UMG (38.6%): Turning to Lucian Grainge’s global superpower, Monte Lipman’s Republic (9%) is without question the #1 promotion company in the biz. In addition to servicing a group of labels that deliver hits—Big Machine, Cash Money and Island—the Monte and Charlie Show established a true home-grown superstar in The Weeknd. Gary Spangler and the promo staff did the heavy lifting as Republic dominated top radio formats in 2015, with a powerhouse 23.3% overall Mediabase chart share and, at one point at least, one out of every four songs on the air. Blockbusters from Big Machine’s Taylor Swift, Cash Money’s Drake and the homegrown Weeknd, along with a strong debut from Island’s Shawn Mendes, helped keep the House of Lipman at or near the top of the marketshare heap all year. Lipman has somehow managed to have his cake and eat it too, as Republic is also a runaway #1 in Grammy nominations with a remarkable tally of 35, including Album of the Year nods for Swift and The Weeknd, while James Bay is in the mix for Best New Artist.

When Steve Barnett began the revitalization of CMG (7.8%) at the beginning of 2013, he formulated a three-year plan, handpicking his executive staff, led by Michelle Jubelirer and EMI vet Greg Thompson, making label deals and working closely with his U.K. counterparts. Year two was off the charts, as CMG rose to a solid #3 in marketshare and dominated the 2015 Grammys behind newly minted superstar Sam Smith and Album of the Year winner Beck. Barnett has held serve in year three, with Smith and 5 Seconds of Summer continuing their growth, U.S. signings Halsey and Tori Kelly breaking out, and Don Henley releasing a landmark back-to-his-roots LP. Barnett continues to tweak his executive team, this year adding decorated A&R veteran Ashley Newton while moving indie distribbery Caroline to the West Coast under the auspices of Harvest’s Piero Giramonte and Jacqueline Saturn. Insiders say there are still more changes ahead.

John Janick’s third full year in charge of Interscope (7%) has been his most challenging, with Kendrick Lamar’s Album of the Year Grammy contender leading a relatively light slate of major releases. But the onetime indie entrepreneur plays by his own rules. He emphasizes high-level A&R, in close collaboration with his trusted associate Aaron Bay-Schuck, while overseeing marketing with Vice Chairman Steve Berman. Janick has no interest in putting out a lot of records and hoping a few of them stick, stressing attention to detail on every release, from recent signing Selena Gomez to debut act X Ambassadors.

Talk about closing out the year with a bang. The Top 10 albums chart in mid-November resembled a Def Jam pool party, as comeback kid Justin Bieber led the way, with Jeezy and Logic as his wingmen. Besides selling 504k of Bieber’s Purpose in week one, label ruler Steve Bartels hit with Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise, which bowed with 345k. Faisal Durrani, who took over as GM in April, immediately went to work with EVP No I.D. on artist development campaigns and branding projects. As the year nears its end, Def Jam (2.1%) is generating buzz with teen soul singer Alessia Cara, indicating a strengthened A&R department. Meanwhile, Bartels is still waiting for Kanye West and Rihanna to deliver their long-overdue albums.

SONY MUSIC (28.8%): Doug Morris’ music group is having a memorable year indeed, and not just because of Adele. Morris addressed a pair of longstanding needs, as dramatic gains were made by Sony’s U.K. company under the leadership of his handpicked selection Jason Iley in his first full year on the job, while also orchestrating a major upgrade to the company’s Nashville operation with the addition of CEO Randy Goodman.

Rob Stringer’s Columbia (12%, and rising weekly) is enjoying a holiday sales and marketshare bonanza, led, of course, by Her Majesty. In addition to presiding over one of the most prestigious rosters of all time, Stringer has the A&R chops to close almost any act he pursues—and he’s likely to be the one heading out to a club to check out the band. Balancing the label’s iconic artists—led by Dylan, Springsteen, AC/DC, Streisand and Leonard Cohen—is Stringer’s impressive rookie crop, which includes newly minted career artists Hozier, Leon Bridges, Rachel Platten and George Ezra. Assisted in particular by consigliere Joel Klaiman, freshly re-upped promo head Lee Leipsner and President of A&R Mark Williams, Stringer continues to burnish Columbia’s stellar reputation.

The dynamic duo holding Nipper’s leash during a solid year for RCA (5.9%) consists of two outstanding execs with highly complementary skills. CEO Peter Edge is one of the very best A&R/writer/producer guys in the business, having honed his abilities and instincts as an acolyte of Clive Davis. COO/President Tom Corson, meanwhile, is the quintessential record man—smart, solid and strategic. In addition to their professional chemistry, RCA’s co-leaders are immeasurably aided by an ultra-capable promotion chief, EVP/GM Joe Riccitelli. Some of the label’s superstars, including Kelly Clarkson, Pitbull and Chris Brown, showed signs of fatigue this year, but that slippage was counterbalanced by the newer artists RCA delivered, starting with Pentatonix, Mark Ronson, Elle King, A$AP Rocky and Walk the Moon. Edge and Corson evidenced the artist-friendly nature of their leadership style by not standing in the way when Miley Cyrus decided to give away her trippy Dead Petz album.

