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NEAR TRUTHS BY I.B. BAD
HOW IOVINE’S DEPARTURE WILL
LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD
Jimmy Iovine’s contemporaries view him as the most successful label head of the last 20 years, and now that he’s in the process of abdicating the throne, a big question arises: How will Iovine’s absence raise the games of the major labels? This is shaping up as yet another unintended consequence of the Apple-Beats deal.

Columbia
’s Rob Stringer has had a couple of years of extraordinary success while deepening the label’s cool factor, starting with the head man himself, who has demonstrated that he knows how to close. Stringer works extremely well with President Ashley Newton in the A&R sector, and since the arrival of Joel Klaiman at the beginning of 2013, Columbia has become an even more potent hit machine, cranking out smash hits from the likes of Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams and John Legend in recent months, as the EVP/GM drives records through the system.

The Monte Lipman-led Republic has had some super-strong years of its own, as the well-liked Lipman has balanced a diverse array of artists, including such superstars as Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne and Lorde, in his ever-growing stable of labels, which now includes David Massey and his Island Records team. Charlie Walk has put additional high-octane fuel in the Lipman brothers’ bullet train.

RCA
’s Peter Edge and Tom Corson oversee one of the most coveted rosters in the business, including such high-voltage stars as Justin Timberlake, P!nk and Pitbull. These complementary execs have a great feel for what constitutes a hit act and know how to market and brand it, as they’ve demonstrated with the transformation of Miley Cyrus and the development of Magic!, with Sia on deck. Edge’s record- making abilities (including a rarefied skill at picking songs) and Joe Riccitelli’s top-flight promotion team make for a formidable combination.
Steve Barnett’s newly minted CMG is coming on like a house afire with a pair of potential blockbuster acts in Sam Smith (whose debut album bowed at #1 in the U.K. this week) and 5 Seconds of Summer, following the breakthroughs of fellow U.K.-signed acts Bastille and Emeli Sandé. Michelle Jubelirer’s artist connections are paying off big time, and the company has one of the industry’s top marketing/promotion execs in Greg Thompson.

IGA
’s John Janick will be flying solo with Iovine’s departure, but he has a highly experienced wingman in Steve Berman, who will help the new Chairman/CEO fill those sneakers. Janick has rightly been praised for getting everyone in the company on the same page as to which acts to prioritize, resulting in a string of successful projects from acts including Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, Kendrick Lamar and Phillip Phillips, along with the best P&L IGA has had in years. His mandate as the man in charge will be to retain the company’s focus while making the high-level deals and signing the top-flight acts that distinguished Iovine’s long and successful reign.

These five labels aren’t the only potential beneficiaries in the coming sea change. With Iovine and Dre headed for greener pastures, will Steve BartelsDef Jam, which is having enormous success with newcomer Iggy Azalea, become the next obvious destination for the top hip-hop acts?

Epic
is continuing its turnaround under L.A. Reid a year and a half after the respected veteran’s departure from The X Factor, as the Reid-Rhone tandem has broken a pair of new acts in A Great Big World and KONGOS. What’s more, Reid made—and broke—Michael Jackson’s Xscape.

And 18 months into Cameron Strang’s revitalization project, Warner Bros. Records is also showing signs of life, with solid jobs on Macklemore and Passenger, a strong start from The Black Keys and an impending breakthrough in Nico & Vinz.

All of the Sony and Universal label heads have another asset at their disposal in that they have either Lucian Grainge or Doug Morris as their strategic partners.

In terms of Iovine’s departure potentially leveling the playing field, no area is now more wide open than the competition for key signings. Most believe that when Iovine was focused, he could sign just about any act he wanted; none of his rivals had much of a chance. Iovine’s star turn as chief mentor on American Idol, which made him a pop-culture icon, served to further increase his appeal to the acts he had his eye on.

When an artist came to his office or his house for a meeting, the impression Iovine made was nothing less than overwhelming, albeit in a totally unpretentious way. The first thing his guests would invariably notice was all the photos lining the walls showing Iovine with Lennon, Springsteen, Bono and other legends. When the phone would ring, it might be Bruce calling to discuss the logistics of joining Obama for lunch at the estate of Larry Ellison or David Geffen—or jumping on Paul Allen’s private jet to watch the Seahawks in the playoffs from Allen’s owner’s suite. For the coup de gras, Gwen, Gaga, Dre or Eminem might walk through the door to seal the deal. In short, Jimmy had all the marbles.

For the last few years, however, he simply hasn’t had the time or the sense of urgency about competing in this sector. Instead, his laser-like focus has been on taking Beats to the promised land, and as he’s done so many times over the years, Iovine pulled it off, as Beats performed beyond even his own expectations—just like one of his many smash hits.

There’s good reason Iovine has been the highest-paid music exec for the last 10 years. He’s never made a big deal about it because he doesn’t want to give off that sort of vibe, but those numbers are whoppers. Now, of course, they look like pocket change compared to his Beats score.

Names in the rumor mill: Rick Sackheim, Lee Leipsner, Gary Spangler, Dennis Reese, Peter Gray and Todd Glassman.

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