“This new model is a well thought-out plan to do things differently.”


Talking Deals, Teamwork and More With Capitol Music Group’s Michelle Jubelirer.

 When Michelle Jubelirer was tapped by Capitol Music Group ruler Steve Barnett as EVP early this year, much chatter ensued. Though she’d been a hot attorney, repping artists like Ke$ha, Odd Future, Avicii, Pharrell, Frank Ocean, The Neighbourhood and others as a partner at King, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner, and also worked in Sony’s legal department, Jubelirer hadn’t been a high-ranking exec at a record company before. But the self-described “rocker chick,” whose daily wardrobe spans the gamut of black, has fit right in at the Tower. She has a broad purview that includes A&R, business and legal affairs and overseeing labels Harvest, Blue Note and Astralwerks, as well as the independent label services division, Caroline. In fact, she’s been justifiably reveling in the company’s striking successes, as the past two weeks have seen CMG score two straight #1 albums in releases by Katy Perry and Arcade Fire. Still, she may have longed to write a restraining order when we arrived to ask questions.


Congrats on Arcade Fire’s #1. Can you tell us about the signing?

Well, it might not be Contract Negotiation 101 to reveal what a big fan you are [when pursuing deals with artists], but they are one of my favorite bands and I’m friends with their manager, Scott Rodger. We just started discussing ways to have the muscle of a major behind them on the marketing and promotion side, while still being loyal to their indie roots and Merge.


After months we negotiated some high-level deal terms, and ultimately, on a flight from London to L.A., we finished the negotiation and he played me the entire album. We wanted to find the right partnership with what is clearly one of the best and most relevant bands of the current generation. We structured a deal with hefty marketing and promotion requirements, one that we felt really good about.


Your free-ranging approach to deals is part of what made Steve Barnett want to bring you in, correct?

When I met with Steve and we were talking about me coming over here from private practice, one thing we had in common—among many—was the belief that there was no one-size-fits-all model for deals, and that every artist deserves a unique deal depending on their situation. The same is true for every independent label, vis a vis Caroline. We’re here as a label group to help shine a light on great music, and there are many ways to do that.


The goal is to have the best of both worlds—freestanding entities within the larger structure.

Yes. You have Capitol and Virgin, which are frontline, more standard major-label entities that enter into deals as a major to do, for the most part. Then you have Harvest, which is set up to emulate the XLs and Dominos of the world; but ultimately there’s no ceiling, because they can plug into the Capitol marketing and promotion system, if and when necessary. You have Astralwerks, which has a dance/independent spirit, and Blue Note, the historic blues and jazz label; we’re re-launching Priority as an electronic and urban label with ears to the street. Certainly, there are clear identities for each label.


Caroline seems to have particular flexibility. Tell us about the function it performs?

Steve interacted so successfully with RED while at Columbia, and he thought that Universal needed to have an independent label services solution operating at that level. At the time, EMI had EMI label services—which we can all agree was a horrible name. Caroline had a cool name; it was dormant but used to do the same thing, so we rebranded EMI label services as Caroline. We saw an opening at Universal for a truly independent label services company that could service not only Capitol Music Group, but the other Universal labels and the independent label community as well.


For example, we were thrilled to do the Caroline-ATO deal. We just set up I.R.S. Nashville through Caroline. And we’ve got more exciting deals around the corner.


This is essentially a West Coast major label group that sprung up where there was none.

I don’t think I realized when I took this job the extent to which we’re almost moving a mountain. But one thing I did know was we had to try to change things, because the way things are going in the record industry just isn’t working. So this new model is a well thought-out plan to do things differently.


What are some things that you feel haven’t been working?

In the past, the clash of egos and personalities at the executive level took a toll. I believe that a lot of what wasn’t working came from the legal side: Every artist was getting the same 60-to-70-page agreement from 10 years before, aside from some new-fangled, new-media language. It’s not the way the world works anymore.


Thankfully, Steve had the foresight to see a problem. I think that’s part of why he brought me in. And with respect to the buzz about 360 deals, that wasn’t working, for two reasons: Record companies don’t know how to collect ancillary revenues and they’ve yet to show they add value in those areas that aren’t traditionally under the auspices of a record company. This needs to change if we’re going to seek ancillary rights.


When your hiring was announced, you said, “I’m going to learn from the best.” What have you learned?

I’ve read all the books about leadership styles, and I have to say, Steve does not have one distinct leadership style. He exhibits the most important, primary styles, and pretty much exactly at the right time. Not trying to blow smoke, but I’ve never been more inspired than since I started working for him. It’s exhausting but inspiring. He’s a kind of visionary “coach,” with the goal of moving our team toward a shared dream and vision. He’s extremely inclusive; it’s all about teamwork. As trite as this may sound, I feel like I’m at the Wharton School of the music industry now.


