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ROB STRINGER
IN CLUBLAND

 

ROLLING IN THE DEEP...AND THE DOUGH: Stringer with Adele and Doug Morris. Below right, Stringer with Sony 
Music U.K. chief Jason Iley.

Sony Music boss Rob Stringer is never happier than when he’s in the back of some tiny club, checking out a fledgling artist. Indeed, his obsession with A&R has guided his career from the get-go.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was seven,” he told U.K. paper The Independent. “I can look bands in the eye, still to this day, and not have my purity questioned on that level.”

Stringer’s obsession began quite early. In 1976, the 14-year-old—dazzled by David Bowie and stirred by punk—started sneaking into shows at Friars Aylesbury, the coolest nightspot in his Buckinghamshire town. It was there he bore witness to the righteous racket of The Clash and was forever changed. Shows by Tom Petty, U2, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, XTC, The Stranglers and other breakouts of the era electrified him.

Stringer has been in the Sony system for a staggering 33 years—a hair longer than this wretched publication has existed. After graduating from Goldsmith’s College, he entered as an A&R and marketing trainee at the London outpost of CBS Records, while his older brother Howard, who would one day become the first Westerner to helm Sony Corp., was an exec at CBS News. His marketing mentor was Nick Rowe, but it was Tim Bowen—who came to the Blighty office from New York—who moved him into A&R. His grounding in these two skills, Stringer later told Music Week, was vital for the “mixture of creativity and common sense” it bestowed. “A&R is schizophrenic,” he mused, “and for me to have a bit of schizophrenia in my makeup at that time was good. In marketing you can maybe end up a bit too rigid, especially once you’ve been doing it a while. A&R is not that—it’s lonely, it’s subjective and it’s far from rigid.”

His tenure at CBS saw Stringer exercising both his creativity and good sense in inking George Michael, Paul Young, Manic Street Preachers, Alison Moyet, Deacon Blue and Bros. He was tapped as Managing Director of Epic U.K. in 1992, two years into Tommy Mottola’s reign at the mothership; by 2001 was Chairman of Sony U.K. That move opened his eyes to the costs of being the boss.

“Running a label was in my comfort zone,” he recalled to Music Week’s Dave Roberts, “so I, perhaps foolishly, thought running a company would be an extension of that. But it was very, very different and very, very difficult,” in large part because he was removed from what he loved best: the day-to-day work of signing and developing artists.

“I didn’t handle that as well as I’d have liked,” he continued, “because I didn’t expect it and I just didn’t think about it enough. I ended up spreading myself too thin and it was much harder than I thought it would be, that’s the honest truth. But that’s a good thing in a career: Why should it always be easy? It won’t, that’s for certain. And I learned as much in that period as I did in any other.”

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