MICHELLE JUBELIRER:
THE HITS INTERVIEW


Capitol Music Group Chair/CEO Michelle Jubelirer has been with the company since it was launched a decade ago in the wake of UMG's EMI acquisition. She was tapped for the top post in late 2021 and has since been focused on reshaping the label for a rapidly evolving ecosystem.

Having had one of the true monsters of 2022 with Sam Smith’s record-breaking, Grammy-winning “Unholy” f/Kim Petras (680m U.S. streams to date), she's currently celebrating breakthroughs by Ice Spice (1.75b global streams, 825m U.S.) and Toosii (nearly 300m global streams and growing), not to mention a very promising start by the multifaceted Doechii—and she has plenty of other irons in the fire.

Jubelirer keeps up a brisk pace, whether she's jumping from meeting to meeting or hiking up a mountain with one of her artists. We did our best not to fall behind.

When you and I first sat down for an interview almost 10 years ago, you talked about having been brought in by Steve Barnett and how the shaping of the company, which you were intimately involved in as the first hire, was like moving a mountain.
I would say it's probably about moving many mountains this time, as opposed to just one. Having been at this company for 10 years, knowing what we had been doing right and what we had been doing wrong, a lot of my focus has been about ensuring that there was stability—keeping and elevating the right team members and bringing in new and innovative people. But there was a plethora of things that came at us over the past 14 months that were unanticipated, and I’m so grateful for the unwavering support we’ve received from Lucian, Boyd [Muir], Jeff [Harleston], Will [Tanous] and Michele Anthony.

Let’s talk about how you've been expanding the reach of the company with some of these new deals, the most recent of which is the Wave Group deal.
It’s undeniable that Latin music is bigger than it’s ever been before. In order to be a viable major label, you need to be in every genre of music, and Latin music is one of the most exciting genres. It really is pop music today. [President of A&R] Jeremy Vuernick and [Director of A&R] Sergio Vega brought Angelo Torres and Caleb Calloway, the owners of The Wave Music Group, in to meet with us, and I was incredibly impressed by their expertise and by the artists they’ve signed there. We had been looking for what we defined as the perfect partner in the Latin space, and when we met them and their artists, it was clear that they were the right partners for us. Young Miko, the first artist we released via this partnership, is going to take the world by storm. Just wait.

It’s interesting to see how this music and Korean-language music has this gigantic global audience, much the way Anglophone pop music has had in the non-English-speaking world, and how music, when it's strong enough, can completely vault over that language barrier.
Absolutely. I've seen countless shows along the way, but one of the best shows I've ever seen was ROSALÍA at Coachella this year. I’m fully, and sadly, aware that she isn’t a Capitol Music Group artist, but I want every one of our artists, especially female artists, to study that show. There is no detail she missed—right down to her choice of [matching] water bottles.

It's a rapidly changing world. Can you say a bit, from the label’s perspective, about how the thinking around deals has changed, not only in terms of what you decide to sign, but also what you decide to re-up?
We're in a place in the business where artist deals have become incredibly aggressive in virtually every single aspect. My background was as an artists’ attorney, and I have very strong views on this. Artists should absolutely negotiate and receive what they deserve.

Simultaneously, there has to be a true partnership among labels, artists and managers that’s sustainable. We’re in a day and age where artists’ advocates, in my view, often over-negotiate deals and create a problematic space where you're hamstringing an artist, especially a new artist, from getting real development. If the deal is onerous, the stakes are incredibly high, such that if it doesn't work quickly, then ultimately labels will have to walk away or reevaluate. That’s certainly not in the best long-term interest of the artist’s career or life.

And despite the fact that I've been at Capitol Music Group for 10 years, I still see myself as a fierce artist advocate. That is the aperture through which I look at everything I do. I always ask myself and others, “Is this in the best interest of our artist and their long-term career?” I've promised myself that if my attitude towards that ever changed, it would be time for me to leave the major-label system. Because I refuse to change who I am and why I do what I do. I love artists and I love artistry. My partner [Buckcherry founding member Keith Nelson] is a musician, producer and songwriter who was in a rock band for more than 20 years, so in my home life as well, I’m keenly aware of what artists are going through.

