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JANICK: HITTING FOR POWER AND AVERAGE

When then-IGA Chairman Jimmy Iovine chose John Janick as his successor in the fall of 2012, initially as COO, the young indie entrepreneur—who’d launched Fueled by Ramen in his dorm room at the University of Florida—immediately showed that he was fully prepared to move to the big leagues. Janick deftly balanced the tasks of keeping the label’s core artists in the fast lane while breaking a series of newly signed acts—understanding since the early days of FBR that the new-artist business is a crucial component of any successful label—and he’s continued to put points on the board with this combination of veterans and talented newcomers.

Through the transition, which culminated in mid-2014 with Iovine’s move to Apple, the 37-year-old Chairman has perpetuated IGA’s status as one of the industry’s most consistently profitable labels, with strong marketshare as a byproduct of this prudent focus on profitability. Meaning that Iovine’s last big move as the most successful label head of the last quarter century evidenced the foresight that characterized his reign. Iovine left his beloved label in good hands indeed.  


Let’s start by looking back at last year at Interscope.
Maroon 5 had a fantastic year. We broke ScHoolboy Q and Aloe Blacc, and we continued to develop artists like OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar. Those last three releases came out the year before, but we continued to sell a lot of albums from all of them last year and that’s setting us up well for 2015. Obviously, Kendrick and Imagine Dragons had great chart debuts this year too, but here’s something considerable: All three of those 2013 albums—OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons and Kendrick—are still selling 5,000, 6,000 a week, even with new releases from Imagine Dragons and Kendrick. We like being able to focus on working multiple singles and really digging in, even if it doesn’t start off with big numbers. With OneRepublic we had a good start, but the really fun part was working the album all the way through the year, and we ended up selling 5 million album equivalents around the world when we were done. That’s gratifying for everyone. We worked OneRepublic for two years.

Our understanding was that you had some records that you were planning for in Q4 that didn’t actually get delivered.
The only two things that we were talking about putting out last year were Kendrick and Gwen [Stefani]. Kendrick of course came out this year, and Gwen is still working on her album. But that’s kind of the nature of the business. When the creative process is at work, you don’t want to force something that’s not ready. Both Gwen and Kendrick are people you know you can trust with that process—only they know when it’s done. And with Kendrick, of course, we also have Top Dawg and TDE working so closely on every aspect of the music and the marketing—that’s a real asset. Obviously giving Kendrick the extra time to do what he needed to do paid off. He made an important album, one that will go down as a classic. And Gwen is hard it work on making sure everything is coming together the way she envisions it.

Janick with (l-r) UMG U.K. chief David Joseph, Cherrytree's Martin Kierszenbaum, Ellie Goulding, Polydor U.K.'s Ferdy Unger-Hamilton and manager Jamie Lillywhite.

Interscope doesn’t release as many records as the competition, it seems. Looks like you prefer to put out records that you can then commit to over the long haul.
We try to maintain the right balance. We pride ourselves on not putting out as many albums as other labels do; we want to be more focused. When I look at the release schedule, I want to make sure we’re thinking specifically about artist development on our newer acts, but at the same time stay committed to the attention we need to be paying to Interscope’s flagship artists, because development doesn’t end once we break an act—we’re always asking ourselves how we take someone to the next level, whether it’s Eminem or Ryn Weaver.