What about the rest of the team?

[EVP/GM] Greg Thompson is my partner in crime. He has promotion and marketing on lockdown. His knowledge base is vast and impressive. When I have a free couple of hours, he promises to teach me the basics of radio promotion. I certainly don’t have enough knowledge of it. He’s a great partner, we can bounce ideas off of each other. We have different areas of expertise, which is important.


I’m thrilled about Kate Denton joining our team. She’s running our in-house agency, and brings an amazing wealth of experience from outside the music business.


All of the individual label heads have their unique expertise. Dan McCarroll, the President of Capitol, is a skilled record-maker and respected by artists. He’s got great ears and a special team. Ron Fair is a unique hitmaker with a distinguished track record. He and Ashley Burns, who is a marketing maven, are an impressive and complimentary team. We’re expecting significant things.


Piero Giramonti and Jacqueline Saturn, as GMs of Harvest, are a team that I would match up against anyone. They have different skill sets that complement each other. They also amuse me on a daily basis! Then you have Glenn Mendingler, the GM of Astralwerks—he’s done such an awe inspiring job with Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta, and just signed Porter Robinson and Deadmau5. We have Don Was, who runs Blue Note. I call him “Don Motherfucking Was.” He’s a legend and a truly great creative compass for all in this building. Hank Forsyth does a great job running that label.


We also have Bill Hearn, who runs Capitol Christian. What does this Jew know about Christian music? Just that Bill Hearn is the king and a great guy.


I can’t overstate the incredible job that Robbie McIntosh is doing for us on the International front. What a valuable member of our team.


Dominic Pandiscia and Mike Harris, who run Caroline, are savvy about that business and I learn from them every day. They are both so passionate about music. Caroline is a really key area for us.


Todd von Mende has been really helpful in putting the company on firm financial footing.


And then, you have Martha Braithwaite, head of business affairs, who’s stepped up to the challenge of deal-making, both in the way we’re doing our deals—no two deals look alike—and the sheer quantity of them.


And we all look to our extended family in the Universal Music Group—Lucian Grainge, Max Hole, Boyd Muir, Jeff Harleston and Rob Wells—for their incredible support, guidance and encouragement for what we’re doing. That makes all the difference in the world.


I was curious about your history with Michele Anthony. Were you at Sony and/or King, Holmes at the same time?

At Sony, but not the firm. I have a good story. I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Simpson Thacher always wanting to be in the music industry. I came from the middle of nowhere, didn’t know anyone and had tremendous school loans. I’d done my research and knew that people from Sony Music’s legal department, such as Clive Davis, had gone on to run companies.


It was two months into my job when I got a phone call: “Michele Anthony would like you to come to her office to meet.” I went around to the other lawyers and asked, “Is this normal? Is this what she does?” Everyone said no. Nobody had ever met her. I went and met with her. She told me, “I heard that I would really like you and you’ve reminded a few people of a younger version of me. I wanted to make sure that we knew each other, and I’m here if you ever need anything.”


That’s incredible.

I called her when I decided to leave and be an artist lawyer. I didn’t want go to the West Coast office of Sony, away from the main nucleus of the company. I also didn’t want to be a lawyer at a record company anymore. It was boring. There were too many rules. We stayed in touch. When Steve offered me this job, she was one of the first people I called, and she really helped me with the right questions to ask and has continued to be extremely supportive. I am beyond excited that she’s going to be at the same parent company.


Had you had much contact with Steve when you were at Sony?

Zero contact. I don’t think he knew of me when I was at Sony. We had contact when I had negotiated some fairly aggressive deals as an artist lawyer with Columbia. Particularly Odd Future, which was a “different” deal, to say the least; on that, I think Steve said, “I wanna meet this lawyer who did the Odd Future deal.” When I was in New York, we had a lengthy meeting. Then I dealt with him on The Neighbourhood, and we stayed in touch. When he called about this gig, it was completely out of the blue. I was shocked.

So, in your copious free time, what do you like to do?

I love fashion; even though I wear mostly black, I don’t mind a little pop of color in the shoes. And I just love modern art, so I also spend a lot of my time going to galleries.

Music City Pride. (6/24a)
Hedge fund chief is a big fan of Sir Lucian. (6/24a)
Wit and wisdom from a renaissance man (6/22a)
Purple prose. (6/24a)
An inspiring success story (6/24a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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