At the same time, so many things have shifted during your 10 years at Capitol, one of which is that anyone who can look at data can get a much more transparent picture of where an artist is, what they're really accomplishing.
Right. Now we can find data about any and every aspect of an artist and their fan base when it comes to signing them or evaluating the strategy for the release of their album. I mean, we're drowning in data. Data is incredibly informative, and it would be absurd not to utilize that in your toolbox. But, especially when it comes to signing or sticking with an artist, ultimately, passion and gut are THE deciding factors for me. I will never be comfortable signing an artist purely based on data.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the streaming landscape, because that has changed so much. Due to the insatiable maw of the DSP universe, artists often feel compelled to put out enormous amounts of content. How do you advise them in this regard?
There's no one-size-fits-all philosophy for any artist; every artist is different with respect to their level and cadence of creativity. But there's no question that we live in a world where people have short attention spans. People move on incredibly quickly. And to your point, the insatiable appetite is never quenched. So it’s virtually impossible for an artist today to put out an album and then go on a two-year tour without putting out any new music. That is a bygone era, for the most part.

For artists who are most comfortable in that [previous] cadence, you try and encourage them to put out features in that time frame or find a soundtrack that works for them—to find alternatives. At the other end of the spectrum, you have artists like Ice Spice, arguably one of the biggest breakouts of the year, who is very much in the cadence of today: She makes music quickly and wants to put it out quickly. She knows exactly who she is and is aggressive about taking advantage of the moment. YoungBoy NBA is another important artist who is completely in command of releasing music at a modern pace. He’s a tremendous signing for Motown, and [Vice President of A&R] Kenoe Jordan deserves the credit for bringing YoungBoy to us.

The audience is very attuned, and they want new music all the time. It goes back to me being an artist advocate. I firmly believe, and the data has shown this, that it's harder now than it ever was to break new artists. So it's of critical importance that every single member of the artist’s team works in concert, like a beautifully crafted orchestra. The artist is ultimately in charge, but management, the record company, the publisher, the agent and anyone else on the team must work together side by side. We all need to collaborate, trust each other and be willing to have the hard conversations.

Marketing today is all about ideas. You cannot spend or force your way to a hit. It needs to be a great song driven by ideas and artist engagement. There's probably never been a harder time to be an artist, even though it’s the easiest time to get your music into the world. We, as Capitol Music Group, always ask ourselves the critical question, “How are we adding value?”

Yes, it's completely frictionless now, from the song idea to the upload.
Anyone can get their music out there, but it's the hardest time to be an artist and break through, because they're required to do so many things that in the past artists didn't have to do. They have to be omnipresent, and it's exhausting. I feel for them.

Can you provide examples of what you consider particularly effective ideas for marketing?
I would say you have to lean into what you think is going to be part of the cultural zeitgeist. The Ice Spice campaign was one that worked, built around her songs. But that was coupled with the fact that she is really becoming the princess of hip-hop. And she has a very unique, identifiable look and a sound that is clearly her own. Our team, especially the digital team, was able to come up with unique campaigns to tie around that.

When it comes to deciding who we're going to work with, I have a very clear vision and thankfully have put together a team that’s on the same page. For example, even before I got this gig, I had been hearing rumblings about an artist named Doechii. Jody Gerson had signed her for publishing, and she said, “You should definitely meet with her.” I purposely set a meeting with Doechii and [TDE founder] Top [Dawg] for the week I got the job.

It was the first meeting I took, and I brought around 15 people from the company with me. I knew I had to work with her; I'd done my research. The music was phenomenal. She exuded a star quality that I've seen—in the 20-plus years I've been doing this—a handful of times. And Top and TDE are the kind of partners you dream of. There was no way I was not signing her. She will be a star for the ages. Unbeknownst to me at the time, since I wasn’t in my new role yet, Doechii had also been on [CMG VP of A&R] Chris Turner’s radar. We and our entire team ultimately came together to sign her.

Doechii's song “What It Is (Block Boy)” is a rare one that continues to grow after release. We have albums’ worth of songs. We’re just deciding what the right strategy is, because the blessing with her is that she can navigate multiple genres. She raps, she sings and she definitely can't be put in a box. We have huge pop songs, but neither TDE nor us want to start there.

