An Exclusive Q&A With RCA’s Peter Edge and Tom Corson

Two years into their tenure, RCA CEO Peter Edge and President/COO Tom Corson are firing on all cylinders. With the year’s top-selling album in Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, the ongoing success of P!nk, and the massive breakout of Miley Cyrus, among others, the duo have loomed large on the 2013 landscape, earning a 7.5% frontline marketshare—and proving that in Edge’s A&R vision and Corson’s marketing wizardry, Nipper possessed one the most formidable executive combinations in the biz.

It’s the end of the second full year of running the label. I thought you could both say a little bit about what has been key to your success so far.
Peter: I always feel great records are the basis of any great company. Tom and I have witnessed it over the many years we’ve worked together. It’s more than 10 years, as a matter of fact.

Tom: We’re not gonna tell you how many more, though. More than 10 and less than 100.

Peter: Great records are definitely the core of it, and I think we have a great team that’s come together across what came out of J Records and the older RCA format and Jive Records, and just new signings, like Miley and A$AP and breaking through with Miguel. Those things are really hard to do, candidly.

Tom: And teamwork. Peter and I set the example for teamwork with our relationship and partnership. Everybody’s rowing in the same direction, and when you have the right music and you apply a creative marketing approach, it really sets you apart from your competition.

That brings me to my next question, which is about that magic formula of your partnership.

Peter: There’s a trust that comes out of knowing each other so long and being in several different work situations together—from the fact that we know what we’re doing together.

Tom: We feel that trust and understanding really [permeates] the whole company. Because of that, there’s a ceiling above RCA that’s different than our competitors. You get a different vibe when you come in here. There’s collaboration and openness. And this isn’t just us saying this—we’ve gotten this feedback from every corner of the business. Of course, you always focus on your core assets, which is mainly to never lose sight of the fact that it all starts and ends with great music and great artists.

Peter: We’re still very hungry. We still have a lot to prove.

Tom: We feel like we’ve just reached a point where we can really get down to what we want to do.

Let’s talk about the roster that was part of your “inheritance” as you came in.
Peter: Well, there’s just an amazing selection of artists. P!nk, Justin, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, it goes on. Great roster.

Tom: It could be the best superstar roster in the business. It was a blessing, but also a responsibility. These are major artists and major brands and they’re fully functioning. They’ve got great teams around them. We were sort of pleasantly awestruck by this. But then it was time to get to work, and we worked super hard—building and forging relationships and extending contractual relationships and making sure there was a real avenue of communication through every level of the company.

“We’re still very hungry. We still have a lot to prove.” – Peter Edge

With Justin Timberlake’s albums both debuting at #1, I wondered if you could kind of give a little retrospective on the campaign and the year he’s had.

Peter: It’s been one hell of a year. He has the best-selling album of the year, the biggest tour of the year and, with “Mirrors,” one of the songs of the year. We were thrilled to be in a position to roll out a campaign like that.

Tom: It was a great partnership with [JT manager] Johnny [Wright], Justin, [publicist] Sonia [Muckle] and the team. It’s been very organic—Justin is in the center of his campaign. He’s owns it. Not to mention that he’s an incredible superstar delivering great music and working hard, and he’s got a great management team and a great record company behind him.

Even with a superstar, there’s some risk in putting out two full-length albums of new material in the same year.
Tom: They’re not different albums; it’s a double album. That’s another concept that people are still grasping right now, and here’s a guy who’s doubling down on his concept. And he’s not done. He’s talking about follow-up singles and maybe going back to the first part of the project. We’re gonna be in the Justin business for a lot longer. There are no rules here.

Let’s get to Miley. Tell me a little bit about the signing process.
Peter: Bruce Flohr actually brought Miley to us – he manages Dave Matthews. It was clear from those first meetings that she was a big personality who had fully transformed herself from the Hannah Montana character that people knew her for, and she was now a young woman who had reimaged herself. She had the punky white hair and had plenty to say about how she wanted to be moving forward. A lot of what you see with Miley is what you’ll get.

What we helped with was crafting and introducing people musically and making that whole vision come to life. The whole company was involved: Doug Morris, who was very key in closing the deal; Tom, myself, Rani Hancock—who worked really closely with Miley on a day-to-day A&R basis—and Mike Will, who was a really key character in building the Bangerz album with Miley. She already had “Wrecking Ball” coming in.

Tom: Only two labels really threw down; the rest of them chickened out. I want to give Peter and the A&R team full credit, because they understood what the potential was. She had a big, big mold to break out of. She showed everybody that she’s a real talent and can sing, she got a great album together, which is selling like hotcakes everywhere around the world, and she went out and backed it up with stunning creative. We went for it and it’s really working. She is another act who is at the center of her campaign. A lot of this comes from her. It’s all her vision that we’re helping to realize.

