Digging Into the Ethos With Republic Chieftain Monte Lipman

Monte Lipman is once again atop the marketshare heap. The label boss is riding high with the smash Fifty Shades soundtrack and hits from a panoply of affiliated and feeder labels—Republic Nashville, Cash Money, Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine and David Massey’s Island (and assimilates their marketshare under the Republic umbrella). We find him now preparing to break two homegrown acts, James Bay and The Weeknd. With Charlie Walk, Rob Stevenson and the rest of Team Republic firing on all cylinders, these are good times for the ethos—though sitting down with us might have Lipman feeling fifty shades of regret.

First of all, congratulations on the marketshare lead. Let’s get into some of your recent achievements, and what’s top of mind for you.
Top of mind for us always remains the same. What is the next big artist? What’s the next big record? What are we focused on? We’ve identified two massive breakouts for 2015, The Weeknd and James Bay. It’s miraculous; we’ve been working The Weeknd for a couple of years now, and it’s been this natural evolution and growth. The album will come out later this year. But when you think about his record was set up with Fifty Shades, it’s just incredible. I wouldn’t say it’s exceeding our expectations, because our expectations have been extremely high ever since we discovered his music.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect a song like “Earned It” that to blow up at Pop.
Right. But it’s not just about Pop radio—it’s about pop culture. I take pride in the fact that we never did anything to compromise who he is as an artist, his vision, or that he’s created. This record just passed 100 million in audience, so it’s clearly the biggest record he’s ever had. But he was selling out some of the biggest venues in the country before he had this kind of success.

Lipman gets his ethos on with Jessie J, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd

He’s always had huge cred.
Yeah, forever. The other artist is James Bay, someone that we signed and identified a couple of years ago. In that case, I give Rob Stevenson tremendous credit, because it was he and his staff—especially Ben Adelson—who identified this guy. He wasn’t touring, and he didn’t have a record on the radio; he just had this incredible body of work. He came to our office and performed on our little stage, and we signed him on the spot.

His album was #1 in the U.K., and it’s a different trajectory here—but clearly he is taking hold.
Yeah, and it’s going to happen here. When you think about an artist like Ariana Grande, one of the aspects of our success was our patience. We’d signed her when she was 17, and it took more than two years to get the music right. But when it came together, look the fuck out—and look at the impact that she’s made around the world.

You have a lot of records in a lot of different worlds. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but it also must be logistically challenging to run air-traffic control on all of these projects.
The irony is, I don’t think we have enough. There’s always room for great music.

But there isn’t always room at radio.
I’m very sensitive about the word priorities. It suggests that one artist is more important than another. I don’t feel that way. The way I typically look at things is, who is ready for prime time? Who is ready to go on the starting rotation? Who’s got fresh legs? Who’s in the zone? I think in terms of athletes and that competitive spirit. But under no circumstances does it mean anyone else is less of a priority. It’s really about timing.

Since we’re talking about the rotation, what’s on the way?
Lorde is back in the studio, which is great. We’re excited; I can’t wait to hear the new music. And ultimately, when she feels done or ready, then we get to it.

We just made a deal with Zac Brown. This guy is destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; this is a franchise artist. He also has an incredible company in Southern Ground Records. It’s part of a venture with John Varvatos and Scott Borchetta—we’ve created this dream team—and then you’ve got Roar Management, with a fellow named Bernie Cahill, and those guys are badass.

We don’t put people in categories; we don’t say, “Sorry Zac, you’re country; we’ll just run you up and down those charts.” No. “Bro, you want to step out? Let’s go; let’s do it.” That album comes out on 4/28. As it stands now he has a #1 country record with “Homegrown”; he’ll have the #1 rock record with Chris Cornell—simultaneously. Perfect storm. Kaboom.

Speaking of Nashville, I’m interested to see where things are headed with Republic Nashville. There was a new Florida Georgia Line single on the iHeart Awards. What else is going on in that sphere?
Oh, we’ve got a bunch of things happening. Right now we’ve got Cassadee Pope going back in the studio; we’ve got the Eli Young Band and The Band Perry. I can’t wait for them to come with a new record. We’re chugging along.

We value our relationship with Scott Borchetta. What he and I have done together, over the years, has made an impact on pop culture. He is fiercely independent, competitive—he’s turned that town upside down. It’s unparalleled, because of what we’ve done between New York and Nashville and crossing acts over. You know, one, you’re lucky; two, you’re good. We’ve done this more times than I can even count.

