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MOVE WITH THE FLOW: THE JANICK WAY OF KNOWLEDGE (PART 1)

The words in the headline were spoken by Jimmy Iovine in 2014 as he praised the strengths of the man who would soon thereafter succeed him as Chairman/CEO of Interscope Geffen A&MJohn Janick. “Labels have to innovate, because up until now they’ve left the path of innovation up to everyone else,” the departing chief told the L.A. Times. “John knows how to manage a record company, but he’s also a great A&R guy with a feel for the business, and he can move with the flow.” That closing phrase could serve as Janick’s mantra.

The entrepreneur turned major-label mogul, who hit 40 earlier this year, retains the enthusiasm and determination he evi-denced back in 1996, when, as an 18-year-old underclassman at the University of Florida, he launched ironically named DIY label Fueled by Ramen out of his dorm room. Six years into his run at Interscope, Janick is helming one of the most successful —and hottest—companies in the business. We are now fully in the Janick era, as IGA shifts into high gear. The company has climbed to 8.8% in total-activity marketshare YTD and is 9.2% in audio-streaming share, powered by a string of smash albums and singles.

When we spoke to the Chairman/CEO in his spacious, well-appointed Santa Monica office, he was characteristically thoughtful, self-effacing and quietly confident. A deck of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards sat in its box on the coffee table, a gift from SVP of Artist Strategy and Media Dennis Dennehy, who was also present. It was a nice touch, but the truth is, there’s nothing oblique about Janick’s strategy as he continues in his precisely calibrated effort to build a record label that honors the past while getting a leg up on the future. 

It seems you’ve broken more artists than most labels have in the last few years.
Our thing was always artist development—and for me personally, that’s the only thing I knew. Artist development takes a long time, especially if you’re doing it the right way. We sit with artists, and we ask, “How do you build a foundation for the long haul and build an artist’s career?”

Billie Eilish seems like a gradual development, whereas Juice WRLD has been unusually fast.
Billie signed when she was 14, and it was off of one record. We ended up signing her with Justin Lubliner, our label partner who runs Darkroom. When we were talking to her, we were early on it, but then some other labels came in, and we said, “Some of these labels are just going to want to jam you to have hits sooner rather than later.” We felt like she needed to develop. I think between Justin, our staff and her management [Danny Rukasin and Brandon Goodman], we came out with a different approach, putting songs out every two or three months with incredible visuals. She’s so brilliant and engaging, she has such taste and she’s an old soul. Her brother, Finneas O’Connell, is amazing; co-writes and produces everything with her.

How did she come in? Who listened to it and said, “Wow”?
Nick Groff, who works on the Geffen side, and Justin spotted it. I got a note that says, “Hey, this girl Billie Eilish is coming in; would love for you to meet her.” They sent me “Ocean Eyes,” and I think, “Shit, I have a Lucian meeting; I’ll stop by for 15 minutes.” I went in the room and, within the first minute of sitting with her, I was thinking, “This girl doesn’t look or act 14, and the music’s amazing.” So I stayed longer than 15 minutes and was late to see Lucian. I looked at them and said, “I don’t normally do this, but we have to work with you.” It took months; we were talking to her mother and her management and trying to make sure they felt comfortable.

She’s like the voice of her generation, and the next generation coming up.
Then you see the images. She also did this great video, which she told me about: “I have this vision to do something with spiders for my tour.” Michelle An, who runs all the visual and creative for the company, found this woman who deals with spiders. We shot this vertical video that has spiders crawling over her, and she puts a tarantula in her mouth and the tarantula comes out of her mouth—a real tarantula. That’s when we realized, “Shit, this is Nine Inch Nails, Eminem.” She’s an icon. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s going to be one of the biggest artists in the world next year. We’re taking our time.

The longer you take, the bigger it’ll be.
“You should see me in a crown” isn’t even her biggest streaming record, but it’s going to be great at Alternative.

As for Juice, there’s been only two times since he’s been here that [EVP] Joie [Manda] has said to me, “I’ve got to bring this artist to your office right now.” The first one was 6LACK, and the second was Juice. He brought him up, played the music and we’re like, “Shit, this is amazing. We have to sign him.” I looked at it on YouTube and it only had 60,000 plays, which is nothing, but it was really about the music. [VP A&R] Dash Sherrod was in it and close to them, and the deal was made with Lil Bibby; we’re in partnership with him via his Grade A Productions. We signed him in February or March of this year. We put out “All Girls Are the Same” at the end of April and then “Lucid Dreams” in May, with the project hitting at the end of May, and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

So both projects were essentially earpicks, rather than analytics picks.
Yeah. Same with Ella Mai. She was actually signed by DJ Mustard; we have a label deal with Mustard’s 10 Summers label. Ella is from the U.K., Mustard found her on social media because she was doing covers, and she had a great voice. We signed her two years ago. The interesting thing is that “Boo’d Up” was on the second of her three EPs, and she was developing well, but then KMEL started playing the record, and [promo exec] Nino Cuccinello jumped on it and did a great job spreading it. Nino and [Head of Urban Promotion] Larry Khan really got it rolling at Rhythmic and Urban, and [President of Promotion] Brenda [Romano] started working it at Pop. They all killed for this one. So radio broke a new act, and then it came back to streaming.

What we’re trying to do is make sure we’re breaking artists in every different genre and in every different area. If we can get radio, streaming, touring, all of it breaking different types of acts, that’s great for us and our artists.

