The First in a Series of Follow-up Q&As With
the Heads of the Top Five Labels of 2013
Republic is aptly named. Like the US of A, the company is composed of autonomous member entities united by a common purpose—in this case stacking up hit records and fattening the bottom line—with Monte and Avery Lipman forming the executive branch. Their concept has paid off big time for several years running, topped off by an industry-leading frontline marketshare in 2013, and following the addition of Island Records, which further bolsters an already formidable partnership of labels that includes Slim & Baby’s Cash Money, Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine, Jason Flom’s Lava, Rick Rubin’s American Recordings and Tom Whalley’s Loma Vista, for starters. Republic boasts more than enough firepower to do it again, with both frontline and TEA in their sights. No wonder Monte and Avery were full of vim and vinegar when we sat down with them for a six-month-follow-up chat.

What’s your assessment of the first half of 2014? Which records exceeded your expectations, and which came up short?
One area we’re really excited about is what [newly promoted EVP] Rob Stevenson has done with Casablanca. It’s our EDM initiative and it was really his idea to embrace the legacy of the imprint and take advantage of what’s going on in the marketplace. He’s got really strong instincts in that world. Two of our biggest breakouts are Tiësto and Martin Garrix. I love Rob’s entrepreneurial spirit, and this has continued to grow and in a very short time has become profitable. It was a sluggish first half of the year for everyone. But Lorde has had an extraordinary 12 months, and certainly with the performance on the Grammys and everything that continues to happen, we’re excited about that. And there’s a lot of focus on setting up the remainder of the year, on curating albums and working with artists.

Avery: Once you get a little momentum, then comes Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Enrique Iglesias. Florida Georgia Line debuted their song with Jason Derulo on the CMT Awards, and that’s Top 10. All of a sudden the place is hummin’. But that’s the business—very streaky. Monte: Right now we’re operating on full strength, competing at the highest level—if marketshare is any indication, we’re #1 in five categories. And we’re just getting started. Another huge success of this year is Ariana Grande.

Monte: That’s been years in terms of development. When I signed Ariana, she was an actress on Nickelodeon, and I knew she just had an extraordinary talent—her singing and her desire for success. I could see the focus and determination in her eyes; she was going to give everything she’s got. We put her in the studio, and two and a half years later, boom. It hasn’t been announced yet, but Wendy Goldstein, one of our key A&R players, will be heading the Urban A&R department. She’s worked with a variety of different producers and others, including Max Martin, who wrote Ariana’s "Problem." Whenever you have a single that big, you wonder if there’s a follow-up. I can tell you we’ve got five. I believe Ariana will be recognized as this industry’s Best New Artist in 2014.

What recent signings and new acts are you most excited about?
We’re very excited about Kalin & Myles. They’re from the Bay Area, two guys, very DIY. There are these bands that are particularly skilled at social media and the world of the Internet and have leveraged it all for their benefit that don’t necessarily have the foundational skills, but K&M are a combination of both, because they’ve made it on the road as well as online. We have Adrian Marcel, also from the Bay Area; he’s a crossover/ R&B artist, and very captivating live.

Monte: There’s a group we signed out of Germany, Milky Chance; they’re a rock band that incorporates electronica and it’s a laid-back vibe. The record just rolled out and it’s starting to break at Alternative. When we made the deal, I said to Avery, "This is the sort of act that’s been the core of Republic since we started." It’s cool; it’s different; it touches multiple formats. If territories outside of America are any indication—it’s been #1 in 18 markets already—look out. Rick Rubin is about to go into a hot cycle. He’s got two acts; one is Angus & Julia, a brother-sister duo from Down Under; they’re dynamite. I haven’t seen Rick this excited since he released The Avett Brothers. Expectations are high not just here but around the world. There’s also The Ruen Brothers, another sibling band—this one from the U.K. That record’s also coming this year. Virtually no expectations, but that’s what makes this exciting.
Let’s talk a bit about Island. How have you accommodated the influx of Island titles, given your already heavy promotion itinerary?
The arrangement with Island is very simple—it’s a strategic alliance. It’s important to reinforce the fact that David Massey runs it with complete independence and autonomy. He’s the boss. David’s a consummate music man, a self-proclaimed romantic who falls in love with the music, and he’s fiercely competitive. He taps into our resources when necessary, specifically radio; he runs his own marketing, A&R and press departments. There are some other back-office functions that are shared between the East Coast labels. He runs his own company and periodically we compare notes. But at the end of the day, he’s making the decisions on behalf of Island. It’s a perfect combination. We’re cut from the same cloth and really enjoy working together.

