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“At least for now, it’s still about delivering the hits.”
THE FULL MONTE
An Exclusive HITS dialogue with Universal Republic President Monte Lipman
You continue to break new artists in an incredibly difficult environment.
With the shrinking marketplace, there's definitely some panic out there. However, hit records are still the most important ingredient to our business model, whether it's selling albums, singles, ringtones, T-shirts, coffee mugs, whatever. Ultimately, we'll continue to adapt to the changing climate as we are optimistic about the future  of  this business. It also helps when you have great artists like Colbie Caillat and Amy Winehouse. The payoff might not be as big as it used to be, but delivering groundbreaking acts that impact pop culture remains our #1 goal. 

Amy Winehouse is someone who was fairly unknown here.
Every once in a while, an artist comes along and you just have to participate in their career, whether you sell 100 records or a million. Nick Gatfield's crew in the U.K. was responsible for signing Amy in the beginning. We were fortunate to pick up the U.S. rights to such an amazing album. As part of our strategy to break Amy in the U.S., we made a conscious decision not to go with “Rehab,” as the first single, even though we knew that would get the most airplay. We believe this was one of those unique situations where we had the chance to allow people to respond intuitively and sell 500k records before we went for the big launch at radio.  At the end of the day, great artists and great music will prevail. And Amy is one of those artists.

How are you dealing with her well-publicized problems?
We want to see Amy healthy and in a good place. There have been some frustrations, like not being able to participate at this year's MTV VMAs, but we have to always remember, you're talking about a young woman with a tremendous talent suddenly under the microscope in just about every facet of her life. In the new world of technology, your mistakes and frailties are magnified around the globe. We support Amy in every way we can and make it priority #1 to never put any additional pressure on her.    

How will the upcoming Grammy nominations affect your plans for her?
Of course, I’m biased, but hands-down, this is the best album of the year, maybe the last few years. Our head of press, Serena Gallagher, has already been contacted by 40 publications around the world which are including her in their year-end best-of polls.  We can’t hinge anything on the Grammys without knowing the outcome, but the most important thing is that Amy’s talent—her tremendous depth and presence—has always resonated loud and clear.

The Colbie Caillat story started virally on the Internet.
Avery Lipman gets all the credit for finding Colbie Caillat. As much as the digital challenges have affected our business, the Internet’s big plus is the fluidity and reciprocal opportunities it affords fans, artists and record companies. A kid can make their record in their bedroom, and basically distribute it from there. The same thrill that we once had walking into a record store and discovering something new in the bins is now happening online. We used to spend as much time as we could in the record store. Now, it’s all at your fingertips. We have a lot more instantaneous access to the artist community, just as they have to us.  

As part of our launch, [SVP Marketing] Kim Garner, [SVP New Media] Cameo Carlson and [SVP Sales] Pat Monaco put together an innovative plan with tremendous focus in the digital community. We exceeded our own expectations when the album debuted at #5, with over 50% of sales coming from iTunes. But keep in mind, there are many traditional outlets that can still deliver in a big way. [VP Video] David Nathan, working closely with VH1, stepped out early, deeming Colbie a “You Oughta Know” act before radio really kicked in, which was key.

With the fragmentation of the market, how will new artists break in the future?
We have to start with the definition of  “breaking.” A breakthrough artist can no longer be based just on album sales, but a combination of ringtones, digital singles, TV and film placements, third-party marketing ventures.  We work hard every day at finding new ways to be profitable, whether or not our artists hit that “million-album” mark or not.  [SVP Urban] Elise Wright ran the campaign for Shop Boyz’ “Party Like a Rock Star,” which only sold 300k albums, but moved in excess of 3.1 million ringtones and 1.7 million single downloads. You can't gauge your success by the old metrics anymore. It's a combination of indicators that will tell you if you’re maximizing the potential of each particular artist. I believe another great example is Mika, who has sold nearly 4 million albums around the world.  A large part of the exposure here in the U.S. was due to Lori Lambert and Leah Streetman, who strung together a wide list of TV and product sponsorships with Verizon and Motorola, as well as network TV shows like Ugly Betty and So You Think You Can Dance, among others.

Hinder is perhaps the major artist development success story on the rock side.
After hearing a couple of demo songs, [SVP A&R] Tom MacKay may have had the signing of the year. For a rock band, they set new milestones for ringtones and digital sales, which historically has been more the realm of a pop or hip-hop band. Though Hinder is an Active Rock band, we never wanted to pigeonhole them. There used to be a conscious decision not to cross formats for fear of diluting the artist you were delivering to that core audience, but not anymore. The kids today aren’t as preoccupied with where they hear stuff. 

What's next?
Working for Doug Morris and Mel Lewinter has been a tremendous experience over the last 12 years. They constantly support and encourage us in pursuing new opportunities.  With that being said, we just put together a strategic relationship with Scott Borchetta's Big Machine to work Taylor Swift at Pop radio. Joel Klaiman, in my opinion, the best promo man in the business, has her very successful right out of the gate. We're planning on breaking new acts like Rogue Wave, Matt Costa, Anberlin, Matt Wertz and 2 Pistols, and we also have new albums coming from Jack Johnson, 3 Doors Down, India Arie and Godsmack. At least for now, it’s still about delivering the hits.

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