Jon Platt: A Hometown Hero with Hope and Inspiration for Denver’s Youth
When he packed his car and moved to Los Angeles in 1993, “Big Jon” Platt had one goal in mind: to be successful in the music industry. With a dream in his heart and passion as the driving force leading him to his purpose, failure was not an option. Now, at the pinnacle of his career as the new chairman and CEO of the top music-publishing company in the world, Platt is returning to Denver to share what he has learned about the entertainment industry and the importance of hard work.
On Sunday, June 2, Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s top executive will be featured as the special guest at the Colorado Beautillion-Cotillion Inc.’s premiere gala event, “The Enchanted Journey.”
As a distinguished group of high school juniors and seniors celebrate the completion of an extensive six-month academic and social leadership scholarship program, Platt’s own fascinating journey to success is an inspiration and a testament to the endless possibilities that can be achieved when young people believe in themselves and remain diligent in pursuit of their passion.
Born in Philadelphia and raised for a short time in Oakland, Platt moved with his mother and siblings to Denver’s northeast suburb of Montbello when he was in the fifth grade. Montbello was the place where Platt discovered his passion for music, and although he moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s to launch his career in entertainment, he is proud of his Montbello upbringing and will always call the Mile High City home.
Platt was a student at Montbello High School when he was given the nickname “Big Jon” by Ron Bush and long-time friend Nate Nelson. The 6-foot 7-inch giant had a colossal presence among his teenage counterparts, but he always maintained an air of mystery, choosing not to indulge in the popular consumption of alcohol or drugs, while secretly manifesting the life he always envisioned for his future. “There isn’t a person I went to school with that would have thought, ‘Jon is going to be a big DJ in Denver. There’s nobody that would have said, ‘Jon is going to go be successful in the music industry,’” he says, revealing that he has always maintained the belief that if he can think it and dream it, it can happen. “That’s been my mentality since I was a kid. I don’t share my thoughts and dreams with people; I just closed my eyes and envisioned myself in whatever the role was. I saw myself as a successful DJ. I saw myself making my way through the music industry. Once I got into the industry, I saw myself at the top of it. Seeing yourself there is one thing, working to get there is an entirely different thing.”
Throughout the course of his professional ascension, Platt has maintained great confidence in his dreams, never shying away from hard work, and driving himself behind the scenes to become one of music’s most influential executives in an extraordinary way that few people saw coming.
Long before he grew in popularity as a well-known disc jockey, Platt thought he would pursue a professional career in journalism. “As a kid, I used to buy a newspaper every day. I would read it and think ‘I’m going to be a journalist when I grow up,’” he recalls. As a high school student, Platt worked part-time at Dave Cooks Sporting Goods in Aurora. His aspirations turned to music when a coworker named Thomas Edwards invited him to his house and gave him a handful of free records. “He had a DJ set and he lived in Montbello. From that point on, I would go to his house any time I could and he would let me use his equipment and play around with it. It just expanded from there.” Platt fell in love with DJing, and knew that he wanted to make a career out of the newly discovered talent. “Since then, music has probably been the only real career goal that I’ve had, and I’ve been lucky to experience that,” he says.
Building a career in the music industry takes a bit of luck, but more importantly, to succeed in the highly competitive world of entertainment requires a lot of hard work. Platt mastered his DJ skills by playing gigs at local parties and hosting events throughout Denver until he earned a strong reputation as one of the best. In addition to mastering a smooth mix of seamless blends from his growing music collection, Platt capitalized on his unique sound. “I took pride in breaking records,” he revealed in a 2018 Rap Radar interview. “I didn’t know it was called breaking records at the time. When I would do parties, you have your big songs that are on the radio, but I would always challenge myself to find something else on the album that wasn’t the big song. I always felt that you can hear the big songs on the radio, but when you come to the parties I’m DJ’ing, I’ve got to break new music.”