And Benny Blanco?
Benny is extraordinary, and the album he’s working on is a really interesting project. Benny is a rockstar and is culturally important himself, so everybody is attracted to him. He’s just a great guy. He said, “I have this idea to do a project in the streaming world. I want to put a developing artist on a record at the right time, and this is how I want to do it.” Obviously, the hits are important, but you also need to think about what kind of records you put out, how the visuals are, how you connect with people on social media, how you’re marketing all of it. Some people think, “Oh well, it’s streaming; you just put songs on playlists and, if it’s a hit, it reacts.” You need that piece, but you also need the storytelling part of it.

I’ve known Benny for 12-plus years, and he’s only 30. We convinced him to do a JV label with us, Friends Keep Secrets, which has been really successful. Benny only signs things he’s passionate about, and then he is patient with them; he really understands artist development. And because we’re so close and the team is tied to him, it clicked.

What artists are on his label?
Tory Lanez, Cashmere Cat, and Ryan Beatty. Tory was the first artist Benny signed with us. His first album was gold and the second album has done really well too.

 So he’s developing other artists as well.
It’s about developing Benny and his brand, but it’s also about how you can tie in other artists. I don’t want to give away the secret sauce, but the idea is to take artists with different audiences and bring them into the Benny funnel, like Halsey and Khalid with “Eastside.” Benny has 150 million views of the video and has 20 million listeners on Spotify. And he has such taste in everything he does. I think this project is going to be massive, so we’re super excited about it.

We’re still developing The 1975, and we have this great artist, Yungblud, who’s a rock act—and we have great rock acts. We have Imagine Dragons, which obviously crosses to Pop, LANY, Tame Impala… We have a lot of things on deck.

You’re also doing well with Lil Mosey.
Yes. Lil Mosey with “Noticed,” and we just dropped his project, so it feels like that’s off to the races too. He was signed by [SVP A&R] Tim Glover. Joie and [EVP of Urban Operations] Nicole Wyskoarko piled on that one too. He’s 16 and had a song that was reacting when he signed to us. We’ve lined up everything perfectly on this “Notice” record. It’s on RapCaviar, Today’s Top Hits and Apple’s A-List Hip Hop, and it’s starting to cross over to a variety of other playlists too. There are other records on this project, which is a mixtape.

There’s a Grammy overlay involving some of these and other acts. Is that something you’re actively promoting with the Academy?
Yes. We’ve been a lot more active this year, because we have things that make sense. Ella should be positioned perfectly for the Grammys, hopefully for Best New Artist, but also in other categories. Juice obviously feels amazing; he has some of the biggest records of the year. A Star Is Born didn’t make the cutoff; “Shallow” will, but not the album. We also have J. Cole in partnership with Roc Nation. We’re trying to look out for all of our artists and give them the best opportunity.

“Shallow” is definitely in the top 10 for the eight slots for Song of the Year.
That and Maroon 5 “Girls Like You” and Zedd’s “The Middle.” That’s just off the top of my head. And then, beyond the Grammys, looking ahead to what we hope to have happen at the Oscars with A Star Is Born and Black Panther, we’re hyper-focused. We have a lot of exciting partnerships with films right now. Imagine Dragons has a song in Ralph Wrecks the Internet. Then we’re working on a great project, Creed II, with Mike WiLL Made-It, who’s executive producing the soundtrack, and it’s incredible. That’s coming out Thanksgiving week, and the feeling is it’s going to be massive.

How hands-on were you guys in terms of song selection with A Star Is Born?
Gaga is obviously a genius. She’s hands-on in everything she does musically. She’s one of those great artists who probably doesn’t need help, but she’s also so super-smart that she’ll get opinions.

She’s collaborative.
Yes. She brought people in, like Lukas Nelson, as well as some she had worked with before, including Diane Warren, Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, and Mark Ronson. She’s known Justin Tranter forever; she signed him here originally. They had been disconnected, and Justin and Julia were hot because they’d worked on Selena and other stuff, so we helped reconnect them. We also suggested Tom Elmhirst to mix; he mixes Adele. So we were helpful, but Gaga’s the conductor.

Tony Seyler [EVP of Film and TV Marketing & Licensing, Soundtrack A&R] was amazing with A Star Is Born; he was on set all the time, helping move pieces around and being the guy on the Interscope side who was helping Gaga, Bradley, the producers and Warner Bros. Films with everything. La La Land, same thing. It was Kendrick and Top’s vision for Black Panther, but Tony was helpful on all of that too.

Tell us about Teen Spirit.
We had a great experience with La La Land, and Fred Berger, one of the producers, said, “Wow, you guys add tons of value; I’d love to do more with you.” He gave us this script by an actor/director, Max Minghella. He’s in The Handmaid’s Tale, and his father, Anthony Minghella, was a massive director. This was his first film he was going to direct, and it’s a music-filled film about a girl who wins a singing competition; she’s from some small town and goes to London for the competition. It’s shot beautifully, and we ended up getting involved with it and producing it, getting the soundtrack, financing in it too. Interscope has done that with 8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Not a ton of stuff, but it’s the first time we’ve gone back into doing that. We premiered it and sold it at the Toronto Film Festival.

We’re doing a Tupac documentary in partnership with Tom Whalley. Tom, of course, signed Tupac to Interscope, and he’s the executor of the estate. Tom has always been focused on preserving and protecting Tupac’s legacy, and we’re excited to be a part of it. Then we’re doing Sublime with an Oscar-winning director. We’re also doing a film called America with Jared Leto. We see the value that we bring to these films. There’s more film stuff we’re working on too.

Film is a little bit different for us, because we’re not competing for the marketshare or slots on the charts. With film, it’s more about experimenting, hopefully making some money and doing great things for our artists. If it makes sense for us to be involved in a project and help market it for our artists, we should be involved. The artists want to do it; it’s fun and exciting. And it’s the same on the technology side.

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