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I.B. BAD: ANOTHER
BRITISH INVASION

THE BRITISH MUSICAL EMPIRE: This is a historic time for the music business, with the U.K.’s sphere of influence at an all-time high. Not since the British invasions of the 1960s and ’70s has anything come close to what we’re seeing now, not only in terms of the U.K.-trained executives who are running the three major music groups but also the country’s worldwide superstars, starting with Adele, One Direction and its spawn, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

Since Sir Lucian Grainge got the top UMG job in 2011, he has led the music group to continuous dominance. And because Grainge was heading Universal’s ex-U.S. operations for years before assuming his present post, he has an unparalleled grasp of the global business. His 2012 acquisition of EMI’s recorded-music assets has changed the landscape of the business more than any other deal of the modern era, transforming his already powerful company into a bona fide colossus, stocked with a team of high-level U.S. label heads. Under Monte Lipman, Republic has been a perennial marketshare leader, with major contributions from Island, headed by Brit David Massey, Slim & Baby’s Cash Money, Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine and Republic’s supercharged promotion department. In his fifth year at the helm of Interscope Geffen A&M, John Janick has cracked the code, as the label group roars through one of the best years in its history, with albums from Eminem and U2 ready for takeoff. Steve Barnett’s Capitol has upped its tempo on offense during Q4, scoring three #1 album debuts in four weeks with rapper NF, Niall Horan and Sam Smith. The one unknown element in L.G.’s mix is Def Jam, which will have new leadership when Eminem manager Paul Rosenberg steps into the top post in January. Rosenberg has been primarily focused on his superstar client’s album rollout of late.

Rob Stringer has been leading Sony Music for just eight months, but he spent the previous six years being mentored by Doug Morris and has more than three decades of experience with the company on both sides of the Atlantic. The British exec was blindsided during his first month on the job by the turmoil surrounding then-Epic head L.A. Reid. But the label’s hot streak has continued under President Sylvia Rhone since Reid’s abrupt departure, thanks to a string of successful hip-hop projects and the breaking of former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello, who’s on her way to establishing herself as a career artist. Peter Edge’s RCA, which is having a big year with both high-profile artists like P!nk, Foo Fighters, Kesha and Pentatonix and rapidly ascending newcomers Khalid and SZA, powered through a momentary destabilization triggered by Tom Corson’s move to Warner Bros. Records without missing a beat. RCA and Epic are living proof that when you’re red-hot, almost nothing else matters. Stringer’s lone open question involves Columbia, the label he formerly headed, which, following five or six scorching years behind Adele, 1D, Beyoncé and other hitmakers, has been off-cycle through much of 2017, although the label has had its share of #1 albums with Harry Styles, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem. The rumored arrival of SONGSRon Perry as label head would potentially give Columbia—which has lagged somewhat in terms of urban and hip-hop—a more contemporary, streaming-driven presence in the marketplace.

Max Lousada officially became WMG’s head of recorded music in early October, but he’s been hard at work since the announcement of his promotion in April. Most significantly, he’s plucked a pair of top execs in Corson and Interscope’s Aaron Bay-Schuck with the intention of revitalizing the Warner Bros. label in the States, which is making inroads with rookies Lil Pump and U.K.-based Dua Lipa. Look for Corson’s exit deal to be finalized in the very near future, possibly allowing him to start his new job at the beginning of 2018. The word from inside Universal, however, is that Bay-Schuck will serve out the remainder of his contract, which expires at the end of next September. Lousada’s other label, Atlantic, is having a gigantic year, largely the result of Craig Kallman and Mike Caren jumping on the streaming express before many of their counterparts and exploiting their shared power alley. The worldwide success of U.K.-based superstars Sheeran and Coldplay helped catapult Lousada into his new global post—along with his having been pursued by Sony, which had hoped to persuade him to fill the Columbia opening.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., David Joseph’s UMG remains dominant, although Jason Iley’s Sony Music and Lousada’s WMG have increased their marketshares, primarily by breaking new acts. And the indie sector is far more vibrant in Britain than in the U.S. Ted Cockle’s Virgin EMI is once again Britain’s marketshare leader, setting the pace for UMG U.K. by optimizing superstar releases like Taylor Swift’s latest blockbuster while also notching smash singles with Niall Horan and Jonas Blue. Island’s Darcus Beese continues to score big with such U.S.-based acts as Drake and Ariana Grande while developing and breaking new acts like JP Cooper. Capitol co-Presidents Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington are having another impressive run with their joint signing Sam Smith while building Liam Payne’s post-1D solo career. Decca’s Rebecca Allen recently had a #1 album with Ball & Boe. And Polydor co-Presidents Tom March and Ben Mortimer have scored a #1 album with Elbow while developing Stefflon Don since taking the rein of the label following the departure of Ferdy Unger-Hamilton.

During his three years at Sony Music U.K., Iley has quickly rebuilt the company, bringing in Unger-Hamilton to oversee Columbia, acquiring indie Ministry of Sound, tapping MoS MD David Dollimore to run RCA and welcoming Tyler Brown as SYCO MD following the departure of Sonny Takhar. Iley’s transformation of Sony’s U.K. division was made dramatically evident when the company won nine of the 11 categories at this year’s BRIT Awards, while topping the charts with homegrown acts Harry Styles and Rag’n’Bone Man, two of Columbia’s industry-leading six #1 albums since Unger-Hamilton’s arrival. SYCO has had a pair of chart-toppers from Little Mix and James Arthur. And Black Butter has had a solid year as well with Sweden’s Zara Larsson.

At WMG, Atlantic’s Ben Cook has been stamping out hits with assembly-line precision with a homegrown roster led by Sheeran and including Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne, Rita Ora and Charli XCX. In his first full year at the helm of Warner Bros., Phil Christie has broken Dua Lipa, cemented the status of hard-rock duo Royal Blood and fast-tracked the solo career of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher.

TAYLOR-MADE: Taylor Swift has done it again, as reputation becomes her fourth straight album to debut with north of a million units. No other artist has pulled off such a feat—not even the mighty Adele. And no other artist runs such a tight ship, to the extent that insiders have taken to quipping, “The first rule of Taylor Club: Don’t talk about Taylor Club.” Indeed, her team—which includes 13 Management’s Frank Bell, dealmaker Robert Allen, tour promoter Louis Messina, mom Andrea Swift (a onetime financier), Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and Lipman—may well be the most tight-lipped organization of the modern era. In short, Swift has systematically taken virtually everything inside her walled and moated compound, and her outside business partners know only what she chooses to tell them. The only thing she can’t control is radio promotion, but she uses Republic’s crack team extremely effectively.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Steve Bartels, Tunji Balogun, John Fleckenstein, Gary Spangler, Rick Sackheim, Peter Gray, Simon Cowell, Richard Griffiths, Sarah Stennett, Jonathan Dickins and David Munns.

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