A CONVERSATION WITH MICHELLE JUBELIRER

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 that 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?”

Read the entire interview here.

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