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An Exclusive Q&A With Interscope President/COO John Janick

 

“It’s everything I’d hoped it would be,” Interscope President/COO John Janick says of his first full year at the company. The utility man in the company’s ruling triumvirate, topped by Chairman Jimmy Iovine and also including Vice Chairman/Head of Marketing Steve Berman, Janick is understandably proud of Interscope’s return to dominance this year. The label’s accomplishments include an industry-leading 7.4% in TEA, breakthrough albums from newcomers like Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar and Phillip Phillips, and a pair of massive singles in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.”

What made you decide to take this job, and how do you feel about it after your first full year?

There were a few things that pushed me to it, and one of them was that there’s nobody like Jimmy in our business, and the opportunity to work with him and learn from him was something that most people don’t get to experience. So, given where Jimmy was at in his life, it felt like the right time.

You’ve had big shoes to fill, obviously. In what ways did Iovine mentor you?

Sometimes when you’re doing a deal, you think, OK, someone’s just trying to close you and they tell you the things you want to hear. But Jimmy told me he was a man of his word, and he’s been exactly that. Any time of day, on weekends, whenever, he’s always available and trying to make sure that I’m getting what I should get from him. He’s the Chairman of the company and he’s running Beats as well, but his vision of where the music business is going and what he’s doing with Beats and Beats Music and Interscope and how they all intersect, is coming together, which is an amazing thing to witness. One of the things I wanted to do in my career, especially in coming here, was to make a mark on the music business and what it should be in the future, and that’s Jimmy’s thing too, although he’s obviously much more advanced. He’s envisioning what a label is going to look like in the future and how we go about changing what we’re doing to adjust to what’s going on in the world. I feel like we’re doing that.

 

“I don’t think people expected us to move the way we did, and adjust ourselves and put ourselves in as good a spot as I feel we are in this year.”

What were the most important things you’ve learned since your arrival?

I think the most important thing is probably to be patient. I’m an impatient person, and that’s what I had to tell myself coming in. I don’t think people expected us to move the way we did, and adjust ourselves and put ourselves in as good a spot as I feel we are in this year. The company, everybody as a whole, moved quickly and got very focused, which is good for the label, the artists and all the people who work here. So I was trying to be as patient as possible and realize we are building something. This is already a great company and one of the best labels, but making sure we’re looking at the next 20 years and thinking about that and not making any quick decisions.

You’re thinking ahead 20 years?
I was thinking more of the history of the label. Hopefully, I’ll be here for a while.

 

The consensus around the biz is that you were able to refocus the company. Would you buy that thesis, and if so, what were the keys to pulling it off?

Absolutely. I knew coming in that this was a great company on every level. I knew that the roster was amazing, we have some of the best artists and Interscope is one of the best brands. I think people expected me to want to come in here with an axe, but the people who work here are some of the most talented people in the business. So I knew coming in that it was just about how we bring everything together, get everybody on the same page, have every department working together and focus on the artists. I told everybody—and I still say—it’s quality over quantity, and I don’t want to sign a ton of things. A lot of people jump on whatever’s hot. They sign things, the artists just sit there and it takes up bandwidth and money. That’s not good for the artist or the label. So those are some of the key things, and the people at this company, fortunately, bought into me coming in. A big part of that was Jimmy saying, “This is the guy, and this is how we’re doing it.” And everybody was great. They were very respectful, and I respected everybody that was here. I told everybody, “You guys are all some of the best at what you do, and we need to come together and take the label and the artists to the next level.”

 

How do you know what particular records to focus on?

Sometimes there are signs, whether it’s sales, tastemakers liking something or something else. It seems unconventional to a lot of people now, but the way I look at it in my idealistic head is that it’s a gut thing. A lot of the things that I signed when I had my own label were things that nobody else in the industry got, which made me even more determined. “I think this is great and I’m gonna show people.” And that’s what Interscope has always been too. A lot of artists that Interscope has broken over the years have been left of center, not the obvious thing. But when they do their thing and then push the button on it, it becomes the biggest thing around the world. No one else has done it like Interscope as far as building worldwide superstars. I was fortunate to come in when there were a lot of good pieces that were here, whether it was focusing on Imagine Dragons or Kendrick Lamar or Phillip Phillips. Those were three things that came out between September and December of last year, and each of those artists has sold a million and a half to 2 million album equivalents over the last 14 months.

