How Genius’ Director of Content Went From Teaching to Hanging Out With Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonah Hill

Elizabeth Milch used her educational background to climb the ladder

Milch’s career has included a stint in book publishing and developing school curriculum for middle school students. T.K. Atakora

When Elizabeth Milch was a teacher, she considered “the fun stuff” showing her students how art, culture and storytelling intersect, such as the meaning behind “don’t fly too close to the sun.” So it’s not too unusual that she’s landed at Genius (formerly Rap Genius), a user-generated lyric website that, at its core, dissects the power of words.

At Genius, site contributors decode popular songs, debate the lyrics and watch their favorite artists explain their lyrics in original video series. “The thing that brings people together and gets them addicted to it is this engagement with what words mean,” Milch said. “And belief that what words mean matters.”

Milch’s career has included a stint in book publishing and developing school curriculum for middle school students. Her skills naturally translated to Genius: She joined the company in 2014 to show teachers how to use the site to engage with their students. From there, she continued to climb the ladder when she became the company’s first community manager, further developing the contributor network and working meticulously with site users to annotate lyrics. She became so close to some writers that she even wrote them college recommendation letters. “If you read annotations and the work people are doing on the site, you can see they’re great writers and thinkers,” she said.

Milch was named director of content at Genius last April and now oversees editorial as well as social content and experiential activations. She finds time to have some glamorous fun in her job, too, spending time with artists ranging from Lin-Manuel Miranda to Jonah Hill, who appeared in Genius videos in a variety of content, from talking about their favorite tunes to being quizzed on music history. And all her hard work has paid off: The company just announced a partnership with Apple Music to have Genius lyrics appear on the service.

Looking back, Milch said her teaching gave her experience in giving concise, precise instructions to her teammates, as well as the ability to plan for the short and long term of the 9-year-old company.

“That clarity … shapes everything we do and is a part of why our brand has grown in the past few years,” said Milch.

Big Mistake

Milch was scared to ask for the resources she needed when Genius first launched Behind the Lyrics in partnership with Spotify. Initially, she tried to get it off the ground without a full team and interface at Genius to handle the project.

Lesson Learned

“I lost time because I was scared to ask, but that was a great lesson because now, when there’s something worth doing, I ask for the resources,” Milch explained.

How She Got the Gig

She initially went to college with one of Genius’ founders. “Think about your network, think about the people you know who are doing interesting things and get in touch with them,” Milch said.

Pro Tip

“Let yourself get excited by things, and if something excites you, go for it!” she advised.

This story first appeared in the November 5, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.