Taylor is a true phenomenon, and you guys have just been knocking them out of the park at radio.
In that case, it starts with Taylor. I mean, the music is just better. She is a brilliant artist and arguably the #1 act in the world right now.

Having heard the whole album, I know there are more hits on there, not just the three #1s.
Right, and destined to be the fourth. She’s in with Max Martin, whom I consider the best producer in the world. Just being in the same room with Taylor, with the level of excitement, vision and passion for it all—it’s just fun to compete at that level. She’s an extraordinary songwriter, performer and artist, but also a visionary with incredible instincts, from the video to the aesthetics.

Your collaboration with Island has really kicked into gear.
David Massey runs a company that is fully independent, with total autonomy. He’s the boss, and he’s done a phenomenal job restoring the glory of Island Records. What Island always stood for was independence, when you think about it. Even in the Chris Blackwell era there was always that cool, hipster Island Records, which wasn’t the biggest, but always would come up with these defining moments—whether it was U2, Marley or the others.

He’s put together a team of assassins—they’re doing a great job—and he taps into the resources of Charlie Walk and the [Republic] promotion department. It’s really more of a strategic alliance, but you can see the results.

The Drake record is a monster. What’s the latest on the Young Money/Cash Money situation?
As far as we’re concerned, it’s business as usual. We focus on the records and the job at hand, and if the Drake release is any indication, we’re in a good spot. You’re talking about a mixtape album with virtually no messaging that comes out without even one notice and does over half a million in the first three days. What does that tell you about the potency of the Drake brand?

Right, and we’re still awaiting the real album. Do you have a time frame for that?
We don’t. There’s talk that it’s going to come sooner than later, but we don’t have any details, which is par for the course.

Spreading the truffle butter with YMCMB/Republic's Nicki Minaj, manager Gee Roberson, promo gunslinger Gary Spangler and EVP Charlie Walk

Yet they make it work.
Exactly. And the same is true of Nicki Minaj. She’s at the height of her success and her celebrity—in certain parts of the world she’s a household name. With all the challenges that we have in the business, she’s absolutely at the top of her game. So again, as a reflection of Slim and Baby and Young Money/Cash Money, the company’s running hot.

Nicki is one of the group of artists who appeared at the Tidal press conference. I’m interested in your thoughts on this venture and the larger question of the streaming environment that’s currently unfolding.
We encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, and we love the fact that many, many people are putting money and resources into new technologies, because it’s good for all of us. We support everyone—including Tidal. We hope it works. One thing I’ll say about [Spotify chief] Daniel Ek is he does one thing—music. You can’t be mad at that. No matter what your position is on Spotify and the way that they approach their consumers.

With that in mind, I’m very bullish on the future; I’m very enthusiastic. We’re on the verge of a renaissance period in this industry that we haven’t seen in 15 years. I believe we’re going to reach scale, and I believe it’ll make an incredible difference just in terms of the way people respond. Why wouldn’t they respond to music, because that hasn’t changed in 60 years?

Just the way they access it.
Exactly: With every generation, the one thing which has been consistent is that the way they listen to music, collect music, purchase music, share music, etc., changes. And the one thing that hasn’t changed in 60 years of the modern-day music business is the impact that music has on people’s lives, which is the most important factor in all of this. So, like every generation, we’re going to find ways that become popular and people are going to respond to. Right now everyone is talking about streaming—and with good reason; it’s a remarkable invention. Once you get hooked, it’s hard to break. So we’re very excited.

What’s your feeling about how to get more people to migrate to subscription after they’re used to streaming everything for free?
My feeling and my job are two different things. My job is to create compelling music, to identify amazing artists and help curate, produce, market, release and expose them to the marketplace. When you go back in the history of the music industry, there was a slump in the late-’70s, post-disco, and it got frightening, because sales were starting to decline for the first time. And then, all of a sudden, Michael Jackson puts out an album, MTV is launched and the rest is history. That was a renaissance period; it was the age of the video explosion. In this business of ebbs and flows it’s always interesting, because every time things get quiet—whether it’s in the artist community or the marketplace or in terms of delivery systems—somebody delivers a knockout punch. I feel we’re on the verge of that right now.

But when you ask, “What can we do?” or “What should we do?” For me, the answer is, Make the best possible music—music so compelling you’ve got to trade your lunch money in for it.