What are you looking at for the rest of this year in terms of your priorities?
In terms of developing acts, the DJ Snake single is really making its mark at radio right now, and that’s going to be a big album for us in 2015. We put out Rae Sremmurd in the first quarter, and we’re going to drive that all the way through the end of the year. That’s been a tremendous success for us; it goes without saying that Mike Will has been an incredible partner with regard to breaking the group this year. And Ryn, who I just mentioned, is coming this summer; that came to us through our JV with Benny Blanco. We’ve been laser-focused on developing her, and I feel really good about where we are with her project; she made an amazing album. We’re releasing the debut album from Years & Years, who were signed out of the U.K. and just had a #1 single there with a song called “King.” They also won the BBC Sound of 2015 Poll. That feels amazing. We’re also very excited about BØRNS. We got off to a really nice start with the first song, “10,000 Emerald Pools,” which we really thought of asmore of an introduction to BORNS. Now we’re working the first single from the album—Electric Love—and it feels like a massive song. It’s just getting started at Alternative and Triple A. He’s a superstar—you can feel it when you’re in the room with him. Alex Da Kid signed a band called X-Ambassadors, who we’ve been building carefully, really watching them grow as a live act and look for the right opportunities with them. The single that we’re working now, “Renegades,” is Top 5 at Alternative, and we’re selling a lot of singles. Plus, we have this Jeep campaign that’s really clicking; it’s part of a $150 million marketing partnership that we have in place with Chrysler. Hopefully, all of this provides us with a springboard to a breakout year for them.

As far as the bigger releases, we’re looking at keeping our eye on the ball with the Imagine Dragons and Kendrick albums. Maroon 5 has a brand new single, “The Summer’s Gonna Hurt,” which is already feeling great. We’ve just released the Zedd album, and that’s off to a terrific start with a solid first-week debut for him, and we just announced the upcoming Southpaw soundtrack that Eminem and Paul Rosenberg are putting together for Shady Records. That will have some new music from Eminem on it. Shady has also been instrumental in the great debut week we had on Yelawolf—we want to maintain focus on that through the end of the year. He made a different kind of album for a rap artist, and we have to look for opportunities to expose that. We have Tame Impala coming this summer, and Lana Del Rey coming this year. Selena Gomez and Ellie Goulding are coming this year as well. Robin Thicke has some amazing new songs, and we’re getting ready to roll that out. So we have a good mix of developing acts and big acts coming back.

You’ve said you focus on profitability rather than marketshare. Can you explain the difference in thinking between those two?
It’s really a balance of both. It seems to me that anybody who’s solely focused on marketshare and not thinking about the bottom line is being short-sighted with regard to what our business is in 2015. Obviously, marketshare is important when you build a company, but it’s not the only yardstick. It’s finding that balance of being creative and running a smart business. Interscope is one of the biggest labels in the world, if not the biggest, as far as the music we export and how we deliver on a profitability level. Marketshare should be part of the strategy for a label, not the only goal.

In terms of pure, non-“bolt-on” owned and operated labels, Interscope and RCA lead the pack, and I suppose this comes right out of that profitability approach. Are you in a different business than the majors that are essentially confederations of distributed labels?
I guess I would say that’s the case. The way I run the label is, you want to make sure that wherever you commit your resources—whether it’s the artist, your partners or anybody else around you—that you’re set up for success. I think it goes without saying that Jimmy was one of the best when it came to discovering and nurturing entrepreneurs in the music business, and my goal is to follow in his footsteps when it comes to the partnerships we forge. We’ve been doing JVs with very creative people that ended up being very successful, and we still do a lot of that. But we don’t have a distribution company to add marketshare, or a Christian division, or some of these other things that people use to bolster their percentage.

Since the last time we talked last June, you’re brought in Aaron Bay-Schuck as President of A&R. Do you feel like your team is together now, coming up on your third anniversary at Interscope?
We’ve had a solid executive team in place for a while now, and Aaron only enhances that. It’s a good mix of people who have history and knowledge that comes from the time they’ve been at Interscope, mixed with new people to the team who bring different experience to the table. What I’ve always said is that I want to have the best—every label head says this, of course—but we want to have people in each department who are forward-thinking; who have common values and think long-term. I want a team in place that’s collaborating and pushing to help shape what the future of the business and this company should be. I feel great about that. And I think it’s shown in the results; 2013 and 2014 were amazing years for Interscope, and we’re off to a great start this year.

