“She Helped Me Turn My Pain Into Music And I’m So Grateful” A Conversation With Celebrity Publicist Jonathan Hay

Yitzi Weiner
May 7, 2018 · 8 min read

Ranna Royce has been an angel in my life and I love her dearly. She was truly sent by God and literally picked my fat ass up off the ground and helped me get back on my feet. As I said, 2017 was brutal and she was there unconditionally and with so much patience. She helped me turn my pain into music and I’m so grateful. She’s also been wonderful to my family. She’s not only a great friend, but she’s also a great artist and producer.

I had the pleasure of interviewing celebrity publicist and record producer- Jonathan Hay. He’s been named one of the most powerful publicists in music, entertainment, and tech. He is no stranger to controversy and is outspoken with his opinions, which are often quoted in mainstream media.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I started recording music when I was 16 years old in my father’s (Wayne Hay) basement. I rented some music equipment from the Doo Wop Shop in Louisville, Kentucky; you know a drum machine, keyboard, Tascam 4-track recorder, and a guitar rack sampler for the loops. I did all that with my childhood friend Jason, who I’ve known since the first grade. Actually, after 30+ years of constantly talking about hip-hop together, we finally decided to launch a production company called The Visionary and The Architect. It’s been a great upstart venture, as we’ve released projects with Kxng Crooked, Cyhi The Prynce, DJ Manipulator, and Louie Gonz. In less than 6 months, we’ve already worked on a #1 Billboard charting album. Other than that, I’ve been in the music business for over two decades and got lucky; I’ve been able to achieve some great success but mostly failures (laughs).

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I started my company, Jonathan Hay Publicity, a long time ago without any working capital and the company quickly started generating revenue. Like within days or weeks, I can’t remember exactly. It wasn’t a lot of money but enough to live on. I went from a mountain bike to a Cadillac in no time (laughs). With all businesses, there are a lot of ups, downs, highs, and lows. You just have to stay focused. I guess maybe the funniest thing is that I did all this without a college education. Everybody thought I was stupid for chasing this dream. And looking back, they were right (laughs).

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think the fact that we are still standing and still able to generate publicity at a high level is what makes us stand out. Insider Monkey rated us as the top and most powerful PR firm of 2017. And what’s crazy is 2017 was the worst year I’ve ever had in my life. I went through a horrible breakup from a long-term relationship. Possibly the worst breakup anyone could imagine. In April of 2017, I was bound and duct taped in a violent home invasion with my 14 year old daughter. It was just an awful year. But somehow, like I was sleep walking or on auto-pilot, I was still able to generate some great press for clients. A lot of 2017 was a blur. I just know the year ended strong with a lot of momentum that has carried onto this year. The fact that both companies, Jonathan Hay Publicity and Jonathan Hay Celebrity, are thriving speaks for itself.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I am. I’m really excited about the Smith and Hay company that I have with Mike Smith. I’ve worked with Mike on a bunch of different projects for the last five years or so. It seems like everything we’ve done together has always yielded great results. We’ve built a catalog of over a thousand songs and we are really starting to impact in the streaming world in a major way. I’m also very excited about The Hoodlum Ball album campaign. It’s very grassroots and independent and it’s way “out of the box”. We’ve released seven singles which have had significant placements on the major hip-hop blogs and media outlets. It’s a double album loaded with some heavyweights in the rap game. We have The Whoodlum Ball Tape with DJ Whoo Kid dropping in May as part of the campaign. Then in August, The Hoodlum Ball (Deluxe) is being released and it’s probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve done a lot of controversial stuff throughout my career. Ranna Royce, Mike Smith and I are spending a good six months on The Hoodlum Ball campaign. I’m also very excited about my daughter, Iliana Eve, dropping her debut album that is hopefully coming out later this year. She’s only 15 years old and she’s already had some moderate success with major artists. She released a “Playlist Album” called The Sins Of The Father Playlist several months back that has earned enough royalties to get her first car. However with her actual debut, she’s taking the lead and picking the songs she wants to sing. This kid has great ideas. She came up with the idea of singing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. At first, I thought it was a bad idea as the song has been done so much. I was wrong. Her song helped fuel our Jazz (Deluxe) LP to the top of the Billboard Charts. Obviously I’m extremely biased, but I think she’s the next big thing. That is, if she really wants to do it. Right now, it’s all about her education and healing.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Always look to expand. I’m part of six companies right now- Smith and Hay, Jonathan Hay Publicity, Jonathan Hay Celebrity, Hoodlum Ball Records, The Visionary and The Architect, and Drink The Lemonade, which is a company I have with my children. Chris Mack, the new coach of the University of Louisville basketball program, said he doesn’t balance his family life; he blends them. And that’s what I try to do…blend my kids into the business. So I try to make them part of everything, even though it seems like they don’t want to do anything (laughs).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

There are four people- my parents Donald and Nancy Stivers, and then Mike Smith and Ranna Royce.

My parents have done so much for me and have done the lion’s share of the work of raising my children, Iliana and Taylor. I’m a single father and I’ve been chasing this dragon for a long time now. Since my business has stabilized with an infrastructure in place, it’s now easier to work from home and not travel so much. I can spend more time with my family. I truly have the greatest parents and friends in the world. I’m very blessed.

Mike Smith was the first person to really believe in me as far as being a music producer goes. He actually started out as a PR client years ago and then we ended up becoming business partners and we’ve been off and running. In the beginning, he invested a lot of money and time into my music production and I’m so grateful. I’ve never had anyone believe in me like he has. I’ve pretty much been self-made throughout my career, but he’s raised my level tremendously.

Ranna Royce has been an angel in my life and I love her dearly. She was truly sent by God and literally picked my fat ass up off the ground and helped me get back on my feet. As I said, 2017 was brutal and she was there unconditionally and with so much patience. She helped me turn my pain into music and I’m so grateful. She’s also been wonderful to my family. She’s not only a great friend, but she’s also a great artist and producer.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m not really sure (laughs). I’d enjoy teaching a class about publicity and marketing sometime in the near future. Other than that, I’ll stay positive and hopefully that will manifest into other ventures. Very boring answer I know (laughs).

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I really don’t have an answer for that. I usually don’t listen to people and tend to follow my own rules, visions, and beliefs. I love what I do and I’m very lucky to be in the position that I’m in. Yes, it’s time consuming, requires a lot of sacrifice, and can be very stressful. But I really love what I do. There is nothing I wish someone would have told me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

You know in your earlier question about people along the way who have helped me, I forgot to name Gary Meeks. Gary Meeks literally took me off the streets and gave me my first real gig as a publicist for his son, Travis Meeks, of the multi-platinum group Days Of The New. I was literally homeless and he saved my life. Gary always said that the projects I work “have to have legs of their own”. He said I can do all the publicity and marketing I want, but it has to have its own legs. And he’s right. It’s got to stick.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

Malcolm X. I know he’s dead, but he’s my favorite man in history. I’ve been fixated with him ever since I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was a teenager. He’s everything I try to be. I have a giant “X” tattoo on my arm. In my opinion, Malcolm X is the second most important man to ever walk the earth, behind Jesus Christ.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.