Justin Lubliner is 28 years old, on top of the world and poised for biz greatness. His second signing to Interscope, Billie Eilish, just released her debut full-length, talk of which has had the world aggressively salivating for some time now. The NYC native and USC Music Industry alum found himself inspired to start his own label, Darkroom, after a viewing of PBS doc Inventing David Geffen and years spent following the careers of Jimmy Iovine and L.A. Reid with wide-eyed respect. Now, under the guidance of John Janick, he’s proud to collaboratively shoot Billie into superstardom, alongside managers Danny Rukasin and Brandon Goodman, Janick, and the whole Interscope team. However, he may need a few shots of his own after he sees this HITS piece.

He didn’t grow up in a particularly musical household. The son of a doctor and a shoe designer recalls being “super inspired by New York’s hip-hop music and culture growing up. Nas and Jay-Z were my favorite artists. Illmatic was my favorite album, and DJ Premier was my favorite producer. I remember falling in love with DJ Premier's signature vinyl scratches at 12 and wanting to learn how to make that noise. So, my dad bought me turntables for my Bar Mitzvah and I started collecting hip-hop records after school. I became a DJ at 14, playing at hip-hop clubs across the city. I became obsessed.” When Lubliner was 15, he started hanging out at Def Jam Records. “I remember being outside of L.A. Reid's office one day when Kanye and Jay-Z were in a meeting and thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do when I get older.’”

He found Billie after she uploaded a song to SoundCloud, “ocean eyes,” which was picked up by blog Hillydilly. An Interscope intern who also wrote for the blog showed it to A&R player Nick Groff, who shared it with Lubliner—who then met with Billie’s management team.

“I think the SoundCloud on ‘ocean eyes’ only had a few thousand plays,” he says of this very early period. “Within one second of hearing it and seeing her photo, it just clicked—my radar went off. I felt like this was the artist that I’d been searching for my entire career. I was going to make sure I did everything possible to work with her.”

He had started Darkroom at age 20, as a marketing and PR company. Instead of ditching class at USC, he’d force himself to go, mainly so he’d have a place to sit and focus on his work for the company. For a while, he worked closely with a number of artists via Darkroom. He’d also signed a few artists to Republic Records as a consultant on the side. After watching the story of Geffen creating and selling his own label, he says, “I got really inspired. So, I came to Interscope, fell in love with John Janick, and it took about a year before I started getting the artists that I wanted to sign to the label. I started with a dance/electronic-leaning artist called Gryffin, who I still represent today,” co-managing with Groff. “The second artist I signed was Billie.”

“There was a period where I was walking through the streets of L.A., stuck in my own head, thinking, ‘How do I find this artist?’ I went into hardcore search mode. I remember telling everybody at Interscope and everybody who could possibly listen to me that this was the one.”

Lubliner represented a number of Neil Jacobson’s clients through Darkroom, and when he started sharing his desire to start his own imprint with other labels, Lubliner reached out for advice. Jacobson brought him in to meet Janick the next morning.

“I seriously connected with John. I loved what he had to say and felt that he really wanted to work with me. It was an immediate fit. I was never intrigued by the corporate world. I never wanted to be an executive. I wanted to start my own business, and I was driven to do things differently. I needed to be able to count on myself to get things done and didn't want to be put in a corner and told to rely on others. John immediately connected to my vision, especially since he started his own label at such a young age and was able to develop and build it. I was confident this was the right guy to garner advice from. Because one of the most important things for me—having done the deal at 23, 24—was to make sure that I could make mistakes and there'd be someone there that could help me understand the right things to do to grow my company.”

Lubliner, who identifies as a marketing/artist development-minded executive, says he’s always been fascinated by Billie’s authentic vision, her fashion and her all-around brand. “From the start, the release strategy has always centered around breaking Billie as a project-based artist—to not go into the singles-driven world. We knew early on that Billie's fans connected to her, her visuals, her identity, her performances.”

It was never about any individual song, but consistent quality; they wanted to give fans something to bite into with each one. So, a number of tracks stormed the streaming services, and eventually, she got a start at radio. “We started noticing that it was almost happening backwards. Because we were creating such a big groundswell off the platforms, they started to react so much on the platforms. And because we had such great communication with the people who work at the platforms, they really took a leap of faith with us and started programming these outside-the-box, left-of-center songs in places where pop songs would normally be. And that created an additional swell of promotion for Billie's music. EVP/Head of A&R at Interscope Sam Riback told Lubliner, “You realize that Billie might be the first artist ever to break off of streaming?’” “Once that hit my radar,” shares Lubliner, “it became more about radio being the cherry on top that can open doors in the future.”

He loves the inimitability of the trendsetter’s creations, and considers the absence of clear-cut singles and traditional hits a blessing. He cherishes her ability to stay three steps ahead musically by staying true to herself. Billie and her brother Finn hardly do collaborative writing sessions; on this album and the last EP, they didn't do any. As he explains, their music remains untouched by industry influences, while Billie draws inspiration from whatever she’s listening to at the time, whether that be The Beatles, random ‘70s rock, classical music or Kanye West 10 years ago. “Obviously, it's a lot more difficult when we have to come up with alternative methods to market something without a straight down-the-middle hit. But that's part of the challenge of developing and breaking Billie. We have to make sure we're constantly thinking of different marketing tactics. Normally, people have a hit that they can move at radio. The song we went with is a slow-tempo ballad. Throughout my career I was told that would never work on radio. For us, if it’s a song that ends up working on radio, we're completely changing the way that people consume music. But that’s the identity of the Billie project: To go for it and do things against the grain, and differently than most people in music have ever done it.”

As far as those gripping visuals go, Lubliner tips his hat to Billie's creative team at Interscope, namely Michelle An and Chelsea Dodson. He also praises Hannah Gold, Billie’s Marketing Director, and Spencer Moya, who runs the very accessible star’s digital and serves as an Instagram guru of sorts, as well as first-rate publicist Alex Baker.

“There are two major things to keep in mind. A) Our team is really young. We're doing this for the first time. Obviously, Janick and Steve [Berman] are giving us great high-level oversight, but Janick and Steve think atypically of other executives, in my opinion. There isn't a correct answer for anything that we've done. There’s no path. Everything has been pretty instinct-driven. We've come up with a lot of ideas that are catered specifically to Billie. That's the first thing. The second thing is that Billie is the hardest-working artist in the world. It makes everybody on our team want to work that much harder when somebody's dedicated to doing everything she can to make her career a success. We're really just following in the footsteps of a phenomenal artist with incredible work ethic.”

**Group Shot L-R: Mom Maggie Baird, Co-Manager Danny Rukasin, Interscope Vice Chairman Steve Berman, brother and writer/producer Finneas O’Connell, Billie, Project Manager Hannah Gold, Interscope chief John Janick, Interscope Head of Creative Michelle An (kneeling), Co-Creative Director Chelsea Dodson (above An), Co-Manager Brandon Goodman, Lubliner, Interscope Head of A&R Sam Riback and Dad Patrick O’Connell. Not pictured are Head of Digital Spencer Moya, Publicist Alex Baker and Interscope Touring and Artist Development Director Carl Ryan.

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