The unique arrangement is Charlie Walk running promotion; he’s on the hook for working Island Records. But most of the time when a record enters the marketplace it’s an initiative overseen by Eric Wong, the GM of Island. It’s early days, but two records are completely teed up: Kiesza and Tove Lo. Both have been #1 in the U.K. There’s lots of buzz and airplay, but they’re just getting started. Avery: Part of the way we’re built is that we’ve got a good number of partnerships— with Cash Money, Scott Borchetta, Rick Rubin, Tom Whalley, Jason Flom. I’m still learning, and I love to absorb what these people do, and that’s the spirit with David. When you’re out on the field trying to compete, you’re watching that guy. Now we have a chance to work together and there’s definitely mutual respect and admiration. It makes us a stronger team, for sure. It’s only been a month or so, and we have a lot of dialogue. Not every record’s a hit; not every project goes easy. But the key is transparency and honesty and knowing we’ll make the best call based on the situation at hand. That’s the spirit of the relationship.

Somewhat less romantically, what kind of impact is Island likely to have your bottom line?
The thing about Massey is he’s very clever, and when we go into this, he’s responsible for his P&L—I can assure you he’s going to make his numbers. He’s going to exceed those numbers. He runs a tight ship and is doing a phenomenal job. It’s his first opportunity to really show everyone how talented he is. What I’ve spoken to Lucian Grainge and Michele Anthony about is our responsibility to bring the legacy back to Island. The label has always represented independence, even in its heyday with the majors. We can assure you it’ll never become an acronym or an imprint. We support Massey every way we can.

It’s striking how many English executives are having so much success running U.S. labels right now.
I think a lot of it is cultural. When you go the U.K. you really feel how central music is to the overall culture. The Beatles were much more than a band—they changed the world. And that continues to resonate today, all the way to the executive ranks. It was an eye-opening experience to me when I went to MIDEM—meeting these international executives who were so smart. It’s a little frightening, because you discover how much you don’t know. Using this as an opportunity to talk about Lucian, he’s just one of the most impressive and well-rounded executives I’ve ever come across, just as regards the art of the deal, his fierce competitiveness, his deep relationships with the artist community and the way he’s earned their respect. I was talking to Michele Anthony about it, and saying, "I’ve never seen a guy like this." This is the guy who bought fucking Capitol Records! How do you pull that off in today’s environment? But he did it.
To what extent is a record’s becoming a hit in the U.K. predictive of its potential in the U.S.?
It’s case by case. For Republic, you can go back to Amy Winehouse and more recently Florence + the Machine, really well established artists with intrigue and talent that matter. Adele, obviously, Sam Smith. You’d be crazy to say the U.K. isn’t an incredible breeding ground for international repertoire. But on the flip side you’ve got Clean Bandit and Sigma, and lots of drum ’n’ bass and garage records that don’t necessarily travel. I don’t know that anything’s necessarily changed dramatically over the years.

Monte: There was a long gap after Oasis, with a few small exceptions. There weren’t any phenomena until Amy Winehouse. It was a frustrating period for the British industry. Robbie Williams was the great hope— the guy came over in a first-class seat and they sent him home in a coffin! It just didn’t click, and he’s doing stadiums around the world. But there were big records coming out of Sweden, and Australia had a great run. The last two artists to win Record or Song of the Year were from Down Under: Gotye and Lorde. Of course, they both happened to be on Republic. The world is certainly a smaller place; anyone can jump online now and find these things. As [iTunes’] Robert Kondrk taught me, the Internet doesn’t stop at the Atlantic. Any record that goes top of the charts in the U.K., you can bet three or four labels in the U.S. are going after it.

Speaking of research, what tactical role does The Whale Report play for you?
There’s nothing proprietary on The Whale Report—we made a point of that. It’s an executive dashboard. For us it’s all about real time. I find the idea of weekly updates antiquated. iTunes changed the game. Shazam is pushing into the right areas. Culturally, people still react to the chart; it puts things into perspective. That’s what TWR does. It’s free to anyone to use now, though eventually we’ll be making it subscription-based. Reading it and knowing what to look for: That’s the big difference, in a game of inches. But I encourage people to go in there.

