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MOTOWN’S NEWEST MASTER
CEO/President Kedar Massenburg Tells Us To Get Out Of Town

Motown Records is certainly the most renowned black music label in history and arguably one of the most recognizable brands in the record industry and beyond. However, the company has predominantly survived on its laurels since the heyday of Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, for the most part, avoiding hip-hop and losing its youthful appeal. The company has struggled through several leaders, until the arrival of Kedar Massenburg.

Massenburg came to the label from his own, highly successful Kedar Entertainment, which made Erykah Badu a superstar. When asked to take over the venerable Motown label by Universal Music Group chief Doug Morris, Massenburg jumped at the opportunity. After two years on the job, his vision is finally starting to take shape, with promising new acts like india.arie, R&B group 702 and rapper AZ, as well as established stars like his own Badu, BeBe Winans and Brian McKnight. The exec was hoodwinked into a noon eye-opener with HITS’ own man in the poolhouse—journalism’s answer to Kato KaelinMarc "Cabana Boy" Pollack, and reveals what took so long to get Motown back on track, how things have changed since his arrival and where the company is now headed.

Some of your critics might say that the rebuilding of Motown has taken longer than expected.
I would agree, but the critics who make such statements compare this situation to others within the Universal Music Group and throughout the industry. And there is no comparison. Most new label chiefs go into a company that is already in motion without having to fire an entire staff. I had to rebuild from scratch. Reorganizing took time. The plan was divided into three parts. First was trying to find the right staff; two was trying to find the right artists and then sign them; and three was promoting these artists and releasing their records.

Why was the company in such bad shape?
Because it was poorly managed for a long time. I’m currently operating with only 38 people, whereas the previous regimes each had over 100 employees. Jheryl Busby had close to 200 staffers, Andre Harrell had over 150 and George Jackson had over 120. Since we’ve come in, we’ve sold 3 million Brian McKnight records worldwide, a million Temptations albums, a million 702 records and 2 million Erykah Badu albums. We’ve also managed a Gold BeBe Winans record and a Gold india.arie record that is headed towards Platinum. We have between 15-19 albums coming out between now and December. In the past, there were too many chiefs here and really not enough indians to go out, get the talent and cultivate it.

In UMG’s current world, Motown is no longer a stand-alone label, having become part of the Universal/Motown Records Group. What’s your relationship with UMRG CEO Mel Lewinter and Universal Records President Monte Lipman?
We communicate all the time. Monte and I share support on the Pop promotion and Crossover sides. But we operate independently as marketing, A&R and Urban promotion companies. Monte and I both report to Mel, who in turn reports to Doug. The company is separate, but very much together. If you compare Motown to some of the other labels in the group, you’d see, in terms of Urban music, there aren’t too many that handle the volume that we do with such a small staff. It’s complicated and hard because we are still at the whim of our sister company—in terms of shared services. If I can pull this off with such a small staff, imagine if I had my own independent Crossover department as well as a Pop promotion division.

For the complete interview, click here.

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