The artist roster of L.A. Reid’s Epic (3%) is composed almost entirely of new and developing acts—so much so that it’s virtually a startup. But the label has broken an impressive number of these newcomers, including Meghan Trainor, Travi$ Scott and Future, while finding a U.S. audience for Fifth Harmony. At nearly 1.5m TEA, Trainor’s Title is the top-selling debut album of the year, making her the latest in an impressive string of pop divas who have flourished under Reid’s expert guidance. Promo head Todd Glassman has had an exceptional year, with three hit singles from Trainor, Future’s “Where Ya At” and Scott’s “Antidote.” The label’s executive offices have stabilized in the year and half since Sylvia Rhone came in as President.

WARNER MUSIC (15.5%): As he closes out his third year running Warner Bros. Records (5.8%), Cameron Strang continues to take an entrepreneurial approach toward signings, bringing indie acts such as rapper Mac Miller and country singer Cole Swindell into the WB family and pumping up A&R staff under president Dan McCarroll, while EVP Peter Gray, the man behind Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ ascendancy, ran herd on promotion, while his oversight continues to widen. Strang handed the CEO reins of Warner/Chappell to Big Jon Platt on Nov. 1, shifting his focus solely to recorded music. Josh Groban’s theatrical album Stages topped a half-million in sales to lead WBR’s releases this year. Kid Rock, Disturbed, Muse and Blake Shelton added to the variety of the label’s release schedule. WBR’s current priorities include Grammy-nominated newcomer Andra Day.

NASHVILLE: 2015 was Mike Dungan’s year. His UMG Nashville (3.3%) saw huge sales, airplay and awards for key acts like Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton (and serious acclaim for Kacey Musgraves). In a feel-good story, Stapleton exploded out of a CMA performance with Justin Timberlake to become a steady seller and an Album of the Year Grammy contender. Dungan, President Cindy Mabe and these acts are now reaping a Grammy nominations windfall.

When Randy Goodman took the reins at Sony Nashville (3.1%), the company’s credibility got a big lift right along with the staff’s morale. Goodman’s arrival, EVP/COO Ken Robold and EVP Promotion & Artist Development Steve Hodges just happened to coincide with a wave of hits from the company’s big guns, as Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and Tyler Farr all hit for distance, while newcomer Cam’s single exploded. Even more significantly, Sony Nashville is now competing for topnotch talent on a level playing field, and they’re winning their share. What a difference six months has made.

The house that Taylor and Scott Borchetta built continues to knock hits out of the park, break new acts and rewrite the rulebook for Nashville. Encompassing the Big Machine label (home of 1989), Republic Nashville, Valory, Dot and Nash Icon, Borchetta’s BMLG is tearing up the road—in addition to Taylor, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Brantley Gilbert and other dominant acts, he’s shepherded new artists like Maddie & Tae to sales, spins and prominence. Having inked a new distribution deal with UMG, Borchetta is revving up again.

THE U.K.: How is it that so many of the current decade’s biggest breakthroughs—starting with Adele, One Direction, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, have come out of the United Kingdom, whose population is one fifth of that of the United States? This is hardly a new phenomenon, of course—Britain has been turning out far more than its share of world-class bands and artists for more than a half century, from The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Pink Floyd through Coldplay and Amy Winehouse to the current crop of U.K.-spawned superstars. What shared magical properties has enabled British stars to continue to impact pop culture to such a profound degree?

UMG has dominated the U.K. market since Lucian Grainge was running the show, and the momentum has continued unabated under David Joseph’s capable leadership. Both Warner and Sony have been in rebuilding mode, and both are gaining marketshare under Max Lousada and Jason Iley, respectively, though UMG remains well in front with Sony #2 and Warner #3. Additionally, SYCO’s Simon Cowell is a looming presence in both markets, as is the company’s President, Sonny Takhar.

INDIE ENTREPRENEURS: While the heads of the dozen major labels draw on the resources of deep-pocketed parent companies, the founders and chief executives of the most successful U.S. independent labels—most notably, Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta, Red Light/ATO’s Coran Capshaw, Glassnote’s Daniel Glass and Cash Money’s Slim and Baby—are autonomous entrepreneurs who cover their own overheads and eat what they kill. So do their U.K. counterparts, including Beggars Group’s Martin Mills, XL’s Richard Russell and Domino’s Laurence Bell.

Note: All sales and marketshare figures are year-to-date TEA as of the week ending 12/10, except where noted.

I.B. Bad on the Year in the Music Biz: The Big Picture

I.B. Bad on the Year in the Music Biz: Major Storylines

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Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
The discovery engine is revving higher.

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