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"We now strive to be the best of both worlds: operate with the passion and enthusiasm of an indie, but with an ability to sell millions of records around the world."

LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC!

Monte Lipman on Re-Upping, Professional Brotherhood, UMG, Breaking Korean-Language Records and How Not to Get Run Out of Nashville (Among Other Things)

By Simon Glickman

With his new deal in place, Monte Lipman claims the Chairman and CEO mantle at Republic Records, the label he launched in 1995 with his brother, Avery (who is now President and COO). Republic is a bright star in the firmament of Lucian Grainge’s UMG, and in 2012 was second in marketshare only to blazing-hot Columbia.

The well-liked exec, who hails from Brooklyn, worked his way up at Arista, SBK/EMI and Atlantic prior to beginning the indie brother act that would become Republic. A promo and marketing wizard, Monte has built an empire out of audacious left-field smashes, his team’s assertive A&R, and canny joint ventures (with Big Machine, Cash Money and others). He’s still full of the youthful enthusiasm he brought to the building of Republic, and was patient enough to endure a gabfest with us.

Congratulations on finalizing your deal. What made you decide to stay?
Avery and I have been at UMG for nearly 18 years and have always felt a level of support that is uncommon at most companies. More recently, Lucian Grainge has motivated us to expand our reach and cultivate an environment within the world’s number one music group, which attracts great artists and executive talent. His fierce competitiveness, global initiatives, and shrewd deal making sets the tone for the company and inspires us every day. After spending so many years building an incredible artist roster, management team, and venture partnerships, leaving Republic Records never felt like an option.

Obviously Republic’s development and much of its growth occurred under Doug Morris.
Having the opportunity to work closely with Doug for all those years has provided me an education that has been invaluable. His track record of identifying iconic executives like Jimmy Iovine, Craig Kallman, and Jason Flom early in their careers has been pretty remarkable. Not only has Doug been a mentor in my professional career, but also someone who has made an impact on my life that I’m always grateful for.

Daniel Glass is another person who contributed to my success over the years. He was the first person to give me an opportunity to be successful in this business. Not only was I able to quit my bartending job in Hoboken, New Jersey, but it was Daniel who had more confidence in my abilities than I had in myself early in my career.

How would you describe your relationship with Barry Weiss?
When I realized I’d be working with him, I never anticipated how much I would enjoy the experience. He’s a fierce competitor who was born into the business, so you know it’s in his DNA. We always recognize and appreciate his unbridled support of Republic Records.

You had a tremendous run last year and were #2 in marketshare…
After taking up golf recently, I was taught that the first rule of the game is not to look at your scorecard! My brother and I are focused on aligning ourselves with great talent and creating opportunities for them to succeed. We keep it simple.

And you’ve worked to create a culture that attracts those kinds of artists.
Exactly! And that’s what’s great about an act like Florence + the Machine. People come into the building and reference Florence, or James Blake, or The Weeknd. As much as I’d like to believe it’s our pitch for new artists to join Republic, it’s really the roster that sells the company.

Integrating an indie sensibility into a large corporate structure brings its own challenges as well, doesn’t it?
There was a period in our business when the hottest bands would only want to sign with independent labels. I spent a lot of time studying that dynamic and realized it wasn’t the resources and ability that attracted these acts to sign, but the passion and enthusiasm of the employees of the company. We now strive to be the best of both worlds: operate with the passion and enthusiasm of an indie, but with an ability to sell millions of records around the world.

Let’s get a little deeper into the question of A&R and how you approach it.
The nice thing about being the older brother is that Avery does all the heavy lifting discovering new artists, and I tend to get all the credit. Truth be told, there is no Republic Records without Avery. His first signing, the Bloodhound Gang, put us on the map back in the day; he went on to identify Jack Johnson, Godsmack, Owl City, Colbie Caillat, 3 Doors Down and many others.

But the real success of our A&R initiatives is the team effort of the entire department. When you think about the recent signings Of Monsters & Men, Gotye, The Weeknd, Angel Haze and James Bay, it was typically a group effort led by Rob Stevenson (EVP/A&R). Back in the day, when we were on the hunt to sign The Killers, we found ourselves going against Rob, who was still at IDJ; he just torched us. I’m happy (and relieved) he’s now with Republic.

The West Coast is anchored by Tom MacKay (EVP). In addition to being a strong, well-rounded executive, he’s our conduit to NBC and The Voice, made the deal with Lions Gate for The Hunger Games and worked with Scott Borchetta and Jimmy Harnen on signing Eli Young Band and Florida Georgia Line. Also in our Santa Monica office is Wendy Goldstein (SVP A&R), who has done a phenomenal job working with Enrique Iglesias, Nelly and Akon. Ironically, it was Wendy who signed the Bloodhound Gang to Geffen back in the day.

Charlie Walk’s arrival as EVP at Republic marked a return to the label world. How did that come about?
Charlie is the person I found myself competing against for 20 years. We were always in the same trenches and came up in a similar fashion with common goals. He’s just incredibly ambitious and laser-focused on the prize. There are many things he always did—and continues to do—better than me; not to mention he has a much bigger Rolodex then I ever had. People ask me, Can he still do it? Does he still have the relationships? Oh, please. Better than ever. Charlie is a game-changer.