Platt’s appreciation for music and talent for selecting the hottest sounds and songs helped him to solidify his place in Denver’s bourgeoning entertainment scene in the mid-90s. After a chance encounter with Chuck D, the co-founder of the iconic group Public Enemy, Platt realized that his goal to be Denver’s biggest DJ wasn’t lofty enough to support his growing potential. After being invited to a Public Enemy concert by late Colorado native and Def Jam Recordings employee, David “Funkin” Klein, Platt offered to let the group use his personal turntable setup when the venue’s equipment wasn’t up to par, sparking a friendship with Chuck D. A few years later, in a conversation with the hip-hop legend, Platt was hit with a shocking truth. “Every time I come to Denver, you’re the man,” said Chuck D, “But unless you dream bigger, that’s all you’re ever going to be.”
That advice prompted Platt to expand his vision, and after networking in the industry and exploring career options that would further cultivate his love for music, Platt decided to become a manager. He began to travel between Denver and Los Angeles, where he signed on as a manager for Madukey Productions and Kiyamma Griffin, and eventually brokered a publishing deal with EMI Records in 1993. After signing the deal, Platt knew that he had to relocate to Los Angeles. He returned to Denver to DJ one last big party, and the next morning he packed whatever he could fit into his car and drove west toward the City of Angels.
After humble beginnings in Los Angeles, Platt eventually landed a job as an Artist and Repertoire (A&R) at EMI Records in 1995. Remembering the slow climb to success, he says, “It wasn’t simple, it was hard; but it never felt hard because I was close to music and my passion. I was out here so poor – I was so broke as a grown man, but I never felt poor. I never felt like I didn’t have money; I was just doing what I wanted to do. I was out here with basically nothing, but I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life.”
After helping to acquire publishing rights to the famed girl-group TLC’s hit song, “Waterfalls,” Platt stepped up in rank, earning the title of creative-director in 1996 and signing Grammy award-winning rapper, songwriter, businessman, and close friend, Jay Z, before being named vice-president of EMI in 1997.
During his 17-year tenure at EMI, Platt was instrumental in helping to develop the careers of some of the biggest names in music. He signed Kanye West, Mary Mary, Warren Campbell, Drake, Usher, Ludacris, and Beyoncé, and helped to develop the careers of countless songwriters. He is adored within the industry, and from his early days as an A&R to becoming one of the top music-publishing executives in the world, he has maintained relationships with those who respect him for his industry knowledge and his devotion to
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the musical talents he has worked with. “There’s this incredible bond and trust that you have for each other,” he says, “We create magic. They are incredibly loyal, and I’m incredibly loyal to them.”
In 2012, after EMI Records was partially acquired by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Platt transitioned from his position with EMI to Warner/Chappell Music, where he assumed the role of president of the music-publishing group’s North American division. In 2016, Platt was promoted to CEO of Warner/Chappell Music, giving him the opportunity to put some of the leadership skills he picked up from his mentors, EMI chairmen and CEOs Roger Faxon and Marty Bandier; Universal Music Publishing Group CEO, Jody Gerson; and Clarence Avant, known as the “Godfather of Black Music,” to good use.
“My leadership style is built on trust,” Platt says. “I trust my team. I hire the right people, put them in the right positions, and let them do their job.” Instead of micro-managing the team of professionals who work hard to make the music we all love, Platt gives people the freedom to make mistakes. “I expect the best out of people because we should be delivering the best for the songwriters that we work with, but I give people the opportunity to fail. We have to do that as leaders, because nobody is perfect. I’ve made some mistakes along my career but I learned from the mistakes, and some of the mistakes led me to the successes. If you allow people to fail, you’re allowing them to grow.” Platt demands an inclusive work environment, and says that his ability to delegate has made him a better leader. Throughout the evolution of his career, he has become less hands-on with the process of making music, and says that turning his attention to those tasked with creating award-winning projects has helped him move away from the music. “Instead of songwriters and artists, I started to A&R the executives, helping them grow. When an executive has success it’s like a hit record to me. That’s my way of managing and motivating myself.”