While we’re at it, can you say a word or two about Kodak Black?
Sure. Capitol Music Group historically had Motown, and we had focused hip-hop and R&B signings go through that label. As a result, Capitol had an anemic roster in those areas. Then, when aspects of Motown were made independent of Capitol Music Group, although we continued to provide many services to them, it was put in a more tertiary position vis-à-vis Capitol and it became abundantly clear how bad our roster situation was. When I got this job, I knew that needed to be fixed immediately. Hip-hop and R&B are pop music, and we needed to identify the right artist to fill what was a real void at Capitol. Kodak was coming out of his deal—he still has one album left at Atlantic—and he is a rap behemoth and a massive personality. We were able to close him while simultaneously closing a deal for Orlando Wharton, an executive who originally discovered Kodak.

Say a bit more about what’s next with Motown.
There is no question that we need to find a leader befitting the Motown brand and legacy. It is important to me and to Motown. But in the meantime, the Capitol Music Group team has always worked incredibly closely with Motown. The artists are a part of Capitol Music Group and have a long history with it, and Coach and P at Quality Control do, too. It's a critical partnership. But for right now, we are all just one big family.

And what about Gordan Dillard?
Gordan is a beloved executive who also manages one of the biggest pop stars today. There’s no shortage of respect for him and what he's been able to accomplish with Doja Cat. He has been quite helpful working alongside our managers in artist development. To have somebody with that level of experience in the building only benefits our artists.

And the other execs.
It’s vital to get a variety of different perspectives. With respect to the team, I wanted to ensure that there was stability, trust, communication and transparency while bringing fresh perspective in and filling the gaps at the company. That was a combination of Orlando, Gordan and Dimplez [Ijeoma], who was brought in as our co-head of digital with Nick Osborne. I’d worked with her many years ago, when she was at Motown. She subsequently left and started her own digital marketing agency, and I knew I wanted her back if I ever got this job.

When Arjun [Pulijal], who used to be our head of marketing, was elevated to president, it was abundantly clear that we needed two new heads of marketing. So we brought someone in who has hip-hop and R&B expertise and someone who has more of a background in the pop and alternative spaces. Those were Ray Alba and Nathan Sheppard.

Who else is in the inner circle?
Arjun is my right hand, and he has more marketing ideas than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s a creative-marketing machine! He definitely brings an artist-first mentality to his role, and his understanding of every layer of our company is so crucial to how we function. And he’s got great hair. And then you have Jeremy Vuernick, who has an unparalleled knowledge of music and such strong connections in the creative communities. He’s stepped into this A&R role and is helping lead us into the new era of Capitol Music Group—with early successes in multiple genres where we weren’t previously in the game.

And then of course you have our valued stalwarts: President of Promotion Greg Marella, Head of Media Strategy & Relations Ambrosia Healy, our CFO, Geoff Harris, our head of business affairs, Martha Braithwaite, our EVP of commercial, Mike Sherwood, our SVP of global marketing and world traveler Kieran Thurgood, our heads of creative, Targa Sahyoun and Nick Steinhardt, and our head of creative sync licensing, Jenny Swiatowy.

And then there are the people who brilliantly run our more bespoke labels, be it Toby Andrews at Astralwerks, Don Was at Blue Note or Brad O'Donnell and Hudson Plachy at Capitol Christian Music Group. I also have to mention that 10K Projects is an incredibly important and longstanding partner. It was a real team effort to sign Ice Spice, with Jeremy, [10K chief] Elliot Grainge, [10K co-Presidents] Zach Friedman and Tony Talamo and me working closely to make it happen.

Can you walk me through what might be a typical day for you?
At work or at home? Or both?

What’s the difference?
Nowadays there's no separation. For me, it depends. Fridays are a little bit different, and I'll get to that in a minute. Generally, I wake up at 5am—I'm a morning person. I work out, whether it’s boxing, lifting weights or hiking. Then I have a dedicated window that I spend with my son in the morning, because that's the only time I'm guaranteed to see him. So I'm usually purely focused on him until he gets out the door at 8am, and I’m trying desperately not to pick up the phone or look at my emails. But it's not easy as the phone, emails and texts never stop.

Then I usually have a day that's peppered with meetings, putting out fires, maybe a dinner or show. Those meetings could be about a potential new artist, marketing strategies or working to recruit new talent to join the team.

Do you have a window for listening to music?
Yeah, I generally listen when I'm hiking. And then sometimes, if I get a break in the day, a group of us will congregate in my office and listen together.

