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A CONVERSATION WITH...


Interscope came into 2020 on a sustained roll, powered by a balanced two-pronged offense pairing established stars like Eminem, Maroon 5, 
Selena Gomez and 5 Seconds of Summer, with a slew of next-gen breakthroughs including Billie Eilish, Summer Walker, the late Juice WRLD, Rod Wave, Trevor Daniel, Playboi Carti, Lil Mosey, Moneybagg Yo and this week’s chart-topper, DaBaby.

The momentum of the company—which has spent the year atop the marketshare standings with a more than 10% piece of the pie—has continued unabated through the unprecedented difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic. That’s because Chairman/CEO John Janick and key execs including Vice Chairman/marketing guru Steve Berman, President of Promotion Brenda Romano, EVP/A&R savant Joie Manda and EVP of Urban Operations Nicole Wyskoarko, along with entrepreneurial partners like Alamo’s Todd Moscowitz and the LVRN crew, have kept the staff and roster laser-focused on a steady stream of viable new releases even as everyone works remotely.

When we caught up with Janick on Sunday, 4/17, he was in perpetual motion, mentally and physically, as always. “I’m trying to balance the Zooms, and I do a lot of walking when I talk on the phone, so I’m getting more steps than normal,” he points out as he moves around his house. “Part of the problem with working from home is the cellphone service goes in and out,” he acknowledges after a momentary dropout. “But I don’t think it’s good to sit in a chair and look at a computer screen all day long.”


How different from business as usual is this situation for you and your key players?
First of all, the health and safety of our staff is my number-one priority, and it’s what we’re focused on every day. Interscope is a family, and everyone knows I’m available to help them. It’s in my thoughts and the entire team’s thoughts. We’re a tightly connected company, so we’ve been able to thoughtfully continue to release music. But the health and well-being of the staff is the top priority for us.

How much more difficult is it to communicate with your team now?
We transitioned to a work-from-home format pretty quickly. I think the natural speed and efficiency in the way we work at IGA and the open and creative format we’ve fostered over the years gave us great trust that we could indeed work well remotely. I’ve always had absolute faith in the team, and we remain tightly connected even in this challenging environment. But we’ve been able to continue at our pace because we have a great shorthand with each other.

Everybody has their clearly defined roles and responsibilities in all areas of the company. Everybody is a leader in the company in one way or another, but what the department heads are doing as far as being leaders has been remarkable. I’m really proud of everybody; the executives and assistants have all been extraordinary during this crazy time. And we’ve been able to remain close with all our various partners, artists and managers. Obviously, it’s been a super-challenging time for them, so we’re trying to make sure we’re staying close to everybody and staying in contact. As I mentioned, it’s a family environment, and in times of crisis like this, we need to be even more tightly connected.

How do you do that?
It’s about communicating with everybody. I do weekly emails to the entire staff about the direction we’re going in, what we’re thinking about and some of the changes we need to make. We still have some of our weekly meetings through Zoom, and we’re all reaching out to one another even more than before. When you’re seeing everybody face to face, you’re piling through business, but now there are personal challenges. Some people are having a difficult time trying to balance taking care of their kids and working. We also have people who moved out here and live by themselves or have roommates, and they have different challenges. So we’re trying to give them the space and the time they need, and we’re figuring out how we can support one another, making their workloads easier or reaching out to them and seeing if there’s anything we can do to help.

At HITS, Zoom has been a valuable simulation of actually being together. How do you orchestrate those sorts of gatherings at Interscope?
Obviously, in-person meetings and sitting in the same room with the people we’re working with can’t be replaced, but Zoom at least provides us with an opportunity to see each other and feel our natural rapport. It’s great to see everybody’s faces and not just be on a phone call. But we’re also trying to limit the number of Zoom meetings; it can be tough, especially when people have other things going on at home, to constantly be on Zoom.

So we’re trying to maintain that balance, but we’re doing our weekly planning meetings and some of our weekly catch-ups, and I’m trying to do the department-heads meeting every two weeks just to check in with everybody, even though I’m seeing the majority of them at least two or three times a week on Zoom. We had one that was an hour long a couple of weeks ago, but the one this week will probably just be 10 minutes unless people have issues. We want to stay in touch with everybody, but it’s not healthy for people to be sitting on Zoom for nine or 10 hours a day, and we have to be respectful of one another.

And I’m telling people at the company my story. I’m like, “Guys, listen, I try to walk 14,000 steps a day, but right now I’m doing 18-to-20,000 steps a day, because I’m purposely putting Zooms at certain times and scheduling phone calls and other things at different times so that I can get out and walk—and work while I’m doing it. That’s healthier for everybody.”

In terms of the actual operation, making and marketing records, getting songs on the radio, dealing with the streaming platforms, etc., is inherently more difficult in a situation where there’s no face-to-face contact. How does business go on?
Surprisingly, it’s not as difficult as you might expect. We have a lot of artists who are self-sufficient as far as recording on their computers or having home studios or finding other ways to be creative. We just sent one of our bigger artists a home rig that can easily be set up, and then the vocal engineer can remotely punch that artist in and out when they’re recording the vocals. We’ll see how it goes.

