In the concluding half of our conversation with Interscope’s dynamic duo, we asked John and Steve about their takes on pressing current issues, and how they juxtapose the label’s superstars and developing acts in their strategic decision-making. (Look back at part one here.)

DL: When you look at consumption on the streaming level, where does the non-urban artist fit into the picture now?

LB: Lana Del Rey is a good example.

DL: What is the plan for new and developing rock acts? Is that a business that Interscope feels strongly about? Especially with your track record at Fueled by Ramen.

JJ: The great thing about streaming is the world is more connected—there are fewer barriers up between countries. When I started Fueled by Ramen, the Internet was starting to happen, and the barriers of entry to the business were being lowered. At that time, I couldn’t get records on the radio or MTV; I couldn’t get records in stores. But I was able to reach people online, through to start, and then MySpace. Any place I could find a like-minded audience online, really. In the streaming world, with Spotify and Apple Music, you can get to people directly, and faster. You can market and you get paid.

So it’s just cracking that code on every different type of artist. Of course, hip-hop is doing great on streaming services, so is pop, so is dance music, and that’s fantastic. With rock music, it’s a bit more difficult, but then you have a band like Imagine Dragons with a record [“Believer”] that’s a Top 20 global and U.S. Spotify record; the song is sitting in the Top 10 on iTunes too. That record feels like it’s going to be massive.

BS: But they’re a pop group as much as they’re a rock group.

JJ: When you talk about my expertise, everything I signed to Fueled by Ramen that really connected on a large scale was rock groups that ended up finding a pop audience—Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, twenty one pilots, Paramore. Those are all ultimately pop records. Imagine Dragons started at alternative radio and the audience broadened. And now we’re seeing that with the audience that’s discovering The 1975.

DL: So you think there’s still a place for developing those kind of artists?

JJ: Absolutely. Look at Tame Impala—they still sell albums. Kevin Parker is a genius.

BS: The fact is, there’s still an audience for album artists.

SB: In terms of the culture of the company, what John fights for every day on the creative side, which filters down through the whole company, is the importance of the artists that we work with, giving them the freedom and the support to create. What is their voice, and how are they going to articulate that message?

JJ: Everything we think about every day with regard to our business is based in culture: both the internal culture of the company, which Berm is talking about, and the artistry and music that we’re helping to bring to the world.

DL: And their brands.

JJ: Exactly. That’s what we focus on every day. I always say to artists—whether it’s someone who is signed or someone that we’re trying to sign—“We are focused on building your brand.” That’s why we always want to make sure you’re doing all the right things, from the music being in the center to the merchandise you make, the touring that you do, making all the right moves. Ultimately, you are creating a culture around what you do. So when Kendrick Lamar puts out an album, everybody wants to consume that album. Lana Del Rey is culturally important. Whenever she puts out an album, people want it.

DL: I think you guys are doing a great job of building brands.

JJ: I tried to emulate Interscope as a small indie label in Florida. When you think about the history of Interscope, you think about Dr. Dre and No Doubt and Nine Inch Nails and Lady Gaga and Eminem—the list goes on and on. It’s all these artists who don’t fit into a box, who have this vision.

LB: But those artists take time, especially with a rock act—that probably takes two years if you’re lucky, to really start building a foundation and a fan base. So you have to have the freedom from above you to be able to develop them.

JJ: Exactly. I knew coming into the company that I should have that freedom to do it, and if I didn’t have the freedom to do it, then I’d just go do something else. Luckily, I work for Lucian Grainge.

When Fueled by Ramen was an indie, I never got so lucky that something I put out just popped right away. The only artist I ever signed before coming to Interscope that took off like that was Panic! at the Disco. Everything else, whether it was Fall Out Boy, where it happened on the second album two and a half years later, or twenty one Pilots, who I signed before leaving Warner, and then two years later… Or Paramore. Or fun. I tried to sign Nate [Reuss] twice. Eight years later I finally did, and then two years after that…

DL: What acts in multiple cycles with you now do you see becoming big?

JJ: The 1975, for sure. That was the first deal I did when I came to the company. The next album will be their third. But “Somebody Else” has been the most reactive record they’ve had, and they’re going to be superstars—they are already.

LB: But it took a while.

SB: But that’s the point—time.

LB: A lot of people in the corporate situation just don’t have that mindset and are just shooting for short-term gains.

JJ: Yeah, but we do their merchandise, which is massive, and more importantly is another metric that lets you know there’s something real and long-term happening with the audience. We only have the record in North America, and we’ve sold a half a million on each of them, but they just haven’t had that one record yet that’s really clicked. When that happens, watch out. And I think Tory Lanez is gonna be that; Rae Sremmurd’s gonna be that. X-Ambassadors, 6LACK, even someone you wouldn’t necessarily think that about, like Selena—I think we’ve only scratched the surface with her. When I signed her, she wanted to figure out how to transition to a more mature sound, and her last album was the biggest she’s ever had. But the next one, from what music we have already, blows away what she did before. There was some great music on the last album and big hits with “Good for You” and “Same Old Love.” But the music she’s making now is next-level.

BS: Is she working with different producers/writers now?

