"It's very important that it’s understood that Island is a separate, standalone label. But it has an alliance with Republic for promotion which I see as a great value. Our marketshare will dovetail into theirs, which gives them additional motivation to see this succeed."
Island President David Massey on Life After the UMG East Reshuffle, His Career Arc and More

by Simon Glickman

David Massey likes having hits and so do I,” says UMG topper Lucian Grainge. “That’s exactly why he’s our guy.” Massey, a seasoned record man who became head of Island under the IDJ umbrella, saw his label become a standalone entity following Grainge’s recent reorganization of Universal East, with its own A&R, marketing and other departments and partaking of Republic’s radio-promotion power. “You’ve got two superpowers coming together,” notes Republic chief Monte Lipman, who calls Massey “the consummate music man.”

Both Massey and Lipman are at pains to stress that the arrangement is a partnership. “This isn’t a takeover or a merger or a new acronym,” Lipman asserts. “We have an opportunity to participate in the label’s success and support his needs. At the end of the day, David Massey is the boss—and he’s going to do amazing things.” Massey, an affable Brit who spent a significant portion of his career at Epic, is clearly excited about the prospects for his Island—although after seeing us coming ashore to ask questions, he may want to head out for the open sea.

Let’s get into how your interaction with Republic is intended to work.
With all the projects on the new Island, our goal is to create a real story before the radio kicks in. It’s going to work very well in this structure where Island is a standalone label with its own marketing, its own digital, its own press and A&R, but with a strategic alliance with Republic. We see ourselves as a larger boutique label. The records Republic works at radio will already have a story created by us—will already have been developed by the Island team—and they will come in and take it to another level. Because we’ll be selective and focused, they’ve absolutely got the bandwidth.

I’m lucky enough to have had this strong relationship with Charlie Walk from my days at Sony, and with [SVP Alternative and Rock Promotion] Ron Cerrito, who really broke Oasis for me when I was at Epic. And IDJ’s head of Hot AC, Manny Simon, has moved over as well. We’ve experienced outstanding success with Manny, with #1s for Neon Trees, Taio Cruz, The Wanted, Avicii and American Authors; we’re very excited he’s part of the Republic team. So we have strong ties with them and we’re very excited about having this alliance with them and think it will be very effective.

 Massey and EVP Eric Wong fall in with Fall Out Boy. Below, the Island chief is seen with EDM breakouts Avicii and Kiezsa.

Now that the dust has settled, tell us about the composition of Island’s roster.
It’s a combination of the newer artists with core acts like Bon Jovi, who’s been with us for 30 years; Fall Out Boy who had a really successful album and a monster single—they’ll hopefully have a new single this fall; The Killers--we’re going to make a Brandon Flowers album this year that’s going to really surprise people. It’ll be more crossover than people expect. He’s already in the studio preparing it for next year. Gaslight Anthem are a core artist, one of the best rock bands out there; they’re in the studio right now with Mike Crossey, making what I think will be a groundbreaking album for them, which will be out this fall.

We’ve made amazing headway with American Authors since signing them a year ago; they’re on their way to a double platinum single and had a Top 15 debut album that just keeps building. We’re very confident in their follow-up single, and they’ve got multiple singles on the album. They’re really making a dent and we’re just getting started. Timeflies have built up an extraordinary following and are poised to make a great debut with a Top 10 album. They were brought to Island by Matt Galle. Jake Bugg is also a key development artist who we believe has a huge future ahead.

Avicii is your biggest recent breakout—what’s next for him?
Avicii is a real success story for us; he’s over 6 million singles now, about 300k albums. The third single, “Addicted to You,” with Audra Mae on vocals, will be even bigger. It’s already huge across Europe and we expect it will be a summer monster. There will also be more new material from Avicii this year. He’s gone so much further on what will be his second album project, with a remarkable group of collaborators that will take his music to a whole other level. It’s going in a more alternative direction within EDM.

You also played a strong role in developing Iggy Azalea, who remains on Def Jam.

We’ve been involved with her for a year. She’ll be branded in the future as a Def Jam artist, but Island remains integrally involved in her development and marketing. We’re very excited about her smash single and fantastic album debut. Zeke Silvera, who helps with A&R, did a great job on the project.

Tell us about some of your most recent signings.
We’re very proud of Kiezsa, whom we’ve been developing under the radar for months. Her first single, “Hideaway,” came out last week in the U.K. and got the biggest pre-orders in Universal’s history. She’s already well over 100k today and #1 by more than double the #2 record, and we expect her to end the week with over 130k singles, which is a very significant breakthrough. We consciously decided to build her in the U.K., which has worked spectacularly well, and she’s expanding into Europe. We’ll be working her in the U.S. from now on and expect a summer breakthrough for her here.

