An Exclusive Q&A With Republic Records’ Monte and Avery Lipman

One need only consult the frontline marketshare numbers to know what kind of year the House of Monte and Avery Lipman has had. Once an indie upstart, Republic has become an unstoppable powerhouse with the hugest slice of the pie at 9.1%. But the founding brothers would prefer you look at the music behind the figures —notably explosive records by Lorde, Taylor Swift, Drake and Florida Georgia Line; breakouts like Ariana Grande and Of Monsters & Men; and left-field homers like PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and “Cups” from Pitch Perfect. With an international array of hits and a roster enhanced by a stellar set of partnerships, Republic has kept on closing.

Having recently renewed your deal, what is your state of the union for Republic?
Monte: It really hasn’t changed in nearly a decade. We keep the business simple; our mantra is breaking new artists, and that’s really what we pride ourselves on.

Say a little about some of the subsidiary labels, producers and other A&R sources.
A large part of our success is that my brother and I really strive to create an incredibly healthy, supportive environment and culture that supports these great entrepreneurs—because to some degree, that’s how we started. We were a small imprint in a major label. We were incredibly sensitive to the dynamics, the working models, and what it’s like to thrive and survive in that setting.

We have an amazing group of partners. There’s Scott Borchetta from Big Machine; we have Republic Nashville, also with Scott, as well as Jimmy Harnen and their team. We have Baby and Slim from Cash Money, which historically is our longest-running and most successful partnership; they have some of the world’s biggest artists. Then there are Jason Flom’s Lava, Tom Whalley’s Loma Vista, Rick Rubin’s American and all the different labels like Monkeywrench with Pearl Jam and Brushfire with Jack Johnson.

Monte: We want to super-serve their needs, to create the opportunity where they all continue to operate with full autonomy, full independence, with their own vision, and we provide the resources and services. We pride ourselves on being great partners, and that’s a large part of our success.

Avery: With Jason, Tom and Rick all working here, I can get a peek behind the curtain. I’m trying to pick up a little bit from all of these guys to make me a better executive and make us a better company.

Monte: We also have to mention Tom Mackay, Rob Stevenson and Wendy Goldstein, all of whom are key to our A&R success.

“Every decision we make is a creative leap of faith.”
– Monte Lipman

Your Republic is, in a way, a confederation of states, seemingly very disparate labels that are all under your banner – what do you think ties it all together?

What we gravitate towards is not just artist talent; it’s executive talent—driven, competitive people with vision. That’s how we complement one another, because when Republic was a small imprint, we did best when people gave us the opportunity to operate the way we wanted. So we do the same thing with our partners, because the last thing I’m going to do is try and micromanage some of these iconic executives.

Avery: We trust these people, and when they’re passionate and ready to pull the trigger, we’re right there behind them.

MORE TWANG FOR YOUR BUCK: The powers of Republic, Republic Nashville, Big Machine and UMG pose with superstars Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line, just before Republic Chairman/CEO Monte Lipman ordered a big ol’ plate of grits ‘n’ gravy. Seen (l-r) are Republic President/COO Avery Lipman, Republic Nashville Prez Jimmy Harnen, Monte Lipman, FGL’s Tyler Hubbard, Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta, UMG supremo Lucian Grainge, Swift and FGL’s Brian Kelley.

Republic has a really unique formula, as far as the intersection of ear and research, in your pursuit of new artists.
It’s neither. We call it common sense. We go into every situation with eyes wide open and pay attention to what the universe has to offer. If there are certain indicators in the marketplace, you’d be silly not to pay attention to those, whether it’s gate receipts, tour dates, independent sales, airplay or merchandise, or just different levels of activity in the social space. That’s all part of your responsibilty of just being a smart record executive.

Avery: I used to be sensitive to the notion of research, like somehow that was less honorable, and that signing a “research record” is less honorable than pure ears. But really, it’s about recognizing passion, whether that’s a young intern who stands up on a desk and says, “Oh my God, this is the greatest thing ever,” or looking online and seeing an anomaly, or trying to go see a band and you see a line around the block, trying to get in. Those are all signs of passion.

It’s definitely a combination. There’s no question. Many of the labels are turning over the same rocks. It ties into the culture of the company—we break new artists, because we have to. We’re awash now with data, and I think it’s human nature to think that there must be a formula or system. I’m not so sure about that. If you’re paying attention and you have a feel, you can see a special artist like Lorde and all the intangibles about her: the point of view, the element of danger, the mystery. It’s subtle, but if it’s your focus and your core business, you’ll pick up on it.

This applies to a South Korean rapper; it applies to Lorde or an experimental artist from Australia named Gotye. You could look at an Ariana Grande, before her records even came out, and see the passion she inspired. There’s a lot of noise out there, but if you know what you’re looking for, it shows itself.

Monte: It’s a very simple business. When somebody walks into your office, and you can tell that they’ve just got that x factor about them and are an extraordinary talent, you don’t categorize. Every decision we make is a creative leap of faith.

