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TOP FIVE SIX-MONTH UPDATE
The Fourth in a Series of Follow-up Q&As With
the Heads of the Top Five Labels of 2013
Six months ago, John Janick was finishing his first full year running the show at Interscope Geffen A&M as Jimmy Iovine’s heir apparent, though at the time it was anyone’s guess when the succession plan would actually kick in. The onetime indie-label entrepreneur arrived in the fall of 2012 eager to learn at the foot of the most successful major-label head of the last two decades but confident that he could handle the demands of running the day-to-day of the perennial powerhouse—for good reason. The now-36-year-old had built his Fueled by Ramen into one of the most successful indies, most recently breaking fun., while also running Elektra and spearheading a massive project from Bruno Mars. Hitting the ground running, Janick then guided IGA to one of its most profitable years. So what will the Chairman/CEO in waiting do for an encore…?
We’re having this conversation at serendipitous moment, as you prepare to become Chairman/CEO of IGA. How will your job change, if at all, when you officially become the top exec at the company?
This may sound weird, but I really don’t think it changes at all. Jimmy was really great in how he set us all up when I came into the company. He said, "You’ve got the ball. You’re running the show." We were on the same page with everything. I took his advice, and I obviously made certain changes based on that advice. But and he let me lead with a lot of things too. We have a really strong team of people, and I think Jimmy was letting me roll a certain way in order to prepare me for this moment.

You’re a lucky dude. You were chosen and prepped for this job by the master.
Well, listen, that’s part of the reason why I made the switch. There were a lot of factors: Being able to come to here and having the opportunity to try to shape the business for the future; and being able to work with Jimmy and Lucian. If you’re looking for people in the business to have as mentors, they’re as good as you can get.
You’ve effectively reorganized and refocused the company since you arrived in October 2012. Are those jobs done, or is there still more to accomplish?
There are two important pieces to that. First of all, the team is set. When I came here, I made changes really quickly. I started off 2013 by saying, "This is the team; everybody should feel stable, but you should also be on your A games." The other piece of it is that I want the best people in the business, so I’m always looking for people to add to the team to make it better, whether it’s our roster, the people who work for us or what we’re missing, and trying to add to it. I’m always on the lookout.

What responsibilities have you entrusted Steve Berman to handle, and will his role change?
I don’t think anybody’s role changes. Steve is talented in many different areas, he’s one of the best in the business at marketing and relationships with partners, and overall he’s a long-term thinker. And what I’ve always said about Interscope—even before I came into the company—is that it’s one of the best at breaking artists worldwide, and a lot of it has to do with thinking outside the box and having a variety of partnerships. That stems, first of all, from Jimmy, and then what Berman does. He’s an important piece of the company and a great partner.
 
Will you continue to be actively involved in the areas of A&R and marketing?
I’m involved in everything. Before coming into the company, I was a micro-manager. I ran Elektra, and Fueled by Ramen, with a roster between the two of them of about 20 acts. But we had a really high batting average of breaking things and building big acts. Coming into Interscope, I knew that I had to let go. For me, it’s being involved in A&R, which is the most important part of the company, and then driving the projects home on the marketing side, as well as running the company and the finance side of it and all the other pieces. My background is being able to understand all those pieces. I had a different education than most people who are in the position that I’m in, and I chose to be involved in all those things. But what I’ve learned is that you have to surround yourself with the best team and entrust those people. So as much as I’m involved in all those pieces, I trust everybody on my team to do their thing. I don’t have to be involved in every detail, so it’s a really good situation.

Among IGA’s most impressive accomplishments since you’ve been running the day-to-day have been the breakthroughs of new acts like Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar, as well as a significant increase in sales and visibility for OneRepublic. What’s the secret to these achievements?
It starts with the music and great artists. And with most of those projects, there are great partners that are involved too. With Kendrick, it’s Top Dawg; with Imagine Dragons, it’s Alex Da Kid and KidinaKorner. All those artists delivered amazing music; they’re all great. When we started with OneRepublic, it was, OK, how do we grow this and make the band have more of a face and become more of a live band and have the hits, but make sure that there is that foundation there that’s more than just hit songs? Obviously, hit songs are the key, but [we want to attract] people that are going to buy albums. The other secret is focus, long-term vision and smart marketing. And those are all 18-month projects, and OneRepublic is still active. We put out Native early last year, and we’re now in the middle of "Love Runs Out," which is gonna be a massive single. And then we have "I Live," which I think will be massive as well. If we wanted to, we could go with singles all the way to next summer. I just went to see OneRepublic last week at Hollywood Bowl in front of 16,000 people, and Ron Laffitte said their agent was happy to sell out Red Rocks last year, and this year they did two Red Rocks and the Hollywood Bowl. At this point they could go do Staples Center and a bunch of other big places. So it’s about having a vision for the long term. It’s about this album, but it’s also about future albums, and making sure we’re focusing on selling music but also on the artist’s career and the brand in general.
 