In terms of the big issues facing the business today, do you feel streaming is going to be a godsend given the decay of the download business and the physical market?
It comes down to one thing: getting people to pay to stream music. It finally feels like we’ve gotten to the point where we’re ahead of the game when it comes to a transition in the business. We’re ready to move to streaming, whereas, of course, we had to play an immense amount of catchup during the shift from physical to digital. We’re still in the early days of digital music, no matter how it’s consumed, and that’s exciting for everyone. Whether it’s Spotify’s success, or Tidal launching—and definitely what Apple is doing and how dedicated they are to it—between all these companies, it’s an interesting time, and it’s good to see that there are a lot of people out there trying to win and trying to find that right model that’s going to work.

With all that, radio is still the dominant tool for breaking records and artists. Why do you think that this traditional medium has continued to be so dominant? And do you anticipate that changing in the future?
Radio still moves the needle for a lot of important, unique reasons. It’s still one of the only places where you can be surprised by a new song. We all talk about the listener taking music back into their own hands in the digital age, but I think people also like being turned on to a new song that maybe they haven’t heard on their own. Radio is an important discovery tool in that regard. It also provides a sense of community; you know that you’re experiencing something with a group of likeminded people, even if you’re not in the same room as them. I think people are looking for the right balance of self-discovery and community. Radio is readily available; and it’s portable. It’s kind of what the rest of the business moved towards in the digital age. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. There’s a reason that all the streaming services are coming up with their own version of a radio component. I’m excited to see where it all goes.

Over the last two or three years we’ve seen an inordinate percentage of new artists, from Lorde to Meghan Trainor, breaking and becoming a big part of sales and radio chart success. Why do you think it’s changed so dramatically in the last few years?

They’re making music that’s really standing out and doing something that sounds fresh. Lorde and Meghan Trainor’s singles didn’t really sound like anything else on the radio. I think the visual component of what they were doing was really important as well. So it’s a combination of things. I think there are a lot of new artists who are creating music that’s really interesting, whether it’s what we have—Kendrick or Imagine Dragons or Years & Years are great examples—or Walk the Moon, Twenty One Pilots or any of the other new artists who’ve broken…they’re all different and interesting.

The U.S. and the U.K. are essentially the same market now, and the thinking on the part of the labels and the music group heads has become much more global in nature. How does that filter down to the level that you’re working at? For example, U.K. A&R has been awfully important to a number of labels.
I think that’s accurate; the U.K. has always been very important. Even before I started, the company was very tied into what was going on there with the understanding that it’s a critical market for us. If it’s our repertoire, we need to make sure that we’re focused on breaking it in the U.K., either simultaneously with or soon after the U.S. market. And on the other side of it, there are so many great artists, songwriters and producers coming out of the U.K. that it’s a real opportunity for us to expand what we do on both sides of the Atlantic. We’ve signed three or four artists in the last 12 to 18 months. Conversely, there are also American acts that the U.K. has signed directly. Everyone is out there trying to find things that are interesting from an A&R standpoint, and as a company we’re determined to be more connected to what’s going on with our sister labels in the U.K., as well as artists, writers, managers and producers.

We’re gonna be switching to a worldwide Friday street date in July. How do you think that’s going to affect the business?
Simply put, and to the point I just made, the music business is a global one. And the globe gets more connected every day. A worldwide street date is good for artists and good for music fans.

Shazam has exploded in terms of the attention that’s being paid to it; do you find it a useful tool and why?
Absolutely. It gives us the opportunity to strike in a market much more effectively. The DJ Snake record with AlunaGeorge started getting played in San Francisco, and all of a sudden it’s the #1 most Shazamed song in the city, and it starts to sell there. So being able to see something like that and then say, “You know what? We should open this up in a much bigger way”—the power of that is remarkable.

And my last question is, what’s your view of the Billboard Power 100?
People love lists. The music business is no exception, I suppose.

IGA Vice Chairman Steve Berman, Janick, Ryn Weaver and Lucian Grainge.

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