Your campaigns for Ariana and some of these other young artists have reflected the way the landscape has changed—it’s not all about rushing out an album these days.
Monte: We signed Ariana over two years ago, and she clearly was having a certain level of success in the TV space and Nickelodeon. She had never put a record out, but she had created this incredible following in the social space doing covers and little videos and really engaging with her fans. When you talk about that creative leap of faith, what we saw, first and foremost, was an extraordinary talent. We started thinking, “If we find a way to partner with this young lady, what’s the strategy?” All these different factors come into place, and lo and behold, two years later we deliver a #1-selling single and album.

Austin Mahone is one of the more compelling campaigns that we’ve been a part of in quite some time. It’s a nontraditional approach to breaking a new artist. He’s picked up nearly half a billion views on YouTube and become a national spokesperson for some major brands around the world.

Avery: Everywhere the kid shows up, there’s complete pandemonium. We’ve been releasing singles and EPs, but not a proper album yet; we’re preparing, waiting until it’s appropriate.

Monte: You’ve got to be flexible and you’ve got to move fast, and it’s just about adapting to the new marketplace. When you catch some heat, the demand is insane. You’ve just got to be smart in how you go about it.

"If you have a feel, you can see a special artist like Lorde and all the intangibles. It’s subtle, but if it’s your focus and your core business, you’ll pick up on it." – Avery Lipman

What are some of the newest deals that you’ve done, that you can talk about, that you’re excited about for the coming year or two?
What we’re excited about, when you look at the roster, is that there’s a great balance. You’ve got iconic, established acts like Pearl Jam and Black Sabbath, and someone like Jack Johnson is now moving into that space.

Monte: We’re also very attuned to the youth market. One great artist that we made a deal with is a kid named Martin Garrix. He’s a teenager, just like Ariana and Austin Mahone. He just delivered a #1 record in the U.K. We’re in the process of breaking that right now. It’s already starting to fly on a handful of stations, and it’s reacting.

Another kid we just signed is SoMo. He’s an incredibly resourceful, driven, competitive and talented singer/songwriter from Texas. His new record was #1 Most Added at Rhythm and is also highly reactive. We consider him a franchise signing. There’s also Sage the Gemini, a rapper out of the Bay Area. He’s got one record flying at Crossover and another doing the same at Urban. His album is scheduled to come out in January.

Charlie Walk was clearly a really bold choice for EVP, and obviously it’s worked out exceptionally well. I wonder if we could get you to say a little bit about what he’s brought to the company and the culture.
The first thing Charlie did when he came back was remind me that we’re in show business. There’s a level of excitement and enthusiasm. Charlie constantly presses his staff to dare to dream, to think out of the box and go big. He had nearly 20 years at Sony when it was the #1 label in the business, and that’s what they’re used to. They’re used to selling tens of millions of albums and being #1. It’s that energy, that level of expectation, focus and determination that have made a difference.

I give Charlie a tremendous amount of credit because, you know, not even 60 days on the job, he led the campaign with Ariana Grande to deliver a #1-selling single and album. He led the charge, and a lot of people would not go into the project thinking, “Hey, let’s go for number one; let’s hit this thing out of the park” right out of the gate. It’s that kind of management style that is great for us. It’s somebody that is a B-12 shot into the company. You felt a difference immediately, and he’s a franchise player, no question about it.

Can you say a little about working with Michele Anthony and Lucian Grainge?
I love Michele. She also comes from the Sony system, and as a chief lieutenant, and for I guess what was nearly two decades, that place was humming. She’s a triple threat, because she’s got legal chops, she knows how to run a successful business and she’s adored by the artist community. I love her passion, her obsession. She’s dynamite.

Then there’s Barry Weiss, who’s a great record man who truly understands the dynamics of running a label.

Lucian is our fearless leader, and he leads by example. He’s creating a fully integrated music company. His management style is balanced by the way he empowers his senior staff, so they can operate with a degree of independence and autonomy. He offers so much support to artists and executives alike, and that’s created a tremendous sense of loyalty and respect.

So when you’re trying to sign a band, who gives you the toughest competition?

To a degree, the competition is good, because it forces each one of us to be better. And with every potential new signing, you also have a sense as to whom you’re going to find yourself going up against. Right now, for Alternative acts, we find ourselves going head to head with Columbia quite a bit. You have to respect what RCA is doing in the Pop world, because they’ve got a tremendous roster. They’ve got a legacy roster, and they’ve done a very good job in terms of keeping it relevant. They’re a force to be reckoned with.

Avery: I would answer that a different way. The toughest competition is not the other labels—it’s the artists themselves. Because it really depends on what an artist’s own goals and aspirations are; there are ways to do it without necessarily having a record label. That said, obviously Interscope, RCA and Columbia are really tough.

Monte: We like the competition. Just like in sports, it raises everyone’s game. There’s a tremendous amount of competitiveness, and at the end of the day, I want everyone to do great; I just want to do better.

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