Cynthia “CJ”Johnson – Columbia Records
Vice President, Urban Promotions,
I’ve known Cynthia “CJ” Johson for slightly over two decades. She is the consummate professional, well loved and a positive force in our industry. She’s always upbeat, effective and respected. There are many amazing people behind the scenes and our readers want to know who they are in addition to the many amazing artists in the urban radio and music industry. RFFocus is digging deeper to take you there. The fondest memory I have of CJ was when she worked at Columbia previously and we were at an industry party. She was with (then) Destiny’s Child and I asked to take a picture. They all posed perfectly with CJ and my digital camera’s battery was dead, there was no flash and no hiding behind the truth (lol). For the young’ens, the first digital cameras had batteries BTW. We got a good laugh out of it.
RADIO FACTS: Tell our readers about your background?
CYNTHIA “CJ” JOHNSON I am blessed to say, I promote music. I started as an assistant at MCA and now, I am Vice President of Urban Promotion at Columbia. I would say my career really began when I was a regional for Columbia and worked my way up to SVP. From Columbia, I moved to J Records working with my close friends Ron Gillyard, Ken Wilson, Nicole Sellers and Maurice Harley to name a few. From J, I moved on to Warner Bros Records and worked with Renee Burdine, PJ, Romereo Hartfield and Troy Marshall. I left WB and worked for Garnett March at Interscope and with Tommy Marshall and Doug Daniels. I returned to Columbia in 2011 thanks to Lee Leipsner, my boss. I may have worked for more than a few labels, but it’s the people I had the privilege to work with along the way who mean the most to me. I am a better manager and person because of them.
RF: Columbia is a great legendary label, what’s it like to work there?
CJ: It is an amazing experience to work Beyonce’s music, launch John Legend’s new album December 2, 2016 and single “Love Me Now”, work Maxwell’s “blackSUMMER’Snight” release and his current single “1990x”, and break new artists like Russ “What They Want”. It was special when I worked at Columbia before and even more so now.
“Lake By The Ocean” spent 26 weeks in the Top 5 and 9 weeks at #1 on the UAC Chart”
RF: Tell us about some of the other projects you are working?
CJ: Solange’s album “A Seat At The Table” debuted at #1 and the track “Cranes in the Sky” is organically Top 30 on the UAC Chart. We are ecstatic to launch the music from the soon to be released film Hidden Figures. The singles “I See A Victory” by Kim Burrell and Pharrell and “Surrender” by Lalah Hathaway and Pharrell are amazing songs. Everyone should see the movie. It’s so good. Lecrae is on tour and released the song “Can’t Stop Me Now” on all DSP’s and a lyric video. And for all of us Empire fans, the song “Need Freedom” by Jussie Smollett is a heartfelt cry for justice.
RF: You have a lot of super successful artists on your roster, does that make it easier or more challenging?
CJ: I think every artist is a challenge, whether it’s working an established artist with a smash or a new artist with a hit (soon to be a smash), all singles come with their own set of obstacles we work to overcome. Have there been easy records, the ones that research extremely well and fly up the charts? Yes. But those are few and far between. We work our records, always on the phone or in a market to effect some change.
RF: You’ve been working the Maxwell project for most of the year. How was radio’s reception to him after taking a seven-year break?
CJ: Radio could not have been more receptive. Programmers embraced “Lake By The Ocean” and Now “1990x”. In fact, “Lake By The Ocean” spent 26 weeks in the Top 5 and 9 weeks at #1 on the UAC Chart. “1990x” is a sexy song for the ladies. But if the guys want to do something nice, they should play “1990x” every day for their loved one.
RF: What social media sites do you think are most important to the industry?
CJ: All of them. People communicate on all the social sites. You can see a picture on Instagram, read a tweet on Twitter, see a live stream on Facebook, or something fun on SnapChat,. And if you’re younger, Musical.ly is the place to be.
RF: You’re also consistently working the Empire music, have you been on the set of the show? What’s it like?
CJ: Actually yes. I escorted contest winners onto the set of Empire last year. It was a really cool experience. Jussie Smollett met us on set and took us to various locations. We saw Leviticus, the Empire club, Lucius’ house, Jamal’s apartment, Hakeem’s apartment, the flashback apartment of young Lucius and his mother (Kelly Rolland). We ended the day at the studio with Yazz. Truly a memorable day.
RF: What do you love most about your job?
CJ: I love to break new music. There’s nothing better than to hear a record in your office, say it’s a hit, take it to radio, and 3-4 months later see your artist perform the song with 10,000 people singing along.
RF: You’re a respected vet in the industry, give three tips on creating and maintaining value?
CJ: Stay current, stay informed, and communicate
RF: Do you think industry conferences are important, do you see them returning?
CJ: I think they are important. I remember meeting so many reps, managers, and artist at conventions. I learned about different markets and experience new music. Will the industry return to the heyday of conventions, I do not think so. The industry shrank and so did the budgets to support conventions.
RF: Would you like to say anything to radio?
CJ: I am always thankful to program directors and music directors who play our songs. They take music to the world.
RF: Anything about RFFocus ?
CJ: RFFocus keeps me up to date daily. I always find something fascinating to read and learn something I did not know. Thanks for publishing RFFocus . What would we do without it.