Third Annual Shindig Finds Tower Team Fired Up

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Lucian Grainge singing the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” for carpool karaoke with late-night host James Corden as they careen through L.A. in a Range Rover.

I, my friends, have lived.

The UMG topper’s vocal turn, in a hilarious reel introduced by Corden, followed some perfectly respectable wailing-along with Sam Smith and Katy Perry. Corden suggested he and Grainge could be the new Wham!.

SVP A&R Mike Flynn, EVP Greg Thompson, UMG topper Lucian Grainge, Perry, Barnett and COO Michelle Jubelirer.

It was a suitably frolicsome, duly musical way to introduce the Third Annual Capitol Congress at Hollywood’s Arclight Cinemas as Steve Barnett’s very fired-up team celebrates its growth and ascent to #2 in label marketshare.

Grainge then emerged in the flesh to congratulate Barnett and company on their tremendous achievement and the rebirth of the storied brand. Barnett greeted his loyal troops, hailed their extraordinary efforts, underscored the vital importance of breaking new acts and got the proceedings underway.

It was a packed day. Imprints, sales execs and others showed slides and played reels (lots and lots of reels—we were reeling from all the reels, really) and artists showed up to receive plaques (Katy Perry, Bastille), sing (Tori Kelly), discuss their albums (Don Henley, Disclosure) and post selfies to Instagram (Troye Sivan, who got 4k likes within 60 seconds).

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed a Municipal Utility Jam Session as the following people were filled with civic pride: UMG EVP/CFO Boyd Muir, EVP Michele Anthony, Grainge, Barnett, Jubelirer and UMPG head Jody Gerson.

Barnett welcomed L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who received a plaque, congratulated the company on its growth and hailed the decision to relocate to L.A., adding that he Tower is the second most iconic landmark in L.A., behind the Hollywood Sign.

EVP Greg Thompson introduced iHeartMedia chief Bob Pittman, who offered some trenchant observations about the role of radio in the new reality. “We’re in the companionship business,” he said, and added that instead of the old request line, the “new telephone” for consumers is social media—indeed, the social profile of an event is typically more important than the event itself.

He described iHeart as a strategic partner with the labels. “You’ve got a product and have to connect it to the consumer, and we’re that connection,” he said. “We’re built to take it all the way home” as the consumer’s best friend. He spoke of seeking a deeper collaboration than the “ad hoc” of traditional radio promotion. “We’ve got the relationships,” he said. “We just need the great music.”

iHeart SVP John Ivey, Thompson, Anthony, iHeart CEO Bob Pittman and Barnett enjoy some companionship.

COO Michelle Jubelirer memorably (and admiringly) introduced Universal EVP Michele Anthony as a “power bitch.” After detailing the composition of the new Commercial Services division (complete with a reel in the style of a spy thriller), Anthony brought out Digsin founder and newly announced UMG SVP of Streaming Strategy Jay Frank, who offered an array of insights about the growth of streaming and its role in artist discovery.

Michelle J also introduced UMPG chief Jody Gerson, who promised to be an optimal partner to label peeps before cuing up her reel. “Our identity is our songwriters,” Gerson declared. “A hit record, an iconic track or an audience of 50k singing along with the artist all have one thing in common: Somebody wrote a great song.”

A key moment came when—to commemorate the birthday of the late Adam Yauch (also the birthday of our own Karen Glauber, we should add)— EVP Scott Greer detailed the history of Paul’s Boutique and welcomed surviving Beastie Boys Ad-Rock and Mike D, who—after a reel narrated by Apple’s Ian Rogers—were interviewed by Beats 1’s Zane Lowe about the history of the record. During the Congress, the Beastie Boys flag waved above the Tower as it had upon the 1989 release of the album, which both Greer and Rogers had worked on back in the day.

Zane Lowe with Ad-Rock and Mike D

Capitol U.K. ruler Nick Raphael delivered one of the funnier off-the-cuff presentations, but was serious in noting that his one-word summary of the company’s approach is “focus.” He told the stories of discovering and signing Sam Smith and 5 Seconds of Summer and noted that in all his years at Epic U.K. and London Records, he’d never gotten anything like the U.S. support for his acts he’s gotten from Barnett. (He recalled signing Jay Z for the world but none of his BMG partners signed him for the U.S.)

UMG Nashville
head Mike Dungan made a few spiky, unscripted remarks, noting that Nashville artists tend to do their best work at a later age than those in other genres, and that “our babies are around 30.” These artists grew up on rock and rap, and were influenced by Nickelback and Staind, Eminem and Jay Z. His reel, of course, included superstars Luke Bryan (whose new album comes out this week, as you may have heard), Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Eric Church, Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, the acclaimed Kacey Musgraves and countless others, among them Haley Georgia, whose “Ridiculous” is likely to generate much buzz.

Astralwerks GM Glenn Mendlinger recalled the label’s first meeting with Halsey, and how Barnett promptly emailed him, “We fucking love her. Get this done.” True to form, he issued a follow-up message mere minutes later: “Is it done?” Halsey, who’s on the road, thanked the CMG family for their hard work in a video message.

Next year, they all vowed, they’d reunite as the #1 label.

Among the many other presenters:

  • Lucien Boyer, who heads Havas, the branding company with which UMG has partnered
  • A&R exec Mike Flynn
  • UMe chief Bruce Resnikoff, who’s cuing up campaigns for catalog crown jewels The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond and Motown
  • Blue Note head Don Was, who commented on the growth and extension of the jazz-fueled brand (Blue Note Vans!)
  • Caroline’s Dom Pandiscia and Mike Harris, hailing three #1 albums and a 20% marketshare spike
  • I.R.S. Nashville’s John Grady, who’s quarterbacking Henley’s countrified Cass County set and rolling out formidable duo Muddy Magnolias
  • Motown ruler Ethiopia Habtemariam, with a reel including BJ the Chicago Kid, whose “Church in the Morning” popped out even in a 15-second sample (he guests on Dr. Dre’s Compton set, so expect to hear more about him very soon)
  • Pierre “Pee” Thomas and Kevin “Coach K” Lee, founders of Quality Control, the indie hip-hop label with which Motown and Capitol have partnered
  • Virgin’s Ashley Burns, hailing Bastille (who are at work on their follow-up album), siren Seinabo Sey and others
  • Harvest’s Piero Giramonti and Jacqueline Saturn, who offered their Mutt and Jeff comedic stylings in addition to Banks and other coolness;
  • Christian Music head Bill Hearn