Bulleit Pioneer Project Campaign Ebonie Ward SIRA Interview The Stars Between My Teeth
Bulleit Pioneer Project Campaign Ebonie Ward SIRA Interview The Stars Between My Teeth
Artist SIRA and Manager Ebonie Ward Talk Purpose and Community in Bulleit’s Pioneer Project Campaign
Spotlighting mentors and changemakers in music who continually champion for leadership, access and community.

Since 2022, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey’s Pioneer Project has celebrated innovators at the frontier of culture across art, sustainability, food and technology. The Pioneer Project, in partnership with the record label and music distribution platform UnitedMasters, has provided over 100 hours of mentorship to emerging creators. In Bulleit Frontier Whiskey’s latest campaign, Ebonie Ward, one of the most influential names in artist management, joins forces with New York native and multidisciplinary artist SIRA (Marissa Lewis) to open up about the significance of community, mentorship, career opportunities and what it means to shape culture. In the interview below, Ward and UnitedMasters artist SIRA also share how they carved out new territory in the industry while leveraging collaboration to amplify their voices.

Having spearheaded her A-list portfolio of rap heavyweights into her own women-led management company, 11th & Co, Ebonie Ward embodies the strengths and skillsets that make mentors life-long points of reference. Managing rap’s biggest hitmakers, with a roster including Gunna and Flo Milli, among others, Ward is no stranger to propelling her artists to global stardom. Her start in artist management coincided with her fashion boutique, FlyKix ATL, located in the Castleberry Hill District of Atlanta, Georgia, which served as a trendy fashion destination and artist incubator for rising acts.

“We were known as the place to be if you were an up-and-coming artist or unsigned artist to go and showcase your music. I was known as the go-to girl, kind of the person who would connect artists with different brands and give unsigned artists the platform to be seen and heard. So that’s really how I got my start and foundation. I always knew I wanted to work and be a part of the music business.”

The space also allowed Ward to steer the transitional period between mixtapes and DSPs alongside the rise of social media. From vinyl to CDs to downloads, Ward has weathered the intricate evolution of music distribution and its rippling effect on the artist. Harnessing her entrepreneurial background, she notes that half of the work is learning the ins and outs of the industry and remaining transparent with rising talent. “A manager definitely knows all aspects of the business — the basics of law, production, publishing, royalties — there’s so many different layers to the music business. I would tell up-and-coming artists to understand the business first because [they] sometimes get so caught up in the creative aspects of making music. That’s 50% of the business. I encourage artists to understand all of the different dynamics of people you’re working with. You need to make sure you’re in the best of hands.”

Bulleit Pioneer Project Campaign Ebonie Ward SIRA Interview The Stars Between My Teeth

Helping artists navigate the dotted line is part of Ward’s expertise, but it also entails shaping their sense of media literacy and understanding of brand building. “You’re a business, right?,” Ward, at one point, asks SIRA. “I think that sometimes artists need to think, ‘Oh, I’m a business, and I’m the CEO of this business.’” Despite funding and directing highly stylized film projects to ethereal effect, SIRA notes that acclimating to those business-centric facets, like social media, has proven easier said than done. “I think something that I’m trying to learn and adjust to is micro-content. I can think big scale coming from a filmmaking, directing background, but how do you translate that necessarily to social and being super consistent on micro-content?”

Ask any indie artist what the most common barrier to entry is into the music industry, and the answer is inevitable: funding. For SIRA, the financial obstacle is not entirely impossible to maneuver with the help of longtime collaborators and friends. The Harlem-based creative recounts her studies at Syracuse University and early-on media positions at Essence, FUSE and Complex helped her embrace her multidisciplinary leanings and forge diverse, impactful connections. “Being able to work within these music spaces helped jumpstart me creating a sense of community. I feel truly blessed across pretty much every artistic medium to have built a community within that. For video, I can have a full team because we’ve worked on things before, and I can barter skill sets.”

Bulleit Pioneer Project Campaign Ebonie Ward SIRA Interview The Stars Between My Teeth

SIRA’s debut EP, The Stars Between My Teeth, released November of last year, is an experimental, sultry fusion of R&B, jazz, alternative rock — and the occasional venture into drill. Emblematic of her collaborative spirit and multimedia approach, the project culminates in a short film, independently funded, produced and directed by her and her friends. Working hand in hand with producer and audio engineer Mike Snell, she details that on songs such as “OUT OF CONTROL*,” these musical deviations strengthened in concept over multiple studio sessions. “I would do these long walks in Central Park, and I just started recording the sound of the environment every time on my walk home. I was able to incorporate that within the final score of the song.”

Playing off these themes, audio engineer Ethan Polk-Trauman added the final touch, contributing a guitar solo that enhanced SIRA’s overall vision. The track was also born of visual themes SIRA anchors to in her short film, noting that part of her process is building a soundscape around an idea or image: “At first, honestly, I felt a little uncomfortable about it ’cause I was kind of rapping on it. [That’s not] normally my bag, but it is how I write. I kept listening to it, and I was like, ‘No, this is special.’ And then we got to add a dope electric guitar solo at the end. It just solidified this world.”

To this point, protecting the artist’s sense of creative agency is a delicate balancing act, Ward admits. “In my business, I’m constantly giving and receiving. It is a consistent transfer of energy, not only from just me but to my clients and my staff. I think that that’s a part of the growth of any business and any business structure — community is everything.” Ward expresses that her approach to artist management is rooted in honest and authentic communication; the ability to meet her clients in the middle and offer rules of conduct, moments of encouragement, or conversely (graceful) redirection is paramount. “It’s my job to facilitate all these different domains. But that’s also the beauty of it, by making sure you’re selecting the right people to be in these positions and trusting them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and execute the vision of the talent.”

SIRA’s appreciation for cultivating connections close to home sits at the heart of Bulleit’s Pioneer Project and its ethos to champion collaborative networks that uplift and platform emerging artists. Luckily for Ward and SIRA, being a dedicated Virgo comes with a resourceful mindset and impeccable organizational skills. Visit Bulleit’s website to learn more about the Bulleit Pioneer Project.

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Nayquan Shuler
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