Billboard's 53 International Power Players Revealed: XL's Richard Russell, the Man Who Signed Adele, Takes the Top Spot

As the $16 billion global music business sees its greatest growth in decades, these 53 executives are driving industry success outside the United States, led by the man who signed Adele, DJ-producer Richard Russell of XL Recordings.

 

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

Richard Russell, 46 | Owner, XL Recordings

"​She was just so incredibly real," says Russell, recalling his first impression of Adele, whom he first heard in 2006 on her MySpace page, then at an ­intimate gig in west London. "None of what she has achieved has been obvious, and she has gone way beyond everyone's ­expectations, including ours." Russell, who signed Adele to his XL Recordings, has been named Billboard's international music executive of the year, as the singer breaks sales records worldwide. Through XL, and its licensing partner Sony, Adele has sold 70 million-plus copies of her albums 1921 and 25., the latter two winners of the Grammy award for album of the year.

Sitting in his vinyl-packed recording studio, a stone's throw from the XL offices in north London's Ladbroke Grove neighborhood, Russell says XL's success emerged from a ­"specific, unique and unusual set of circumstances." He had been a DJ and a member of the early-1990s dance act Kicks Like a Mule when he came to XL, first doing A&R, then rising to lead the label (co-owned with Beggars Group).

The guiding ethos of XL has been to release only a handful of records each year "with the aim that they are all really good," says Russell. Its current roster, in addition to Adele, includes FKA twigs, Sampha, The xx (all three are signed to label imprint Young Turks), rising British rapper Nines and international superstar Radiohead.

"Anytime you get involved in something that's a big commitment, you've got to be selective," explains Russell. Large-scale expansion of XL in the wake of Adele's success "obviously would have ruined it."

Russell is increasingly in the studio nowadays, and has amassed production credits on albums by Bobby Womack, Gil Scott-Heron, Damon Albarn and XL act Ibeyi. "Making music, DJ'ing and the label have always been equally important parts of what I do," he says. "If you're going about things in the right way, good things occur."

 

RECORDING

​George Ash, 53 | President, Universal Music Asia Pacific

Frank Briegmann, 49 | President/CEO of Central Europe and Deutsche ­Grammophon, Universal Music Group

David Joseph, 48 | Chairman/CEO, Universal Music U.K. and Ireland

Jesus Lopez, 62 | Chairman/CEO, ­Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula

Dickon Stainer, 49 | President/CEO, Global Classics, Universal Music Group

Universal Music Group has the biggest share of the world's recorded-music business. In the United Kingdom, "we're changing the way labels work," says Joseph, who looks toward a future ­dominated by streaming. In Germany, Universal has the top market share in the charts, reports Briegmann. Lopez has scored across borders with the Spanish-language pop hit "Despacito" from Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee. In the classical realm, Stainer drew superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang back to UMG. Ash, whose company signed Lorde when she was 13, says, "To break an artist you love globally is the best feeling in the world."

 

Stu Bergen, 50 | CEO of international and global commercial services, Warner Music Group

Tim Fraser-Harding, 57 | President of global catalog, recorded music, WMG

Max Lousada, 43 | Chairman/CEO, Warner Music U.K.

Simon Robson, 46 | President, Warner Music Asia Pacific

Inigo Zabala, 57 | President, Warner Music Latin America and Iberia

While the global music business has had two years of ­consecutive growth, "at Warner Music Group we've had four," says Bergen. Developing homegrown hitmakers has paid off for WMG, with acts like Brazil's Anitta, Italy's Benji & Fede and China's Li Ronghao. In Asia, Robson's team also has promoted such American Warner artists as Charlie Puth, now "a superstar in the region." In Latin markets, Zabala has driven market share with new signings like Latin Grammy best new artist winner Manuel Medrano. Fraser-Harding, who's focused on catalog, oversaw eight deluxe reissues of Phil Collins' hit albums. And Lousada closed 2016 with Warner Music U.K.'s market share at an all-time high of 20.5 ­percent -- preceding his U.S. arrival as the new CEO of recorded music for WMG, effective Oct. 1.

 

Alexi Cory-Smith, 49 | President of ­repertoire and marketing, BMG U.K.

Peter Stack, 58 | Executive vp global ­catalog recordings, BMG

BMG is best known for music publishing, but "last year we ran our frontline ­recordings business with the ambition to match our publishing," says Cory-Smith. BMG had a U.K. No. 1 album in June 2016 with Rick Astley's 50. After buying Mute in 2012 and Sanctuary in 2013, BMG also is in the catalog business under Stack, who supervises reissues, catalog promotion to streaming services and new acquisitions. "The one thing we always try to do is engage with the artist," says Stack, citing Lovely Creatures, a career-spanning Nick Cave compilation put together with the artist's guidance.

 

Simon Cowell, 57 | Founder, Syco Entertainment

Through Syco Entertainment, his joint venture with Sony Music, Cowell has launched the careers of One Direction, Leona Lewis and Fifth Harmony, among others, while also creating TV hits with global impact -- all part of an entertainment empire worth an estimated $550 million. The Got Talent franchise (co-owned by Fremantle Media) is recognized by Guinness World Records as the most successful reality TV format, with shows in 58 territories worldwide.

