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NEAR TRUTHS BY I.B. BAD
THE BREAK-UP AND ITS MANY MOVING PARTS, CONTINUED:
EASTERN POWERHOUSE INSTALLS THE TRIANGLE OFFENSE

The question seemingly on everyone’s lips is, why did Universal dissolve IDJ? The simple answer is it hadn’t been working for several years, with the label group’s frontline marketshare slipping from 5.5% in 2011 to 3.6% in 2013. IDJ’s various A&R sources had simply not been able to generate a constant flow of releases to feed the machine, which led to a lot of finger pointing and empty-chair excuses from practically everyone involved. Not surprisingly, Universal brass eventually determined that IDJ was broken and needed fixing, and by the time the company began a turnaround early this year, it was too little too late. Some of those same finger pointers are now on the "be careful what you wish for" team. In the aftermath of this feverish game of musical chairs, wonderers are wondering (1) did any of the protagonists in this narrative get a new deal along with a new situation, and (2) who has the leverage to get one now?

In essence, Republic ruler Monte Lipman has become UMG’s big dog on the East Coast. When Barry Weiss was hired three years ago, Lipman, rather than buying into the plan, told colleagues that he, not Weiss, deserved the top East Coast job, and when Lipman got hot and locked down a rich new deal, he began to get what he wanted without having to go through his titular superior. His ascent coincided with the contraction of Weiss’ power and responsibilities, and like an NFL running back, Lipman saw a hole open up, darted through it and headed for pay dirt, stiff-arming Weiss along the way.

What’s more, Lipman had long coveted the Island label, and while he was jumping into the power vacuum created by Weiss’ exit, he also managed to snag his prize, just as Island was beginning to get some actual traction for the first time since the departure of L.A. Reid three years ago, thanks to the marketing/promotional expertise of Steve Bartels and the creative leadership of David Massey. Island has been racking up sales and spins on Avicii, Neon Trees and American Authors as well as setting up a potential smash in Tove Lo, while Republic has cooled down slightly after topping the frontline marketshare standings in 2013.

Island’s 1.2% in frontline share takes Republic to 8.2%, still well short of Columbia’s 9.0%, but the two labels are much closer in TEA, 8.2 to 8.0. Republic could retake the top slot if it can manage to fit Island’s breaking acts into its priorities at radio, but that’s easier said than done. As one pundit said of the situation, Massey has gone from having his own repertoire-exclusive promo team to now having to battle for priority status with the multiplicity of labels under the Republic umbrella—including Cash Money, Big Machine, Lava and Loma Vista, as well as Republic itself—to become a priority in the company’s hitmaking machinery. And how will Slim & Baby, Jason Flom, Tom Whalley and the other affiliated label heads feel about having the pipeline become even more clogged than it is now?




The retooling of Def Jam as a freestanding label represents a big opportunity for Bartels to reinvent an iconic brand as he finally becomes master of his own destiny. But will the transformed Def Jam under Bartels and the newly christened creative team of No ID and Hip Hop become a label with a narrow focus of repertoire in keeping with the image and history of the company, or will it instead build a more broad-based roster incorporating pop and rock as well as hip-hop and R&B? Lest we forget, Bartels’ team broke The Killers, Fall Out Boy, Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. And right now, they’re in the midst of breaking Jhene Aiko (whose debut EP is already north of 200k) and the buzzing Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea, both of whom could become core artists on the Def Jam roster moving forward.


Motown
’s move to Capitol Music Group in L.A. gives Steve Barnett’s team another creative source, led by the respected exec Ethiopia Habtemariam. Like Republic, CMG depends on multiple creative centers for generating a steady flow of releases into its marketing operation. The strategy is working—CMG is 7.3% in frontline share year-to-date, good for #2 until Republic got Island’s share—by establishing strong ties with Universal’s dominant U.K. label group, which in recent months has provided Barnett and company with a breakthrough act in Bastille and prospective stars in Sam Smith, 5 Seconds of Summer, Emeli Sandé and Naughty Boy. As they battle for marketshare, Republic and CMG are now both in every deal that comes up, which is precisely the sort of aggressive bicoastal competition Lucian Grainge envisioned when he acquired EMI, and when he implemented last week’s reorg. Barnett and John Janick have emerged as the dominant powers on the West Coast, especially now that Jimmy Iovine’s role has become more focused on Beats and less on IGA, a shift in priorities that began with Janick’s arrival in the fall of 2012.

Names in the rumor mill: Michele Anthony, Avery Lipman, Karen Kwak, Charlie Walk, Aaron Rosenberg and Nick Gordon.

 

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