The other breakthrough is Tove Lo. She has over 12 million streams on her Soundcloud. She is now beginning to explode at alternative radio, with KROQ and Live 105 leading the charge, and the sales and Shazam reaction are showing remarkable early signs of a major hit. Daniel Werner brought her to us a year ago; she’s a well-respected writer in Sweden, so we met her that way. The Hippie Sabotage remix blew up when we released her EP, and out of nowhere she sold over 100k singles in the first three weeks, before any airplay. So it’s a remarkable phenomenon.

We’ve also been developing a young artist named Cris Cab; he’s a Miami-based Cuban artist, but we’ve started him in Europe. Pharrell, who’s a big fan, identified him early on and is featured on Cris’ single “Liar Liar,” which has been a Top 3 record in pretty much every country in Continental Europe in the last two months. We’ll be working on him this summer as well. He’s gotten more than 12m views on YouTube.

How did you get your start in the business? Who were your early influences as an executive?
I studied law at Cambridge and started in the business as a manager in the mid-80s. I was 22 when I started. I had nine years as manager; Wang Chung was the first act, and they signed to Geffen when it was a label with eight people. David Geffen and Eddie Rosenblatt were my biggest influences as executives--they were absolutely incredible in terms of training me up about the American business. We sold millions of albums. I also managed many U.K. artists, writers and producers and had a music-publishing company.

How did you make the transition to the label side?
At the end of ’91, Michele Anthony, who I knew because she’d been one of my lawyers when I was a manager, approached me to move to New York and be VP of A&R of Epic. So it was Michele who hired me and moved me and my family to America. It’s extraordinary to be back with her, because I worked closely with her for an uninterrupted 14 years.

I started as VP of A&R, key signings were Oasis, Silverchair, Good Charlotte and Anastacia. I worked closely with Shakira around the “Hips Don’t Lie” era, and many others. I signed the Immortal label, which brought us Incubus and Korn, and worked with Cyndi Lauper for 10 years. I became VP/GM of Epic then started my own label, Daylight, with Sony, with Michele and Tommy Mottola’s support; that label had Good Charlotte, Anastacia, Phantom Planet and the Jonas Brothers.

And then, like a lot of people in this story, you moved from Sony to UMG.

In 2007, Steve Bartels and L.A. Reid approached me to move over to Universal to join Island Def Jam. I left seven years ago this week to start as President of the newly formed Mercury, which I re-started from scratch. There were no artists; it had been dormant for 12 years. Our first signing was Duffy, who was our first breakthrough and sold a million albums. We picked up Portishead from the U.K., and they had a Top 5 album. We also signed Neon Trees, who will have their first top 5 album debut this week.

We expanded Mercury so it became a larger imprint; we took on Taio Cruz and sold 14m singles. Then The Wanted. And we generally expanded Mercury until one year ago, when Barry Weiss gave me the Presidency of Island, which included Mercury.

What was the label identity of Island at that time?
It was still a little nebulous. The perception was it was IDJ, rather than having a specific Island Records Identity. I think Lucian’s vision in making Island a stand standalone label was to strengthen the brand of both Island and Def Jam’s imprints. Bringing Island back to where it was in Chris Blackwell’s day.

When it had a decided brand and voice.
And when you look at the roster of Island today it is very much that. I’ve had a year to hone the roster, during which we’ve added American Authors, Avicii, Tove Lo and Kiesza. It’s become its own culture and has an identity and flavor that can really be a brand.

Who makes up your core team?

They’re the best execs out there. Eric Wong, an exceptionally talented marketer, will take on a larger role as EVP/GM; we have Steve Yegelwel, Matt D’Arduini, Sam Watters, Daniel Werner and Evan Lipschutz in A&R; Lauren Schneider, who I’ve worked with for seven years, will be head of Publicity—she knows every single thing about the roster. Allison Schlueter will head digital. Some of them have been sharing their focus with Def Jam, so there’s an amazing advantage to being able to focus on Island artists solely.

And then we have the benefit of this Republic partnership when it comes to radio. The link to Republic is radio only, so it’s very important that it’s understood that Island is a separate, standalone label. But it has an alliance with Republic for promotion which I see as a great value. Our marketshare will dovetail into theirs, which gives them additional motivation to see this succeed.

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