We have a very open-door plan. I go into the office Monday through Thursday (Fridays if I’m not with an artist or traveling for work). People are constantly walking in. I don't believe in hierarchy—it’s complete bullshit. I do, however, believe in transparency and communication. Every single person at the company has a voice, regardless of title. I will take any idea. In some of our bigger meetings, I'll state an idea I know is not particularly good to encourage people to share their ideas and come up with something better.

I’ve never loved endless fancy dinners; they just aren’t my thing. So during the pandemic, I started going on hikes with artists—some of which have been very long.

Are these hikes difficult?
Yes. With a few artists, I've gone on 10-mile hikes. Sometimes they’ll complain, and I'll be, like, “You're 30 years younger than me. Step it up!”

There is a level of connection you can get with someone while hiking—it creates a different dynamic. And for some female artists, there's a freedom in not having to look a certain way when we're just going out there—trucker hats and no makeup. My goal is to do it every single Friday.

I jokingly tell artists when they sign with us that it’s a requirement that they go hiking with me. It’s a great way to bond and get to know each other on a more human level.

Speaking of long treks, let's get into your own story.
OK, if we must. I was born in Pittsburgh. My dad died unexpectedly when I was three years old. I was incredibly close to my mother, and still am. She is a bold, strong, kind boss and the best grandmother in the world. She remarried when I was in fourth grade, and we moved to the booming metropolis of Altoona.

I was pretty fucking miserable. I knew from a very young age that I didn't want to rely on a man for financial stability. My father was a criminal-defense attorney. I didn't want to be an attorney long-term, but I knew it would give me financial stability. I figured that out in junior high school. My mom divorced. I graduated high school in Altoona and decided that I wanted to go experience some other place. I dreamed of living in New York City my whole life, but I decided that I wanted to experience a very different kind of place than where I thought I would live my life. So I went to college at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Then I went to law school in New York City at Fordham. I wanted to go straight into the music business, but I didn't know anyone to help get my foot in the door. Oh, and I graduated with $200,000 of debt.

When you were finding your own identity, dealing with all the Sturm und Drang of being in high school, what music was rocking your world?
I was kind of all over the place, but when I was young, I was writing letters to Michael Jackson. I was obsessed with him and had the red-and-black Bad coat—mine was pleather—and I would wear the glove. It was ridiculous. And then it was a combination of Michael Jackson and Prince. I'll never forget when I saw Purple Rain at a sleepover party. My mom, who was very liberal, was, like, “How did these parents not check with me before they showed it to you? That's a little adult.” I was and am a huge Prince fan.

When I was growing up, my mom was constantly listening to the Bee Gees, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty and Simon & Garfunkel. Then I was exposed to KISS and that evolved into my becoming a massive Guns N’ Roses fan. Late high school/early college, I was all about Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But I always went back to what my mom listened to. During her tumultuous marriage to my stepfather, music was my sanctuary. It was my safe space, where I escaped.

Do you remember when you first understood that there was a music business and that you wanted to be part of it?
No. I used to read the liner notes on records, and it was crystal clear that I didn't have any musical talent. I always thought to myself, There's going to be some way I'm involved with music. I had no idea what it was gonna be, but I knew first I had to make money and support myself. Hence law school. I got a job at the best firm I could find: a very well-respected firm called Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. But I knew I had to find a way into music at some point.

Before you found your way there, what kind of law were you practicing?
At first, while I was in law school, I was going to be a criminal-defense attorney. I had an internship at the Manhattan D.A.'s office; I was idealistic and believed in justice. Then I realized the attorneys just wanted to win, and they didn't really care about justice or that people’s lives were at stake. That didn't work for me at all.

By the time I took an entertainment-law course, in my second year of law school, I realized that's what I wanted.

I had done my research and knew I wanted a job at Sony Music. I knew there were people that had gone on to run record labels who came from the Sony Music legal department, Clive Davis being just one of them. Sony Music, at the time, only hired from a select number of white-shoe law firms, one of which was Simpson Thacher. After something like eight interviews—an absurd number—I got a job at Sony Music as a lawyer. And I couldn't stand it.

Why not?
Well, after working on multibillion-dollar mergers, having a trusting relationship and getting a lot of latitude at a very young age, all of which I’d had at Simpson—I didn't get very much latitude at Sony. I felt like a cog in a wheel.

