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"Brand is the new king." That's one of the key elements behind any successful venture in today's digital-driven marketplace, and it's also the subtitle of a SXSW panel on the subject, "Taking the Throne," which takes place tomorrow afternoon at the Austin Convention Center. One of the panelists is Kevin Liles, a music industry veteran and CEO of KWL Management.
Liles first took to music–specifically hip-hop–in the late '80s as an electrical engineering student at Baltimore's Morgan State University. "I wanted to write songs, I wanted to rap, I wanted to perform, all these things," Liles says. He considered himself a behind-the-scenes man, a builder, someone intrigued by the business side of music, and someone interested in "how you could take something from nothing and make it a commodity."
It was a pivotal moment as a musical artist that helped fuel Liles' desire and ambition to understand the business-side of the music industry when Liles was a member of a hip-hop group called Numarx. He wrote a song called "Girl You Know It's True," which debuted as a single in 1987, and it later became the center of a questionable move by another group. "Two years later it was stolen and Milli Vanilli re-made it," Liles says. Liles continued to work as a musician and toured with the likes of LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and Salt-N-Pepa, but he felt it was clear that he needed to gain a stronger understanding of the business side of the industry.
So in 1991 Liles landed a gig at Def Jam–as an intern. He rose through the ranks to eventually become the company's president in 1998. In 2004, two years after overseeing the merger of Island and Def Jam, Liles left to become the Executive Vice President of Warner Music Group. Five years later he left Warner to start his own company, KWL Enterprises, an umbrella organization that includes KWL Management.