HITS Daily Double


As a young woman starting out in the music industry, Lillia Parsa recalls, “I think people underestimated me. But my way is to not let what people have to say hold me back. I just keep pushing.”

The end result: a meteoric rise from an inquisitive college intern to the role of senior vice president of A&R at Universal Music Publishing Group. Parsa’s friendly, down-to-earth demeanor belies a fierce work ethic and seasoned song sensibility that helped earn her roster of writers—including hitmakers Nija Charles (Cardi B, Beyoncé & Jay-Z, Summer Walker) and the “dream team” of Blake Slatkin and Omer Fedi (The Kid LAROI, Lil Nas X, 24Goldn)—multiple Top 10 hits and Grammy nominations.

Underestimate her at your own risk.

How interested are you in the business side versus the creative?
When I started, I wanted to know everything. I would sit with whoever would sit with me to run me through every term. I wanted to understand publishing deals, but I like to stay fully creative. I went into every A&R’s office with a notepad and said, “Who do you need help on? Who are the writers, who are the producers who don’t have much going on? How can I help them?”

I got all my list of people to connect with. During my first three weeks on the job, I actually found Nija Charles. I was setting up sessions for a producer signed to us named Needlz, who is amazing and so talented. I had heard of Nija; she was an NYU student at the time. I connected with a student there who told me Nija was doing a lot of things. I was just figuring things out, but I was scrappy. So I emailed an A&R at a different company, and they suggested Nija. I had no music—I had nothing—but I said, “Let’s do it.” And Needlz agreed, even though he was already a big producer at the time.

I met with him, and he played me two songs. One of them was [2018’s] “Ring,” with Cardi B and Kehlani. Obviously, the track sounds a lot different from the demo, because they came in and wrote their parts. But the original song was Nija, Needlz and this other producer named Scribz Riley. It was a set-up session. Needlz came to me and said, “I had the best session ever; thank you for setting it up.’ He played me the song, and it was amazing. I was like, “Who is this girl?” I had Nija’s number from the other NYU student, so I texted her: “Hey, I’m Lillia. I would love to meet with you. I heard this song from the session I set up.” She gave me her manager’s number.

What happened next was the song was played during an A&R meeting. I’d been hired for a low-level job, and I was nervous. So at the end of the A&R meeting, I said, “Can I present something?” I played the early version of “Ring,” and when it was over, everyone stood up. They were like, “How was I not on this?” It was an amazing moment.

So I called Christian McCurdy, Nija’s manager. He told me, “You’re kind of late. We have two or three other publishers already.” Like, “Who are you?” After our meeting, David walked into my office, and he said, “This is gonna happen, and you stay next to it; stay very close.” He really applied the pressure that I needed. I called the manager, and he still wasn’t having it, so I used every executive in the building who had more going on. A lot of other executives helped me internally.

This is where Jody Gerson taught me a lot. I was just two weeks into the job, and I wanted to sign a competitive deal. Jody really wanted me to fight for it; she wanted to see that I was passionate. Every day I would barge into her office. She’d say, “Who would you put her in with? What have you set up? How are you going to help her become a hit songwriter?” Always asking the right questions. I would come back every week with updates until Jody would approve. It was what I needed.

At that point, every publisher was in, and I just kept going and getting more set up for Nija. I kept flying her in from New York, trying to get more things set up. We had a great creative slow roll. It took about eight months to sign her. I never let go—I kept calling every day.

Hooking up with Blake Slatkin and Omer Fedi happened not long after that, right?
I met Blake first though his manager at the time. Blake was Benny Blanco’s intern, and Benny’s his hero. I loved his energy. I was working him every day; I really believed in him, and at the time he didn’t have much going on besides an insane amount of talent. I felt like we were the underdogs together, but I always admired the way he could relate to anyone and make everyone feel instantly comfortable. It drew me to him. I’m not going to lie, it was tough in the beginning; we got a lot of nos. But anytime I put him in a session with an artist, they would ask for him back or cancel whatever else they had going on.

How do you take those rejections?
You take the nos, but I also think you fight back; it’s always about keeping it positive with the artists, the creatives. You’re going to get nos until you get yesses. You need thick skin early on to fight for the deal and be competitive and go up against people. As a producer or songwriter, you need the same type of thick skin. Because no one really believes in you until you have songs on the charts.

Nija really opened up a lot of doors for me by taking a chance on me and us working together. It gave me the confidence I needed, and more things started coming my way.

Read the complete interview here.