On The Cleaner shoot with actor Chazz Palminteri, Cash Money's business manager/attorney Vernon Brown and Slim and actor Robert Davi

These days the music marketplace feels much more global, and the transition to a global street date is imminent. I’m wondering if you could say a little bit about the impact of music from throughout the world, and the way music moves through different territories now.
Not to sound clichéd, but technology has made the world a smaller place. We now treat Germany like Minneapolis, because there are certain correlations that are direct to the U.S. There are certain genres of music that when it breaks in Germany or Australia—Canada is a little more obvious—we can treat it the same way that in the past we’ve treated a hit out of Georgia, Minneapolis or Kansas. And then you spread that news. There’s a tremendous balance as far as the acts on our roster touching all parts of the world, every continent. Think about someone like Stromae, who is part Belgian and African; PSY, who’s from South Korea; you have another British invasion upon us; Scandinavian artists. We signed three girls out of Russia, Serebro.

I’m also interested in how in addressing the international part, as well as the domestic side of it, research tools are evolving. You guys are obviously industry leaders in that regard.
As I’ve always said, I don’t think of it as research. I think of it as common sense, paying attention to the universe. Every decision we make is a creative leap of faith in this business, no matter what we do, no matter how much research you apply. But if you pick up on those indicators and apply it to your decisions, it only makes you smarter. I can’t tell you how many goofy people I’ve come across in my career who said, “Ah, I don’t do research, I can just hear a hit.” Well, guess what? That guy’s pumping gas at fuckin’ Exxon now, because he wasn’t that smart. I’m interested in people who pay attention.

Then again, certain newer research tools can help you find things as well. Shazam, particularly, has the ability to drill down into different territories, and track things instantaneously in terms of listener response.
Well, I’ll go a step further. You look at Whale Report. That’s something I created as a hobby, because I love the analysis of records and watching their performances. This is a business of anomaly when you really think about it. Based on the percentages, failure rates and so forth, the hits are really the anomalies. We refer to it as the Whale Report because when you go fishing every morning, you want to catch a whale.

We love Shazam and all that stuff, and we’re getting further and further into it; now we pull apart the streams on Spotify. iTunes we’ve been analyzing for a decade; SoundScan, everybody’s been looking at that. So you’re looking for these trends and indicators. Again, it helps you to make more informed decisions. But there is an art form to that. Just because there’s all this data that’s available and you can put all these ingredients into a pot doesn’t make the stew taste good.

It’s amazing just how much the business is driven by new artists now. New acts appear to be driving the train, to a large degree.
I always give Amy Doyle credit; a couple years ago, during a dinner with Amy, my brother Avery and Charlie Walk, I asked the question, “So Amy, what are your viewers excited about these days?” She looked me dead in the eye and said, “New. What they love is new, fresh, exciting artists and music.” And we’re seeing that each and every day. That doesn’t take anything away from established artists, because that is still the core of our business. But the industry—or just the music scene at large—has always been about the act of discovery. That’s the part that we all love.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Pearl Jam. I remember what time of day it was. I remember the first time I heard The Beastie Boys, and time stopped. I ran to the record store and bought a cassette. My brother and I threw it in the car parked on Eighth Street down in the West Village, and we sat there for three hours and listened to the album three times in a row and didn’t say a word. We were mesmerized.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to weigh in on the marketshare battle and how these things are recalculated all the time.
You know what’s going to end up happening, in my opinion? Just like the prize fighters, there’s going to be a WBA champion, a WBE champion and so on. Everyone’s gonna find a category where they’re #1. More power to them, because you can’t get preoccupied with it. We’re preoccupied with charts in our business. It’s not vanity; it’s part of a strategy, because it also serves as a catalyst: People love things that are #1 and gravitate towards them. But we just have to be conscious of the fact that we don’t do silly things as an industry just to create this false sense of…

Right, exactly. I saw something yesterday from our distribution company that has Republic with #1 marketshare for the last three years in the category of current-plus-TEA. I don’t have catalog like the companies that I tend to go up against that have been in business for 130 years and reside at 550 Madison Avenue. Not to name any names. But, hey, if you have 130 years in catalog and you want to wave a flag and say you’re the best company in the business, more power to you. But if you want to move the fucking needle—if you want to go after it—current plus TEA is the yardstick. That’s where you separate the men from the boys.

Before we let you go, say a word or two about your team.
I love my team. Avery, Charlie, Rob Stevenson, [promo baller] Gary Spangler, [West Coast EVP/GM] Tom Mackay, [EVP Urban A&R] Wendy Goldstein and my entire team are on fire. And the year is still young.



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