The veteran manager for ?uestlove explains why authenticity is an artist’s most valuable asset.
What began as a passion for live music in Dawn White’s youth gave way to her storied career as a manager and tour manager for the likes of King Britt, Tom Morello, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gnarls Barkley, and, for the longest duration, ?uestlove of The Roots. For years, she’s dedicated herself to fostering the connection between creators and their audiences, a relationship that continues to transform as current events redefine the role that artistry plays. We caught up with her to discuss her insights on artist and tour management, adapting to a dramatically evolving cultural climate, and how musicians can use their platforms to inspire change.
Spotify for Artists: Can you describe what you do and tell us how you got there?
Dawn White: Currently, I oversee the DJ career of ?uestlove from The Roots as his manager, and as part of the management and strategy team for the ?uestlove brand at large. I started my career working for the electronic music pioneer King Britt and I became friendly with ?uestlove back in the late ’90s. After working for King, I managed Larry Gold's highly regarded recording studio, where the entire neo-soul movement was born in Philadelphia. Everyone was coming there to work because Larry is a string composer. He was writing arrangements for Justin Timberlake, J-Lo, Christina Aguilera, [and] The Roots.
?uestlove asked me to come on the road with him as his assistant and the merch director for The Roots. During that time, he was exploring his burgeoning interest in DJing. [Because] I had come from working with King Britt in the club scene, ?uestlove asked me to head up his DJ career.
I moved to LA in 2006 and was immediately recruited by [Waxploitation Records founder] Jeff Antebi to work on a very exciting project he was heading up for Danger Mouse called Gnarls Barkley. I was their tour manager when that project exploded and spent the next three years traveling the world with them. I went on to tour-manage Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine for a couple years. I also tour-managed Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Simultaneously, I was diligently building ?uestlove's DJ venture with him. In 2011, I started my own boutique DJ management and consulting agency, developed that for a few years, then ultimately decided my main priority is working with ?uestlove.
What sparked your interest in pursuing this as a career?
My obsession with live music started when I went to see my very first show in 1987. I went to the Joshua Tree U2 tour at the now-defunct JFK stadium in Philly. I was in seventh grade. It was memorable because Bono had a broken arm, so Bruce Springsteen played guitar that night. After that, I spent all my money on concert tickets and merch. By the time I graduated from high school, I'd been to over 200 shows. [When] I went to college, I got turned on to the Grateful Dead. I took some time off from school and followed the Grateful Dead around in a 1974 VW Westfalia camper van. I fell in love with that traveling-circus energy and the idea that music could inspire community. Though my parents were none too thrilled about my decisions during that time, we now joke about that experience [and how it] ended up being my career path.
What’s the best way for artists to utilize their platforms during a political and social moment like the unfolding now?
The best way to use your platform for the greater good is access. We all relied on touring and performance to spread the message, but the current climate has shown we don't necessarily need to rely so heavily on that when we have access at our fingertips—your phone and your computer. There is a real reason now to tell real stories. If you can't find inspiration right now, maybe music is not meant to be your calling. Look at BTS and how they're using their platform to turn their fans into disruptors and [encourage] political change in America. This is the power artists have now. I find it totally inspiring.
How has your work been affected or evolved in light of the pandemic?
I see this as a time for huge growth and creativity. Authenticity is being showcased now. We’re able to draw attention to the real impact of music.
In the pre-COVID world, there was a lot of music centered around a party vibe. That's not bad—that's a celebration of life in its own way. But in the midst of where we are in terms of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, really, who is trying to bring Vegas into their living room now? That isn't where anyone is, emotionally.
That's why ?uestlove’s nightly DJ sets are so culturally important. He's teaching history lessons and reminding us to celebrate life. It's also a lesson in how to be better, more mindful humans. Whether it's the health crisis or the civil rights crisis, [that] is the truly the call to action now. I'm really proud of our team and what we're doing to represent those things.
What is the best advice you have for any artists that are just starting out?
It's simple: Stay true, stay on the course, and don't make decisions to please other people.