A Def Jam Executive Shares Advice For Black Women Working In The Music Industry and Her Own Path To Success

Music industry veteran Leesa Brunson has been in the industry for over two decades and she is not only Def Jam’s Sr. Vice President of A&R, but she’s also one of Billboard’s most recent 100 Most Powerful Executives. With a booming A-list client base made up of celebrities like Kanye West, Teyana Taylor and Justin Bieber, Brunson knows the ins and outs of the industry and the secrets to success. Just a few years ago, she launched her own candle line, which also has an extensive list of notable clients. Find out how she did it all and what advice she has for Black women looking to go into the industry.

Full Name: Leesa Brunson

Location: New Jersey

Hometown: The Bronx 

Social Media: LinkedIn

Title/Company: Senior Vice President of A&R at Def Jam

The Gig: I’m the liaison between A&R Department and all other departments at the label. I’m sort of like the gatekeeper because I keep the unreleased music. I’ve been in the game for about 27 years and I’ve been here about 15 years. When a record comes in, it comes to me then I move it to where it needs to go to next. 

Her Introduction To The Label: After being at Elektra Records for 10 years, I was led to Def Jam then Tina Davis, who founded Chris Brown and NeYo, hired me. The rest is history. 

Stumbling Into Music: I’ve always listened to backgrounds and instruments while growing up and hearing real music. Now it’s just identifying those sounds as I get older. I grew up with my parents listening to music that is soulful and I have an old soul so I’m still very tied to the idea of sampling. For me, when I hear samples, it just brings me back to that soulful place … I wasn’t seeking the industry, I just happen to be at a specific place at a specific time. 

Becoming An Entrepreneur And Starting Her Own Candle Line: 
In 2010, I created my candle line, OS Candles from the ground up using a chemist/perfumer to create scents and hiring a candle plant manufacturing company in the U.S. where I wick tested and learned the science behind the creation. I have been an avid scented candle connoisseur since my teenage years so I decided to take my talents and love of fragrances to the next level and create a product to give the world some added zen. 

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Building A Brand With Impressive Celebrity Clientele Including Notables, Adrienne Bailon, DJ Khaled and NeYo:  Customers have informed me that their homes/office/spaces are now “better places” because of the scents/vibes OS Candles gives. Also, many have informed me that they can smell the candle before lighting it and each time they walk into their rooms. I pride myself on having the plant put a certain percentage of fragrance in every candle.

Balancing A Successful Relationship With A Thriving Career: You have to want it, love the person and everything just falls in to place. I believe God is in the center of everything; and he sends a person when you’re ready and when the person’s ready there really isn’t a real formula.

Advice For Black Women Who Aspire To Enter The Music Industry: Learn the craft first, adopt patience and know when to be still and when to speak up.

Her superpower:  Multi-tasking. 

Her theme song: Titanium By Sia 

A Memorable Moment With Busta Rhymes: Elektra Records wanted me to go to Canada with him and back then there were multi-tracks and when we got to the airport customs in Canada confiscated everything and took his tapes. And I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we have a session tonight’ and the woman at the airport was like ‘nah.’ That was when I realized that you can either have the gift of gab or shut up – I spoke up. 

On Being Honored For Her Work In 2016 (Billboard’s 100 Most Powerful Executives): That whole day was the biggest accomplishment for me.