What are your current and upcoming priorities; i.e., who do you hope to become the next Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar and OneRepublic?
I was talking to an artist that we’re just about to sign that every label was trying to sign, and they asked me, "You have all these big superstar acts, but what about the middle of the road and the fact that it can take a long time to get to that level?" And I said, "I don’t know what you’re talking about. First of all, where I come from, it’s all about the long term, and it takes a long time to get to that level." So I’m infusing that into Interscope. But beyond that, there are all these artists—whether it’s Lady Gaga or No Doubt—they all take time. And I feel like there are a lot of those artists now that were developing that are coming along, and it may be on this album or it may be on a future album. The 1975, an act we talked about last year, are doing a headlining tour, selling 4,000 or 5,000 tickets a night. We haven’t had the big hit record at radio, but they’ve sold 150,000 albums; and the next time we’re going with "Girls," which I believe is a big hit. It’s either gonna be on that record or it’s going to be on a future album. Aloe Blacc, who had a hit with "I’m the Man," is a little left of center, but he’s a great artist, singer and writer. ScHoolboy Q on the hip-hop side, who’s coming up under TDE, is in the Kendrick Lamar camp. We think he’s special. But I hate to single things out, because we have a lot of great things.
Jimmy had extremely close bonds with IGA’s core artists, from Eminem to Gaga. How are you going about succeeding him in that respect?
There’s nobody else like Jimmy, obviously. But I’m happy that Jimmy chose me to run the company. I think he felt that I fit what was needed at Interscope for the future, which is obviously a huge sign-off and very flattering. But what makes a company is great artists, and it’s important for us to be supporters of artists and support their vision, and what we do is amplify their vision out to the world. So when it comes to someone like Lady Gaga, it was always about making her feel comfortable and building that relationship. She’s one of the most talented people that I’ve worked with; she’s a great writer, she has one of the best voices and she’s a true visionary. So for me, it’s about supporting her and making her feel supported. When it comes to Eminem and Paul Rosenberg, who manages him, it’s letting them do what they’ve always done, and making sure that we’re here to support them and they feel that, and giving them the freedom to do what they want to do. Jimmy was always a believer in artists and giving his opinion, but signing great people and letting them do what they do, that’s what I hope to continue and build relationships with those artists. And as I said earlier, the core of the company, whether it’s Berman or Brenda Romano or Dennis Dennehy, has been here for a while, and artists feel good about that and understand that this company has the same vision it always has.
 
It appears that Interscope has more U.K. acts on the roster than in the past, and you’re having success with Ellie Goulding, Disclosure, The 1975 and Rixton, among others. What are your primary talent sources ex-U.S., and is that an area you want to expand?
For us, it’s always about finding the best music, and there’s been a lot of great music coming out of the U.K.—always has been, but there are things that we have been really moved by. The acts that you just mentioned are a mixture. Disclosure and Ellie Goulding were signed in the U.K. and we picked them up for the U.S., and The 1975 and Rixton were signed by us. The 1975 was actually a split deal; we signed them for North America and Polydor, signed them for the rest of the world. Rixton was signed by Scooter Braun and Denny Blanco for our venture with them. So it comes from all different areas: Our A&R people and partners sign things, and then there are things we pick up from other labels around the world. It’s about figuring out what we’re passionate about and going after it.

Here’s a question I asked you six months ago that I’d like to revisit: What deals you’ve made so far this year are you most excited about?
Again, I don’t want to miss anything, but there are some things that I don’t know if we talked about last year. We ended up doing deals with Mike Will and J Cole, both on the Urban side, but those guys are very talented and they’ll have things that cross. And doing the deal with Denny Blanco was big for us. He’s obviously really talented and we have a really good relationship, and now it’s about building something great together. Those are the three main partnerships we’ve done over the eight months since we spoke last. And what’s great about them is that they’re all great producers and writers, which goes back to what Interscope was built on—the music and the artists—and they’re also entrepreneurs. So there’s a nice mix. So those are exciting. We’ve also signed some really good things. Joie Manda signed K Camp, who’s going to have a #1 record at Urban with his second hit. We’re just developing him and that feels really good. Joie also signed Pia Mia, a 17 year-old girl who crosses over into all different formats of radio. We haven’t even started that one yet, but I think she’s gonna be a massive star; it’s just about having the right record. And there are a bunch of brand-new things that we’re excited about.

What albums coming up in the second half of 2014 are you most excited about?
We have Maroon 5, which I think is going to be massive, and U2. Lana Del Rey and Robin Thicke are coming out this month, and we’ll have Kendrick Lamar and Gwen Stefani at the end of the year. So those are the big things.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?
We have so many big superstars, but it’s all about breaking new artists and developing our next round of superstars. It’s also about shaping this company for the future. How do you create a record label that’s going to be successful and ahead of the curve? That’s what I’m striving to do every day.

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