Two former Universal Music Group Nashville senior executives, Rachel Fontenot and Katie Dean, are launching the Nashville-based independent label Leo33, Billboard can reveal.
Dean spent the last 18 years at UMG Nashville, most recently serving as senior vp of promotion for MCA Records Nashville. Fontenot most recently served as vp of marketing and artist development at UMG Nashville, a role she held since 2020.
Leo33’s team also includes Daniel Lee, former president of artist development company Altadena (which Lee co-founded with the late songwriter/producer busbee), as well as former Downtown Music Nashville senior creative director Natalie Osborne.
“I worked at a major for half of my adult life and I loved every minute of it,” Dean tells Billboard. “But in the digital age you have the ability for artists to go directly to the consumer. With the majors having to do the volume [of music] that they have to do, you lose a bit of the development process and at some point, it becomes more air traffic control than actual individual focus. This is an artist development-focused label.”
Leo33 will reveal artist signings in the coming months. The label’s signings will include commercial country artists, Dean says, but will also allow for a broader palette of sounds.
“Some of the artists we sign will be very radio-driven; others will not,” Dean says. “I love radio. You can’t beat the recognition that radio delivers, but that’s not necessarily every artist’s goal. I love that challenge of, in addition to radio responsibilities, finding new ways to reach artists’ goals. Our strategies will be agile.”
“The genre lines are blurred, especially when you are playing in these other musical spaces outside of commercial country radio,” Fontenot says. “It’s wonderful because it expands the format…I feel like we are in a sort of renaissance time in terms of making music that moves you without having to assign a specific genre. It’s exciting and challenging.”
Pictured: Daniel Lee, Natalie Osborne, Katie Dean and Rachel Fontenot
Leo33 will house A&R, marketing, streaming and promotion services.
“We have many of the same resources of a major label, but the focus on agility of an independent label,” Dean adds. “We are all marketing and artist development people at our core.”
Backing for the new label comes from Firebird Music and Red Light Ventures.
“We are happy to be associated with both companies,” Fontenot says. “They have successful track records and provide the resources we need, while allowing us to be autonomous and independent.”
Leo33 takes its name from the constellation Leo.
“When you talk about being courageous, agile, and the lions forming a pride to protect, that’s what we want to do for our artists,” Fontenot tells Billboard, adding that “33” is a nod to the long-playing vinyl format, as well as company’s vision of looking at an entire body of work in terms of how the label treats artists.
“We are treating this very much as a holistic experience for the artist,” Dean says. “There’s also this nod to the nostalgic, but also to the future.”
Leo33’s offices will open later this year in Nashville’s Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. The label plans to slowly add staff as they scale up their roster.
“We both have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I feel like that will be the face of the future, just based on how the business has evolved,” Fontenot says. “We are all going to wear a lot of hats and all work to promote our artists in various ways, with the idea that the collective work is going to be unstoppable.”