I realized I was an artist person, not a record-company person. I didn’t like negotiating against artists’ attorneys. I agreed with their arguments, not the arguments I was making. After a year and a half there, the Sony BMG merger was about to take place. And I knew, based on being an M&A attorney, that mergers of equals don't work and this was going to be a catastrophe; you had two very different companies, culturally, that were going to clash, and I needed to get outta there.

I had been in New York for 10 years and wanted to try L.A., so I called all of the artists’ attorneys I'd negotiated against in L.A., most of whom will not be named, and met with all of them. Peter Paterno [at what is now King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP] was one of the smartest ones, and he impressed me. I said to him, “I will come here. I will service your clients for one year, and then I'm gonna have all my own clients.” And he's, like, “Sure! You have no idea what you're talking about.” And it worked! M.I.A. was my first client, and I built a client base of some of the best artists in the business. And a lot of them didn't have managers or cycled through managers, so I got to experience a lot more than being an attorney. I was lucky enough to have clients like M.I.A., Frank Ocean, Odd Future, Pharrell, Kesha, Swedish House Mafia, Damien Marley, Stephen Marley, Nas, Slipknot and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I was a partner there, and I did that for about eight and a half years.

It seems like that experience, more than anything else, formed your sensibility.
Absolutely. I loved representing artists. I loved my relationships with them and I truly felt that I was their first line of defense. I was incredibly protective of them. But ultimately, I always wanted to run a record label. In my mind, there would be nothing better than a fierce artist advocate doing just that—with the ability to have a much larger impact on the business, coming from the right place. Maybe it was idealistic, but I still hold myself to that standard.

Then Steve Barnett reached out to me. I knew him through my clients The Gossip and The Neighbourhood, and I had negotiated the Odd Future deal with him when he was at Sony. In his words, I “pantsed him” in the deal. And I got to know him very well through that. He had a mutual manager friend reach out to me and say, “Do you want to work at a record company at a high level?” I said "Yes," that I would be open to the right opportunity. And then Steve called me and said, “I'm looking for a right hand and you would be my first hire.”

That was an opportunity to build something from the ground up, even though it was a storied brand.
Correct. It was being completely reinvented. And it was a chance to learn from someone who had been doing it for a long time.

Sort of the grad school of label jobs.
Absolutely.

What were the big revelations as you came into it?
I went into that job with a very questioning, critical view of major labels. I went in thinking everything needs to be ripped up, and these people don't add the value that they think they add. And very soon thereafter, I realized that people at major labels are deeply passionate, love music, are smart and innovative—not everyone, obviously, but a great many of them add incredible value. A lot of these people could do something else with their lives and make far more money, but they love art and music. This is when I knew with absolute certainty that there had to be a better way to create connectivity between artists and the label team, because I certainly didn't see it when I was on the outside.

What was missing in terms of that connectivity?
Ultimately, everything in life is about relationships and people. I think it's super-important for people to spend time together, and when you have an artist who is kept out of interfacing with their label or their publisher or their agent, it's going to create a lack of trust and collaboration.

Was that sense of isolation exacerbated by the pandemic?
I worked with artists when I was a lawyer who wanted nothing to do with any of the people they work with. It wasn’t productive. In some ways the pandemic made things easier. You could get on a Zoom and didn't have to travel. There's a level of connectivity that looking at someone provides, whether it's in person or on Zoom or FaceTime.

But there’s nothing like hanging out with someone. It just can't be replicated. Because, ultimately, we all just want to be inspired.

THE VIEW FROM
HITS LIST
Time to get the hell outta Dodge. (7/22a)
NEAR TRUTHS: MIDYEAR MOMENTUM
The score at the half (7/19a)
SONG REVENUE:
ZACH ATTACK
Hat trick (7/19a)
EMINEM'S STREAK AT #1: LET'S DO THE NUMBERS
He's a one-man dynasty. (7/22a)
GEFFEN ON ROSENBLATT: "A BRILLIANT BUSINESS PARTNER"
One titan salutes another. (7/19a)
THE GRAMMY SHORT LIST
Who's already a lock?
COUNTRY'S NEWEST DISRUPTOR
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
AI IS ALREADY EATING YOUR LUNCH
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
INDIE DISTRIBUTION'S RISE TO GLORY
The discovery engine is revving higher.
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