Ebro Darden takes his craft seriously. There’s more to being on the radio than just talking into a microphone every day—in fact, talking is just the tip of the iceberg.
Understanding both the “on air” and “business” side of radio, as Darden describes it, has helped him develop his career from intern to program and music director, morning show host, and senior director of global hip hop and R&B editorial at Apple music. While many are familiar with the site on the air thanks to Hot 97’s Ebro in the morning and Apple Music Ebro show, the business side, Darden explains, is a completely different ball game: you have to be trustworthy, advertiser-friendly, get great ratings, and stay consistent. Unfortunately, not everyone can tackle every aspect at the same time. Working in radio may seem easy on paper, but it’s not. “Many people don’t have the focus and ability to be consistent every day,” he notes.
Knowledge of the media industry both on and off the mic has become one of Darden’s greatest assets over the last three decades. The media landscape may have changed dramatically since he started, but Darden has never wavered: “My background in radio, from on-air performances to programming to understanding how ratings work and so on, helps me navigate my shows unlike someone who is just trying to be a talent.”
“As a host, it’s not really about you. It’s about your ability to contextualize and communicate with the audience you serve.”
What does it mean to be Apple Music’s Global Senior Publishing Director for Hip-Hop & R&B in layman’s terms?
If I had to describe my job to someone unfamiliar with it, I’d say I help manage a team of people programming playlists for Apple Music. Of course there are other responsibilities, but this is the core job.
Can you walk us through a day in your professional life?
I get up at 5:00 and I’m on the air at Ebro in the morning at 6:00 am. I’m on live radio until about 9:00 or 9:30, then we tape interviews until about 10:30 or 11:00. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I go to the gym for about an hour and a half, then come to my office at Apple Music. On Mondays, I come to the Apple Music office around 11am and start having meetings, host a radio show on Apple Music 1, do interviews, record content, and so on until I get home.
Still getting calls and meetings probably until 8pm These calls and meetings could be anything from scheduling meetings with features we want for Hip Hop and R&B on Apple Music to chatting about artists and their plans, music they might want to drop or something else happens like Black History Month, Black Music Month, Latin Heritage Month, Christmas, Juneteenth – all these things are constantly being talked about and planned. This is what I do all day, every day.
Tell us the story of the most memorable interview you’ve ever given.
There are a few: Jamie Foxx, when he told us about a Mike Tyson movie he was working on, 50 Cent and I were arguing about who screwed up the New York hip-hop scene. Every time I interviewed Erykah Badu, Janelle Monet, when Dave Chappelle took over my Ebro on the Morning Show just to host and goof around when Travis Scott did… There were so many great moments.
“You have to be available, you have to be available, you have to understand the bigger metrics for the business and help deliver them.”
Did you always know you wanted to pursue the career you are doing now, and did school play any role in inspiring you to pursue this path?
I did not do. My story is interesting because I started when I was 15 and I knew I liked music and DJing and stuff like that, but I wasn’t really interested in radio. I knew people from what I did when I was 15 – which was working in a mall and being a warehouseman – and the radio cats would come and buy clothes, so I managed to get an internship. The high school I went to had a radio station on campus, so I was able to get credit at school for working at another radio station that my job connected me with. I think high school played a role, but never in college like now.
What are the essential first steps a person should take to build a career as a host, whether in radio or otherwise?
I think the first step is knowing that you don’t do music if you’re the host. You are a host on TV, radio, regardless of platform, right? You’re in this business. Music is just another business. We deal with the music industry. We deal with music, we talk about music, we criticize music. For example, a sports broadcaster is not as active in the sports business as in the sports broadcasting business.
The physical first step would be to do an internship or something at the TV station or media you want to host so you can understand how hosting works. As a host, it’s not really about you. It’s about your ability to contextualize and communicate with the audience you serve. If you want to develop something that concerns you and your opinion, you can do it in your own time and hopefully it will develop enough that you get a place in the media that wants to give you space to be that person. Or you just become trusted enough to do it in the media as you progress.
“Try to be as dynamic as possible in understanding all aspects of the business. Don’t be one-dimensional.”
What lessons and/or work ethic did you pick up after working in the music industry?
I don’t think the work ethic I have comes from the media industry. I think a lot of it came from my family and playing sports all my life, showing up every day, giving it my all, being punctual and ready. And that’s something you do, you have to be available, you have to be available, you have to understand the bigger business metrics and help deliver them. And if you do that, they’ll want you because you’re working to help people stay employed and you’re working to grow the company. If you’re just selfish, no one will want you around.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far and how did you deal with it?
I think the biggest challenge anyone who has been in the media long enough has to evolve with the business, knowing when it’s time to turn around and knowing when it’s time to ask for help, take on new challenges and change priorities. Business is changing even faster now with so many different content creation outlets, so it’s not specifically about video or audio, radio, streaming or anything else. The idea is to take your brand and spread it across as many different platforms as possible and also have something of value for one of these companies to want to establish a business relationship with.
Is there any secret to longevity in this industry?
Try to be as dynamic as possible in understanding all aspects of the business. Don’t just be one-dimensional. Don’t limit yourself to the microphone. If you’re at the microphone, do you know how to type? Do you know how to edit? Do you know how to choose music? Do you know how to read indicators? Any measurement to drive content selection or ratings? Do you respect ratings and know how to be malleable and change in some way to be rating friendly? Generally, we operate in companies, so it’s about making sure you can help make the company successful.
“Be open to what artists are trying to do to express themselves, where music comes from and how you can help reveal that it’s always changing.”
What habits do you follow regularly to always keep a good headspace to work?
Exercise, sleep and great food and water. always sleep.
How do you see your work in the music industry evolving over the next five years?
The one thing that has always changed since the internet came along and now streaming and whatever social media, blah, blah, blah, is where the big hits and new music come from. I think the constant openness to what artists are trying to do to express themselves, where the music comes from and how you can help expose it is always what changes.
If not for the media industry, what would you do?
I’d probably be a university professor.
Stay tuned for more features for music professionals – from managers to sound engineers, stage helpers and more; people who make the world of music go round without standing behind the microphone.