music industry?
Investing in relationships and talking to people. I would say the easiest way to do that is to get an internship and be very active in getting to know people and asking questions.
Aside from that, it's being able to learn from people who have been where you've been, seeing how they've done it, and understanding that there are a million different ways to do it. My path to get where I am is very different from a lot of my colleagues'.
What are you excited for this year?
One of my big beliefs is that my job doesn't define me. I would say in the past year, I really honed in on this. As much as I love working at 88rising, I need to do things for myself in order to be truly happy and fulfilled. So that's actually why once a pandemic started, I taught myself how to sew. I made a couple of reworked pieces of clothing, and now I make rugs.
Since college, I always strived to be really good at one thing, but I've actually never been really good at one single thing. I've always picked things up, put them down, and started something new. I used to think that that was a bad thing, but now I'm happy making different things for myself.
Step into Chantel's world below:
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Chantel Le
Special thanks to Polaroid