Hitmaker of the Month: Atlantic Records Groups Aton Ben-Horin Rewrites the A&R Rulebook With Jax, JVKE, Producer Johnny Goldstein
Aton Ben-Horin, the executive vice president of global A&R of Atlantic Records Group, describes himself as a pop obsessive. “I like everything from the most bubblegum pop to the most edgy cool stuff. The common denominator is great songs.”
During his tenure at Atlantic Records, where he was recruited by Mike Caren, Warner Music Group’s former president of global A&R in 2012, Ben-Horin has been instrumental in generating multiple hits for artists across the musical spectrum. From Flo Rida and Jason Derulo, to more recently, Jax’s “Victoria’s Secret” and Tiësto and Karol G.’s “Don’t Be Shy.”
Beyond his A&R role, since 2010 Ben-Horin has worked his unerring touch on hits from the roster at his management company, Plush Management. Current smashes include JVKE’s “Golden Hour,” writer/producer Jaxxe Erixson with Lauren Spencer-Smith’s “Fingers Crossed” and Hitmaker of the Month Johnny Goldstein with Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and David Guetta’s “Don’t You Worry.”
“It starts with an amazing song,” says Ben-Horin on Zoom from his car. “You can take a great song and produce it differently and it’ll become a different genre.”
A song, namely “Ring Pop,” is what brought Jax to the attention of Adam Grossman on Ben-Horin’s A&R team at Atlantic. Says Ben-Horin, who set up a session with GRAMMY-winner Mark Nilan (Lady Gaga), out of which “Victoria’s Secret” emerged: “It wasn’t reaction. It wasn’t numbers. There are so many research-based signings. With Jax, she’s a brilliant songwriter.”
It didn’t hurt that Jax had a starter fanbase from being a finalist on “American Idol” and that she’s great at generating buzz. “Victoria’s Secret” first gained traction when Jax posted a video of herself to social media singing it in the car to the girl she babysits, for whom she wrote the song. She then orchestrated a flash mob outside a Victoria’s Secret store. By sheer coincidence, the Hulu documentary on the brand was released soon after. To date, “Victoria’s Secret” has 93.9 million global streams, 728 million views across short-form content platform and is at No. 48 on Billboard Hot 100 chart, according to Atlantic Records.
“Jax is a genius marketer and was very strategic,” says Ben-Horin who had a different single already uploaded and shipped when “Victoria’s Secret” went viral. Atlantic quickly pivoted at the last minute to release the song. He says, “One of Jax’s biggest strengths is clever lyrics. It’s one of the hardest things to find. There are a lot of people are good at melody, which is a valuable thing, but there are fewer good lyricists.”
For “Don’t Be Shy,” Ben-Horin says the connection to Karol G. would have never happened had it not been for COVID, when he returned to his home state of Florida. “Don’t Be Shy,” written and produced by Teemu Brunila, was earmarked for Tiësto but needed a feature — ideally someone Latin. Ben-Horin met with a friend who works with the Colombian superstar, sent them the song, which she loved, choosing to make it her first-ever English language release. With Karol G. as the feature, the song was immediately slotted as Tiësto next single.
“We’re really in the business of finding great chorus ideas, any other part of the song can be easily changed,” says Ben-Horin. “Tiësto is such a big name. He was coming off ‘The Business,’ which was a massive hit. With an artist of that size, who has been releasing music for years, everyone knows the name, but there weren’t that many crossover hits associated with him to grab onto, so ‘Don’t Be Shy’ is really important.”
On the management side, Rhode Island-based TikTok star JVKE is a “100%-er” who caught the attention of Ethan Curtis, Ben-Horin’s partner at Plush Management (also the president/co-owner of Plush Studios and the mastermind behind Push Play, the TikTok-focused marketing company). Going through AWAL to release “Golden Hour,” JVKE put his TikTok smarts to work, regularly posting content tied to the song. It wasn’t until he posted a video of himself playing “Golden Hour” to his piano teacher that it exploded on all platforms. According to Ben-Horin, the song has 1.6 million stream a day on Spotify alone, and 72 million streams total at press time.
Additionally, AWAL shares that “Golden Hour” has over 100 million combined views on short form content and 10 million video views. The song peaked at No. 1 on both Spotify Global Viral and U.S. Viral, and is in the Global Top 50 on the DSP. It hit No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is the No. 2 most added at Top 40 radio on impact.
“It was JVKE finding that organic moment,” says Ben-Horin. “The authenticity of the video made it go crazy. What’s even more special is you see JVKE playing the piano, you see how talented he is, and it positions him as a real artist right away. It helped establish a narrative around him. His entire catalog went up by 65%, meaning people went to check out his other songs.”
Lauren Spencer-Smith‘s “Fingers Crossed” was written by another Plush client, Jaxxe Erixson. Ben-Horin was aiming to release the song on Atlantic Records, which didn’t happen, but he says, “I have to find a balance between being good to my management clients and Atlantic Records. My roster on the management side are incredible producers and writers, which helps me find hits for our artists at Atlantic.”
When he’s not physically in the same space as his clients and artists, Ben-Horin is a phone call away. In the case of Israeli producer Johnny Goldstein — who didn’t have a U.S. placement before joining the Plush roster — this means multiple calls a day, including when he was working on “Don’t You Worry” with Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and David Guetta.
Goldstein has become will.i.am’s main collaborator since his work on the group’s “Translation” album and its monster hit, “Mamacita.” Says Ben-Horin of his relationship with Goldstein: “We have a strong musical connection. His success becomes my success and vice-versa.”
Ben-Horin and his team are based in Atlantic Records’ Hollywood studios rather than Warner Music Group’s Downtown L.A. headquarters. “I take 10 steps out of my office and I’m in the studio where I can give notes on a song,” he says. “Because of that, we get to not only have strong relationships with the producers and songwriters, we know who’s good at what. Part of the magic is knowing who to put in the room so that they complement each other. That gives you have the best odds of having a hit song. … Part of why I’ve had success is I’m a genuine fan. A lot of people try to predict what’s ahead or popular, but they don’t listen to that style of music. They say, ‘I wouldn’t listen to this, but I think it’s a hit.’ I am a typical consumer. I’m predicting what I’m obsessed with.”
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