JJ: Yes. I think there are a lot of artists now who are going to be putting out music that will sound similar to what she did on her last album. I think she’s going to change the game.

DL: What’s happening with the U2 record? We keep hearing it’s coming out, it’s not coming out.

SB: U2 has the best sense of when the time is right for a new U2 album; we stay in lockstep with the band, Guy [Oseary], and Island U.K. on it. We’re all in it together, but more importantly they’re a band with an incredible vision, an incredible standard of art. So when they focus on something, they go all in on it. Right now they’re very focused on the 30th anniversary Joshua Tree Tour, which is going to be tremendous. So we follow their lead on the music.

DL: So it’s still a work in progress? Fair to say?

SB: It’s a work in progress. But it’s also part of a plan; that’s how they move.

JJ: And that raises a good point. Berm has a long relationship with U2…it would be myopic of me to not recognize and respect the importance of that. With those core Interscope artists —the ones who really represent the power of the legacy and catalog of the label—it’s about me supporting them however they want to be supported. And I had to realize that with a lot of them I was going to be “the new guy” for a little while. Gaga is another example. When I started, my job wasn’t to say, “Oh, I’m now the president of the label; I’m going to be your best friend.” But I’ve had a relationship with her for nearly five years now, and I’d kill for her. And the same goes for Eminem and Paul Rosenberg; I knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight thing. Paul has such a long, deep history with Interscope; it’s like, can I do anything to help? And I think he respected and appreciated that approach.

BS: What’s happening on the Eminem front in terms of another record?

DL: Yeah, you’d think in this political climate, people would be dying for Eminem to make a record.

SB: I would love to be in the studio in Detroit right now and hear what’s going on. But when it’s time, we’ll be there.

DL: We talked about your restructuring of A&R; what about the other departments?

JJ: We made Michelle An, who was running our video department, the head of the creative department at the company. She’s overseeing everything with regard to the visuals across the roster. We took Gary Kelly, who was running sales, and put him in charge of digital. Gary is really at the forefront of the transition from the download era to streaming. And I mean that in terms of the entire industry, not just our company. He was the first one to really get what was happening and basically retrained the company to think that way. We just promoted Matt LaMotte to run our marketing on the pop/rock side. He started at the company as an assistant in marketing and became a star product manager, so we felt he was ready to step into a bigger role.

DL: Speaking of digital, who’s in charge of working the playlists?

SB: Gary and his team.

JJ: We built a whole team that focuses specifically on playlists.

LB: How does that work with promotion and their priorities?

JJ: We do a weekly meeting where we all sit down and riff together. They work hand in hand, so I put them in a room with the key marketing people.

DL: What’s the thinking behind your use of 69-cent single pricing?

SB: We look at what’s best for each release. In certain circumstances, we want to really put a spotlight on a record and give it a shot.

DL: But once the record’s peaked, why is the 69-cent pricing still on? Are you trying to drive it to #1?

JJ: It’s interesting—we were sitting at #2 or 3 with MGK, and of course you get hit by people who say, “We can get to #1 if we sale-price it,” but we didn’t discount the record. I think it depends on what’s happening with the overall picture.

DL: Is there any evidence that when people buy the song, there’s a relationship between the sale and streaming?

SB: Imagine Dragons is a great example. The streaming on “Believer” is lighting up globally, where it’s Top 20 and just getting started, and we believe we’re gonna sell a lot of albums as well. It’s a great combination.

DL: What have you got coming up?

JJ: We’ll be putting out a Maroon 5 album that feels like it’s off to a great start with two big singles. We have Zedd; the Kygo-Selena record, with more Selena music coming; Imagine Dragons; Lana; we’re working on Thirty Seconds to Mars; and of course, Kendrick feels like he’s getting ready. A lot of great stuff—it’s exciting.

LB: You have a lot of records.

DL: You have a lot in the urban sector, which is really important—those are the records that are causing the noise in the marketplace today because of streaming.

JJ: It’s always great to talk about the big records, but we’re hyper-focused on developing acts too. Like 6LACK on the urban side; we’ve already done over 165,000 total consumption, album-wise, and we’re just heating up at Urban radio. The tastemaker reaction has been great too, so we feel like we’ve really got something with him. Beyond that there’s Billy Raffoul, LANY, Michael Kiwanuka, Billie Eilish, JID and Jacob Banks… Point being, we have these acts bubbling in every different genre, which is what I love about our company.

DL: Looks like you guys are going to have a spectacular ’17.

JJ: When I came here, it would be a lie to say my excitement wasn’t coupled with some nerves about all the big stars on the roster. It’s not news to anybody reading this that I was taking over a big role. I also spent a few nights thinking that maybe everyone in the building would all be out to kill me. [laughter]

DL: When you first got there, I looked at your Converse sneakers and asked, “Are your feet big enough to fill those shoes?” Guess what? They are.

Go to Part One

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad music biz. (6/13a)
Born in 1986 by mad scientists; still lurking. (6/17a)
Pairs well with grits and gravy. (6/14a)
The latest tidbits from the bustling live sector. (6/17a)
Rock and R&B take over Broadway. (6/17a)
Who's already a lock?
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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