I sent a note to the company four weeks ago telling people that this is where we need to push to be creative on both the marketing and the music sides and not just check boxes. In terms of how we operate, we should always be thinking outside the box, and we constantly push to do that. But more than ever, this is a time when we’re forced to do it. We can’t shoot videos the same way we usually do. We can’t do in-person promotion. We can’t just go into a studio and record a song. So, on the overall creative and relationship fronts, how are we thinking outside the box and doing things differently?

In terms of the overarching strategy that you employ, Interscope has had momentum for months now, and it’s continuing. And it seems like you’re consistently getting men on base and developing extra-base and home-run hitters while staying away from the one-song, flash-in-the-pan acts. Can you go into your philosophy and explain why it’s working so well?
Yeah, my entire career has been about building something meaningful—and it’s the same for a lot of people who work at the company. It’s not about just managing for the quarter or for the year; it’s always having a long-term vision. I’ve been at the company for eight and a half years now, and coming in there were some amazing artists and a lot of great pieces, so we made some tweaks and got on track pretty quickly. I was lucky with that. But then, it takes three or four years to plant those seeds and start to see them grow the right way. In our case, I think we’ve done well pretty much every year. But in the last two to three years we’ve really hit our stride, and it’s like compounded interest—it just keeps on going if you do the right things, stay hungry and continue to have that long-term vision.

We’ve never prioritized one sector of our business over another; it’s important to be multi-genre based on what we feel passionately about, maintaining the diversity of our roster. We really value uniqueness. We always talk about how Interscope, from its beginnings, has found those artists that were left-of-center and moved people to them, instead of just signing the flavor of the moment. We’re looking to build career global artists, and you have to realize that it takes time. Very few great artists pop right away.

Billie Eilish is a fascinating example of proceeding with extreme patience.
Billie’s situation was different; she was 13 when Darkroom/Interscope signed her, and Justin Lubliner, along with the Interscope team, could’ve rushed certain things, but 
we didn’t.

Interscope remains unafraid to invest in something that is untested if we believe the magic is there. We continue to take chances with the understanding that sometimes it takes years to pay off.

And our partnerships with entrepreneurs are super-important, and that takes time as well. Whether it’s the LVRN guys, Dreamville or Mustard and 10 Summers or Justin Lubliner with Darkroom, they’re part of the lifeblood of our company, and we treat those partnerships with the entrepreneurs the same way as we do our artists.

And by the way, it’s the same way with the people who work at the company. They’re our superstars too, and we’re making sure we give them the time to grow. I always say that our most important assets are our artists and the people at the company, so that’s how we manage it. We’re one of the biggest music companies in the world, and we do release a lot of music, but we’re very conscious of the bandwidth of the company and how we put out releases. Again, we’re across every different genre—rock, hip-hop, pop, dance, Latin, everything—we want to be in all of it. But we’re trying to be very thoughtful and understanding about what we can take on and doing right by the artists and the employees to make sure we can grow them. Because we want to do our best to turn every one of our artists into home-run hitters. But you also have to be patient, knowing you’ve got to hit the singles and doubles to get to that point.

Last week, for example, you released an album by DaBaby, an emerging artist, and that seems to be another potential extra-base hit or home run, which, as you said, you strive for in a developmental sense.
Right. Four weeks ago, we put out 5 Seconds of Summer, who are obviously already developed, and trying to help them continue to build on what they’ve accomplished. Then, the week after that, we had Rod Wave, who really started to explode at the end of last year, and we’ve been setting up for this moment; the last mixtape we put out went gold. But the development took time; he was signed and developed a couple of years ago by Alamo, along with their team and more recently our Geffen staff. The last project started to take off, and then it was all hands on deck for this next one. This past week was Tory Lanez, and then this week is DaBaby. Our partners at South Coast Music Group did a great job of developing him and getting heat before we signed him about a year and a half ago. And then we came in and helped pour gasoline on it.

This is the third release by DaBaby we’ve put out in a year and a half, and the first two are platinum. The first one, Baby on Baby, came out about a year ago, the second one, Kirk, came out in October and Blame It on Baby is the third. It’s insane what we’ve been able to do with him and South Coast over the last year and a half.

We’re really proud of our artists—so many of them have stepped up to the plate and done things in different ways—and it’s amazing how they continue to thrive creatively. A few days after we were all told to stay home, Yungblud created a show to connect with his fans. Or MGK doing covers every week. Or Gaga curating and fundraising for Global Citizen and the World Health Organization special, bringing in Billie and others, just wanting to do good for people. OneRepublic donating royalties from “Better Days” to MusiCares; Selena doing a bunch of different charitable donations; DaBaby and South Coast Music Group thoughtfully doing an Easter dinner for frontline workers at a hospital in North Carolina. But everybody from Billie to Murda Beatz, Slim Jxmmi, Jacob Collier, Louis the Child, Lil Mosey, Dermot Kennedy and X Ambassadors—they’ve all done things. And Billie’s mom started a charity, donating meals to people in need and helping vegan restaurants.

And all the IGA artists are proving that they’re not only in the vanguard creatively; they’re setting new standards of compassion as well. And then, on top of that, all the different departments at IGA have been coming up with amazing opportunities for our artists and partners to give back.

I’m proud of every single person in our company, and we’re all doing our best to continue to support our artists and partners while doing the right thing.

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