New artists are driving the business right now. How has this affected your operation?
I was having dinner with Amy Doyle at MTV and I asked her what her viewers were getting excited about right now, and she said, "New." I said, "What does that mean?" She said, "That’s it. That’s what excites our viewers: What’s new." It’s resonated with me ever since. When you talk to the folks at iTunes, the big hits, the Taylor Swifts, are bigger than ever, and then there’s everything else. The middle has sort of dropped out. When something big comes out, you can feel it—it sort of shakes the earth.

And following up a record that was the "new" thing two years ago becomes that much more difficult.
That’s one of the hardest things in our business. If you’re a record executive, you know what it’s like to push the rock up that hill, taking two years to break an artist. Once it happens, you get the greatest feeling in the world—and then you think, "Shit, I have to do this again." But as the great Morris Levy once said, "One day it feels like you’re going out of business; the next day, The Beatles walk through your door."

What I love about our business is that the biggest acts are the ones that, when they begin, have the lowest expectations and the smallest deals. When we signed Nelly, nobody thought that guy was gonna go on to sell 30-40 million albums.

What new avenues are you pursuing in terms of A&R?
Look, we’ve always been attracted to passion. When someone says, "I must sign them," or an artist that we see the public is passionate about, that’s the fundamental element. That hasn’t changed much. What has changed is that people are clearly passionate about EDM and country, less so about heavy metal.

How has Charlie Walk’s role evolved?
Charlie’s a force of nature. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with. He can move mountains. His energy, his excitement, his pursuit of excellence—I’ve never seen anyone work as tirelessly. He doesn’t quit. The emails and texts start around 5am and typically end around 1am. What I love about him is that it goes outside the boundaries of music. The same way he goes after a record, he goes after a table at a restaurant. It pushes everyone, myself included, to be more competitive, to reach higher. He’s one of the greatest record guys I’ve ever worked with. It’s not just about doing the job with him—it’s about making history. We grew up together; we’re cut from the same cloth. I look at him as one of our greatest assets, and he continues to help define our company. A large part of our current success is Charlie Walk.

Tom McKay was recently named our GM on the West Coast. I think of him as the "adult" on the WC. He’s got tremendous A&R chops; he participated in the signing of Florida Georgia Line, among others, and understands where the rubber meets the road. He’s clever and talented in terms of seeking out new opportunities and deals. He’s our conduit to The Voice, and his place on the West Coast allows us to continue to build.

Cynthia Sexton is an EVP on the West Coast; she’s our branding expert and also works for Def Jam as part of the shared services. Steve Gawley runs business affairs and has gone beyond the call of duty; he’ll stay in the office until 2am to make sure a deal gets done.
What do you think the Apple-Beats deal says about where things are moving?
It says things are moving fast and there are no rules. You could reference the Wild West. It’s an exciting time to be in our business, because there are so many moving parts and so many talented, intelligent people out there making moves and shaking the tree. I’m all about the entrepreneurship, and the fact that these guys scored one of the greatest deals of the century. God bless ’em and kudos. I’m fond of Jimmy; I’ve worked with him as a competitor and colleague. He’s the best.

When the Beats thing first happened it was like, "Oh my God, where was my imagination? I didn’t see that coming." But now you’ve got Spotify, Twitter, VEVO, Soundcloud, all these new players. Google could buy a company and it’s basically a rounding error for them. Now you’re starting to see how the landscape looks, and it’s really exciting. But it’s a challenging time and it requires discipline. We’ve got new platforms and methods and companies coming up, and rooted in all of that is the fundamentals of the music—you need music to create value. Just because you have a new platform doesn’t mean a mediocre song becomes a great song. Filtering out the noise is a full-time job, just to stay focused on the core of the business. At the end of the day, we’re only as good as our acts and their music.

How does Iovine’s leaving the record business change the playing field?
That’s a great question. It definitely changes, because when you go up against Jimmy Iovine it’s like hitting against Nolan Ryan in his prime—you know you’re getting a 105mph fastball coming your way. It makes everyone better. He’s proven to be the best of the last decade, if not longer. I don’t think he’s leaving the music business— he’s just changing his role. I’m sorry to see him go, because he wrote history with his career. Competitively? Fuck yeah. Game on—let’s go.

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