The Architect of Change

Grainge with Scott Borchetta and Taylor Swift

Sir Lucian Grainge is the first Englishman operating a global music company based in the U.S. to ever get it right. And when, in 2011, he came to ultimate power, taking control of the biggest music group in the world, the business was in decline. His willingness to take risks and draw on his decades of music-business experience and combined with his great instincts encouraged him to bet on the future and lead rights holders into the new streaming revolution. He moved forward swiftly to make deals with Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Amazon and Facebook.

As a result of Grainge’s wager, his Universal Music Group has become more dominant than ever: At presstime, UMG had 38.1% in overall U.S. marketshare and 39.2% in streaming share, while snagging well over half of the Top 50 albums and Top 50 streaming tracks, more than double the share of its closest competitor in each metric.

Grainge will be making the key decisions in parent company Vivendi’s move to sell up to 50% of UMG to a strategic partner to be determined. Who will line up to bid on a chunk of the dominant music group, and which of the suitors will Sir Lucian choose? Those are shaping up as the most intriguing questions of the year.

“He’s the great hope for the music business,” Irving Azoff accurately predicted in a 2014 L.A. Times profile of Grainge. “He started as a songplugger and a publishing guy. He understands the entire worldwide record business. And he gets technology. He understands that’s the future of the business.”

With the deep-seated affection of a fellow record man, Doug Morris said of his onetime colleague and subsequent rival, “He is so deceptive, with that little kind face and those little glasses. Behind them, he is actually a killer shark.” Bob Geldof put his assessment even more bluntly when he stated, “He’s a ruthless fucker—but he’s got good ears.”

“All of us know that people who choose to spend their lives in the music business are special, they’re unique and they might be a little bit crazy. Because for us, this isn’t simply a job, it’s a mission—a mission motivated by our love of music.”

Grainge’s achievements are many, but he’ll go down in the books for pulling off the Steal of the Century, acquiring EMI’s recorded-music assets in 2012 for the bargain-basement price of $1.9 billion. That investment has paid off many times over as a central component in the rise of UMG’s market value to north of $40 billion.

Even more crucially, Sir Lucian, as he’s now formally addressed, having been knighted by Prince William in November 2016 for his accomplishments in the business, has been a key matchmaker in the courtship and marriage of music and tech. “A dozen entrepreneurs in the tech space—they’d be like Irish coffee,” he analogized early on for the benefit of the uninitiated. “The cream would hit the whiskey and the coffee really nicely. Technology and talent: That’s what I’m trying to do: merge talent and technology.”

And that he has accomplished, leading an industrywide crusade for premium streaming across every viable platform, helping to reverse a decade and a half of contraction, revitalizing and restoring optimism to a moribund industry.

“In 2017, our efforts really began to pay off,” Grainge said with undisguised pride. “The dramatic worldwide increase in streaming has been the single most important catalyst in returning UMG—and the music industry at large—to growth. In part, that’s why we posted our best financial performance in 15 years by many metrics. How did we do it? We started, of course, with great music. That’s where it all begins.”

And that’s precisely what his mission statement has been from the beginning. By prioritizing A&R—optimizing existing talent while developing new career artists—Grainge has kept the focus on any music company’s most important asset.

What’s more, this forward-thinking traditionalist has been ahead of the curve in championing gender equality, greenlighting deserving women for key roles at Universal, helping bring together an industry-leading group of top executives that includes corporate EVP Michele Anthony, UMPG CEO Jody Gerson, CMG EVP/COO Michelle Jubelirer, Motown President Ethiopia Habtemariam, Caroline President Jacqueline Saturn, Republic EVP/Head of Urban A&R Wendy Goldstein, IGA President of Promotion Brenda Romano, UMG Nashville President Cindy Mabe, UMG EVP of Sales Candace Berry and recent arrival Celine Joshua, UMG’s GM, Commercial, Content and Artist Strategy. These moves were practical as well as philosophical. “Lucian chooses his executives without regard to anything but talent,” Azoff noted with admiration.

“All of us know that people who choose to spend their lives in the music business are special, they’re unique and they might be a little bit crazy,” Grainge recently acknowledged. “Because for us, this isn’t simply a job, it’s a mission—a mission motivated by our love of music.”

 Getting dressed up with U2

Read the entire profile here.

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Ch-chingle bells (12/3a)
Adele is money. (12/3a)
Reshuffling the deck (12/3a)

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