A lot of what you’ve described is a bit like that book about Lincoln, Team of Rivals—getting the guys you used to compete hardest against.

We take tremendous pride in the relationship we have with our partners. We work hard to provide services and a platform that continues to support their vision and allow them to have unprecedented success. Our job has never been to lean over somebody’s shoulder and turn knobs or tell them how to release their records; it’s just the opposite. Our job is to stay in the background and allow them to create their culture, run their company, and operate as they see fit.

Baby and Slim and the Cash Money legacy, which includes Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Tyga, have been at UMG nearly as long as we have. The brand they have created has made an impact in pop culture that goes far beyond music. I believe a key to their success is the independence and autonomy to run their operation without interference. Their pursuit of excellence and ability to run a multi-media entertainment company will be written into the history books.

We also have a partnership with Jack Johnson and Emmett Malloy for Brushfire Records. Quietly, they have sold about 20 million records worldwide with a non-traditional approach to promotion and marketing. Typical of any Brushfire release, it usually starts with them sending us their marketing plan.

We’re also very fortunate to work Jason Flom, who’s building Lava into a market leader with the success of Jessie J, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and soon-to-be Black Veil Brides. I’m also happy to announce that his soundtrack to Chasing Ice just earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song [J. Ralph’s “Before My Time”].

Tom Whalley with Loma Vista has already put two records out under his new venture, Soundgarden and Django Unchained, which is #1 in over a dozen territories around the world. Tom’s ability to identify and sign important artists from around the world has always made him a force of nature in the A&R community.

Rick Rubin has recently decided to create a partnership with us for his label American Recordings. His very first release, The Avett Brothers, has not only achieved commercial success, but has also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album. Rick has done so many things on a historic level and is clearly destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is currently producing the Black Sabbath album, which will be released on Republic later this year. It’s the first Sabbath album with the original lineup over in over three decades. It’s so authentic and just plain badass.

And finally, there’s our strategic alliance with Scott Borchetta and his Big Machine Label Group. Some people take a week off after selling 250,000 first week; Taylor Swift sold 1,250,000 in the first week! Her numbers are staggering. Scott is a visionary, and as competitive as anyone I’ve ever met. We’re lucky to work with him and reach new heights with every release.

With the success of Taylor we talked about what else we could do, and that was the impetus for Republic Nashville. The first signing was The Band Perry, which sold nearly 2 million albums and 4 million singles. Right behind that was the Eli Young Band, and more recently Florida Georgia Line, which is a smash—that’ll be a platinum-plus album. Then we made a decision with the winner of The Voice, Cassadee Pope, to make her part of Republic Nashville.

Of course, making the decision to go through Nashville in a post-Taylor Swift world doesn’t necessarily mean quite what it did before.
This isn’t our first foray in the country space. We tried twice in the past to launch and brand Republic as a country standalone in Nashville—and both times we got run out of town by the old guard. Scott took pity on us and eventually came up to me one day and said, “Listen, if you guys are serious about releasing country records, let me help you.”

Thinking about how integral the online factor has been, it’s incredible to consider how things have changed since you began.
When we started Republic it really was just a hobby, and to some degree still is. We both had full-time jobs and were moonlighting after work and on weekends. This was pre-Internet, so we learned the hard way that shipping records was more expensive than the production of the songs itself. Unfortunately, that little gem of advice was never included in the music textbooks. Basically, a $5,000 independent production would cost you another $10,000 to ship the record to retail, press and radio. We became experts in the postage system.

That experience also taught us the importance of detail and follow-through. When you release your record independently, you have to handle everything, from the bar code to the copyrights to the artwork to the sequencing and mixing. This of course is after you identify an amazing talent and encourage them to sign with you in the first place. There’s so much that goes with it. But you really have to experience the process if you’re going to be successful in this business.

Republic also has a reputation of being a powerhouse at Radio.
 
I like to believe we’re strong at delivering new music into the marketplace at every turn. With radio still being a significant catalyst in breaking artists, we challenge ourselves every day to think differently. Personally, my favorite projects are the artists and songs that do not sound like they belong on radio. That’s why I loved working with Amy Winehouse. When we first delivered “Rehab” people looked at us sideways. And it went on to be Record of the Year. That’s how we think about it. In fact, under the leadership of Michael Horton (EVP Urban Promotion), it was Urban radio that introduced Amy Winehouse to America. When we signed Of Monsters and Men, it was our goal to put them on every radio station and sell millions of records. Promotion SVPs David Nathan, Dennis Blair and Gary Spangler and their team are in the process of doing that now.

Another example is when Scooter Braun and I talked about working on PSY together. He said, “I would consider Republic, but with one caveat: that you leave the record in its original form.” I said, “You realize you’re asking us to get Korean lyrics on American pop radio? He said, “That’s exactly what I’m asking.” The rest, of course, is history. I give Scooter all the credit.

What’s your perspective on the future?
Lucian and UMG have afforded us this amazing opportunity that allows us to work with these great artists and participate in reaching their goals. I believe we’re on a good track and will continue to cultivate our roster; but it’s also important to get lucky along the way. As Morris Levy once said, “One day it looks like you’re going out of business, and the next day The Beatles walk through the door.”

It always starts and ends with the artists.

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