In April 2019, Platt’s career hit another turning point as he announced his transition from Warner/Chappell to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. “One could say it’s the pinnacle,” he says. “Sony/ATV is the number-one music publishing company in the world, and the largest music publishing company in the world.” After the partial acquisition of EMI in 2012, Sony/ATV acquired the rest of EMI in 2018, allowing Platt the full-circle opportunity to be reacquainted with some of the songwriters and employees that he spent a good portion of his career with, as he takes a seat in the throne of the music-publishing world.
Platt has been recognized as “Man of the Year,” by BRE magazine; he was the first music publisher to be featured in Source magazine’s Power 30 issue; he received the Visionary Award at the annual SESAC Pop Music Awards; and he was recognized as the Music Visionary of the Year by the UJA-Federation of New York. In addition to being named one of the most respected music-publishing executives of all time, Platt has made significant humanitarian contributions by serving as vice chairman of the board of directors for the charitable MusiCares Foundation, and sitting on the board of the Living Legends Foundation along with sitting on the boards of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and the Motown Museum. His philanthropic involvement with City of Hope hospital was acknowledged in 2018 when he was presented the prestigious Spirit of Life Award, and for nearly 15 years, he has operated the Big Jon Platt Scholarship Program for high school students in Montbello.
Though many of his philanthropic efforts are conducted in the same private nature as most aspects of his life, Platt and his wife, Angie, are avid supporters of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, donating to combat the type 1 diabetes that complicates the life of his 15-year old son, Jonathan. Raising Jonathan, and 5-year old twins, Clarence and Shawn, is a constant test of Platt’s ability to find balance between the demanding industry and his home life. “I’ve learned to make the commitment to be present in the moment,” he says.
At the height of his career, Platt is doing all that he can to reach back and make contributions in the community that first gave him a platform. When presented with an opportunity to participate in the Colorado Beautillion-Cotillion Inc.’s formal gala, he happily obliged. “There was no way I could say no, because I was a Denver youth. I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t have someone who looked like me, who came from where I came from, coming back and saying ‘you can do it.’ For me, it’s important to show people: I’m you! I didn’t grow up with a dad; I grew up in a single-parent home. I grew up poor in Montbello, catching RTD everywhere, but when I found my passion, I made a decision to work really, really hard,” he says. “Because of that work, opportunities presented themselves to me and it changed my life, it changed my family’s lives, and the sky was the limit. I’m super blessed and proud of what I have achieved in my life, but I also want to share with young people that it’s possible for them too.”
With words of encouragement for young people who are interested in pursuing careers in entertainment and other competitive industries, Platt advises, “Hard times build character and resilience. You’re going to experience rejection, and a lot of it. You have to be able to take the rejection and learn from it, use it to drive you. Anything you truly want in life is not easy, but you have to deal with it and push through it. That’s why everybody is not at the top, why everybody is not in the NFL or the NBA; it’s the people who push through that make it through. If it were easy, everybody would do it.”
Platt urges young people to be persistent, develop a thick skin, and never to stop at the first no – or the fifth. “You have to keep going and follow your passion. In the world of entertainment, there is no blueprint for success. Nothing is perfect and nothing is exactly how you design it. If you want it designed your way, then you should build it,” he says, listing Facebook and Spotify as examples of ideas built by young people. “Do you stumble, do you fall? Absolutely. Is that hard? 100-percent, especially in the beginning; but you pick yourself up and you keep going. You need some luck too, but you’ve got to earn your luck.”
With more than 20 years of industry experience, Platt credits the musicians, songwriters, executives, and friends he has worked with for their support as he has worked to actualize his dreams. “No one does it alone,” he says, “As much as you think you do, you don’t.” From a modest start as Montbello’s “DJ Big Jon,” to his hard-earned title as one of the biggest music moguls of all time, Platt continues to make his mark in the music industry, and he will forever be known as one of Denver’s hometown heroes. .