20/20 INSIGHT: RCA superstar Justin Timberlake celebrates another addition to the plaque wing of his home with the men who inspired the “suit” part of his hit “Suit & Tie.” Seen wondering who’s going to start rapping when the chorus ends are (l-r) RCA Chairman Peter Edge, Timberlake, RCA President/COO Tom Corson and manager Johnny Wright.

When you’re going after a band, who gives you the best run for your money, in terms of your competition?

Peter: All the labels, at some point or another, are in on an act that we’re interested in. Actually, I would say every label in the business has been a chief competitor on one of the acts that we’ve gone after.

Tom: One of the acts we got that was under everybody’s radar was A$AP Rocky. Kudos to Bryan Leach; he deserves lots of credit on that. He’s our venture partner with Polo Grounds. It was one of our first [successes]. It was one of those ‘we’ve got to have this’ moments. Oh my god, this guy has really got a vision. Straight from 125th street.

If one were to boil down your A&R philosophy, part of it is this idea of an artist that knows him/herself and has a sense of what they want to accomplish.
Peter: I learned a long time ago in doing A&R that it’s very hard to create somebody from scratch. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I’m not saying there’s not a bunch of examples of people who, without their Svengalis wouldn’t have been in the limelight.

Having said that, I think that some of the biggest stars in our business are the ones who really understand what it is that they’re up to. Of course they need nurturing and coaching, all of the things that we offer in helping to create the career that they’re looking for, and we add in a lot of creative. I think we do more of that than just about anybody, because we tend to work on building repertoire for people as well. I think we’re recognized in the business as being one of the best song-finding operations.

You’ve had a lot of success with producer/writers like Dr. Luke and Max Martin, among others. Who else have you signed who performs that function?
Peter: Mikky Ekko is one. Obviously he’s had one of the biggest hits of the year, which he wrote, produced and sang with Rihanna, and he’s got an amazing album coming out at the top of next year. Sia’s another; she’s clearly one of the songwriters of the year, if not the last couple of years. She’s phenomenal and her album is outstanding. Mike Posner is great. He wrote [Labrinth’s] “Beneath Your Beautiful,” which is one of the biggest international hits of the year.

We’re very excited to sign Jack Antonoff from Fun., who now has his own band called Bleechers. That’s going to be one of our big records for next year.

Tom: Don’t forget about R. Kelly, and Miguel—his new album is great and he’s very focused. We shouldn’t overlook Chris Brown. He’s such a talent.

Peter: Kid Ink is a new rapper we signed out of L.A. We have a record he did with Chris Brown that’s going to be a #1. It’s called “Show Me.” It’s a smash.

What about other deals and signings that you’ve done this year, including things like joint ventures and partnerships, that you’re particularly excited about?
There are things that came from bystorm like Miguel; there’s Polo Grounds with A$AP Rocky and Pitbull that have been incredibly successful. Kid Ink comes through J. Grand’s 88 Classic venture we have with J, who’s one of our A&R guys. There’s a joint venture with DJ ill Will, as well. There’s also the Kemosabe venture, which is the Sony venture, but we benefit from the label.

Peter: Doug Morris made a deal with was Ten Records out of Stockholm; they did a number of other acts, including Erik Hassle, whom we love.

Is there anything else that’s coming out in the beginning of the year that you particularly want to point out?
Tom: Lots of stuff. It starts with Kid Ink on 1/7. Later we have albums from Jennifer Hudson, Shakira and Chris Brown; then you get singles from Foxes, who had that big hit with Zedd, as well as Bleechers and Sia. Her album is probably second quarter.

Peter: And Usher is in the studio making what I think is one of his best records. It’s really outstanding. He’ll have a record to tie in with The Voice when he returns in the spring.

Tom: We should also mention some Rock acts we’ve got, like Smallpools and Kodaline. We’ll carry on with Cage The Elephant and New Politics, and Tom O’Dell, so we’ve got lots of Rock stuff brewing. In Hip-Hop we’ve got A$AP Ferg and A$AP Mob, which is a Wu-Tang Clan kind of album. We of course want to congratulate Kings of Leon on yet another Grammy nomination – the band continues to deliver incredible songs.

Doug Morris is obviously a mentor on many levels. How has he influenced you, logistically and creatively?

Peter: Well, first of all, just the fact that he gave us an opportunity is huge. He really went out and did something on instinct. The second thing is that he’s a very inspiring guy to be around because he’s just so positive. He’s always got positive energy. It’s good to have someone who is really there for you and rooting for you. He doesn’t pick you apart. He’s the guy who’s championing you.

Tom: Yes, and he encourages you to take risks, to be aggressive and to not worry about failing. He encourages you to shoot for the moon, and that’s so refreshing after what the business has been through over the last 10-15 years. There’s so much negativity in the mainstream press about our business--which is so uncalled for, because the story is actually very encouraging. And when you have a guy like Doug coaching you and encouraging you to win, what else could you ask for?

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