 

Say a little about the entrepreneurial lessons you drew from your experience running Fueled by Ramen and how that’s informed your work at Interscope.

What I think is interesting about this company is that Jimmy’s an entrepreneur and so am I. There aren’t many labels that are headed by entrepreneurs. We understand, I think, all aspects of the business. I started out Fueled by Ramen in my dorm room. I had to figure out how to make sure that I wasn’t overdrawing an account running the finances of the company. I cut all the checks. I did all the royalty statements for artists. I never wanted to be in a place where I wasn’t paying an artist anything. I ended up overpaying the artists, because every six months I’d sit down and have to do everything by hand. I’ve signed the bands, I’ve made the records, I did the marketing and I hired the people. I did every aspect of the business, and that’s an experience that most people don’t get.


“There’s nobody like Jimmy in our business,” Janick says of Iovine, “and the opportunity to work with him and learn from him was something that most people don’t get to experience.”

How do you balance your A&R and marketing responsibilities?

What I’ve learned, and what I knew coming in, is not to micro-manage. On Fueled by Ramen, I had 10 to 12 artists at any time, and at Elektra, we had like five or six signed artists. So I was able to be involved in every detail, making a record and then doing the marketing. And I thought that was the best of everything, and it still is now, because I’m able to apply it. Understanding the creative side of it and sitting in the studio with an artist and really understanding the music, and then figuring out how to present it to the world—I feel that’s one of my strong points. But in this position, I can’t be so micro on every little detail, so it’s a matter of trusting in your team of people and diving into the music, and then getting into the marketing where I can. So it’s a delicate balance of figuring out how to go back and forth between the two. But so far it’s worked well. And again, it’s more about focusing the company and not releasing 100 albums a year. I would rather release 30 or 35 and have a higher batting average.

 

You’ve been noted for your strong communication with artists; how do you walk the line between encouraging their creativity and looking after the label’s priorities?

I always tell people that where I’m strong is finding great artists, believing in great artists, or getting involved and helping them. It’s about being transparent, saying, “OK, this is great and this is what we should do,” and making sure they’re on board. Or if there’s ever an issue with any artist, it’s explaining to them, “OK, I think this is going to be difficult, and this is why, and this is how we should set it up if this is the road you want to go down.” So it’s a matter of talking through things, the good and the bad.

 

Tell us a bit about working with Steve Berman and other key team members

.
Steve has been at this company for 22 years, and he’s fantastic. I didn’t know him at all before I came in. Now, when I sit with him, I see that Steve has some of the best relationships with people throughout the business, and he’s one of the strongest people I know in his position. He’s been a great partner in everything that we’re doing together, and we’re lucky to have him at the company. And I really feel like all our department heads are some of the best at what they do. I was fortunate to come into a company that has some of the best people in the business. I brought in Joie Manda in April to be the President of Urban. Joie hired Larry Khan to run Urban Promotion. Berman hired Mark Flaherty to head up marketing, and he has hired some great people in his department. I also brought in Zvi Edelman in A&R.

 



What deals and signings IGA has made this year are you most excited about, and how do you see them paying off down the line?

We’ve been really selective in what we’re doing, and we have a lot of great partnerships with creative people who help shape, sign, develop and give taste to what we’re doing. We have this band from the U.K. called The 1975 who are great. We have Mike Will, who has a record with Miley that’s blowing up. We have Rixton, which we signed with Bennie Blanco and Scooter Braun. The music is fantastic, and I’m confident that that’s going to break next year. We signed Disclosure this year, another great act. That’s what I think is great about the label. People asked me when I came in what type of music I wanted to sign, and I said the best of everything. I want the best of hip-hop, the best of pop, I want the best of rock, the best of dance, and I feel like we are achieving that. If you look at the charts now, there’s Imagine Dragons on the rock side, Zedd on the dance side, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Elle Goulding, Lady Gaga. Some of these are marquee artists, some of them are developing, breaking artists, but they’re all different types of music.

 

Anything you want to add?

For me, it’s always the balance of the business and the creative, and making sure this is a great home for artists where they feel supported, and that we’re doing things outside of the box.

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