 

Adam Granite, 43 | Executive vp ­international, Sony Music Entertainment

Denis Handlin, 66 | Chairman/CEO of ­Australia and New Zealand; president of Asia, SME

Jason Iley, 48 | Chairman/CEO, Sony Music U.K. and Ireland

Nicola Tuer, 51 | COO, Sony Music U.K. and Ireland

Afo Verde, 50 | Chairman/CEO of Latin America, Spain and Portugal, SME

Talent discovery is "at the heart of this business," says Handlin, whose A&R initiatives span the Asia-Pacific region. Sony's longest-serving senior executive worldwide (tenure: 47 years), Handlin scored six No. 1 albums in Australia in the past year and renewed a landmark digital distribution deal with Internet giant Tencent in China. Iley, teamed with Tuer, had eight of the 20 best-selling albums in the United Kingdom in 2016 and launched singer-songwriter Rag'n'Bone Man (1.3 million worldwide album sales to date). Under Verde, Sony is Latin America's top label, with new Spanish-language albums coming from Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Granite signed a global deal for Sony with Martin Garrix, who has achieved "more than a billion streams in less than a year," he says. "I can't wait to see what his future holds."

 

Michael Gudinski, 64 | Chairman, Mushroom Group of Companies

A leader in Australia's music industry for more than four decades, Gudinski is on another hot streak. In 2016, his Mushroom Group had No. 1 albums, scooped up ARIA Awards and had a publishing stake in D.D. Dumbo's Utopia Undefeated, named album of the year by the Triple J network. He also promoted recent sellout tours for Bruce Springsteen and Justin Bieber (who played his first stadium shows in Australia). But the past year's high point? Almandin, the horse Gudinski co-owns, claimed the prestigious Melbourne Cup -- which, he says, "I've been trying to win for the last 30 years."

 

DIGITAL​

Paul Firth, 46 | Head of Amazon Music U.K.

Firth in November introduced Amazon Music Unlimited, with 40 million tracks, to the competitive U.K. music streaming market only 16 months after sister service Prime Music arrived there. "That is no small feat," says Firth. Amazon hasn't revealed the total user base for its voice-activated Alexa ­interface and Echo speaker, but, says Firth, it has "brought a whole new group of people into streaming."

 

Nick Holmsten, 50 | VP content/global head of shows and editorial, Spotify

Holmsten is responsible for providing compelling content to more than 100 million Spotify users worldwide with initiatives like Rap Caviar. The playlist has more than 6 million followers in the United States, with a global rollout planned. "Its launch was a huge milestone for us because it shows music streaming isn't just audio," says Holmsten. "It can offer other ­experiences, like video."

 

Christophe Muller, 49 | Director of ­international music partnerships, YouTube/Google Play

After seven years of talks, Muller last fall helped reach a deal with Germany's ­collection society GEMA to drop ­restrictions that kept many music videos off YouTube in the country. Globally, says Muller, "YouTube has paid out over $1 ­billion to the music industry in the last 12 months from ­advertisements alone. That combination of free and paid is the new engine of growth."

 

Oliver Schusser | VP international ­content, Apple Music/iTunes

Schusser oversees Apple Music and iTunes in more than 150 markets ­outside the United States. He has brought Apple Music to Africa (ahead of Spotify) and to Ola, Uber's ­counterpart in India. And London's 10-year-old Apple Music Festival (formerly the iTunes Festival) in September boasted headliners Elton John, Chance the Rapper and others, with sets available on the streaming service.

 

LIVE

​Denis Desmond, 63 | Chairman, Live Nation U.K.

John Reid, 54 | President of concerts, Live Nation Europe

Alan Ridgeway, 50 | President of ­international and emerging markets, Live Nation

Live Nation presents an average of 70 ­concerts a day across 41 ­countries. Leading the team in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Desmond has one key ­unrealized goal: getting Garth Brooks to rebook his canceled 2014 Ireland shows. Reid is expanding Live Nation's footprint in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as the global reach of the Lollapalooza and Download festivals. India excites Ridgeway most. "We launched Electric Daisy Carnival in Delhi," he says. "A new generation of fans badly want us to bring more shows their way."

 

Steve Homer, 53 | Co-CEO, AEG Presents Europe

Thomas Miserendino, 67 | President/CEO, AEG Europe

Toby Leighton-Pope, 41 | Co-CEO, AEG Presents Europe

Homer and Leighton-Pope, named to their co-CEO roles in September, ­anticipate ­sellouts for AEG's six flagship British Summer Time shows in Hyde Park June 30-July 9, with headliners including Justin Bieber, Phil Collins and Tom Petty. Miserendino oversees venues including London's O2, which had a record ­number of multinight bookings in 2016 by acts including Bruno Mars (three shows), Take That (five) and Drake (eight).

 

Simon Moran, 51 | Managing director, SJM Concerts

Moran's SJM Concerts last summer produced the United Kingdom's two highest-­grossing concerts at the same time: four nights of Coldplay at London's Wembley Stadium June 15-18, grossing $29.7 million; and four nights of Stone Roses at Manchester's Eithad Stadium June 15-17, grossing $20 million. Scotland's T in the Park at Strathallan Castle this year has been postponed due to protected osprey nests at the site. ("The controversy is for the birds," quips Moran.)

 

Alejandro Soberón, 57 | Chairman/CEO, CIE/Ocesa

Soberón staged more than 3,000 shows in 2016, selling over 5 million tickets, with gross sales of $111.3 million reported to Billboard Boxscore. Last year, at Mexico City's Foro Sol stadium, Soberón presented The Rolling Stones for two nights in March, and Roger Waters for two shows in September. "It was inspiring," says Soberón, that "you can still play rock'n'roll at 70."

 

PUBLISHING

Mike McCormack, 54 | Managing ­director, Universal Music Publishing U.K.

McCormack, in the first year in his top U.K. role, signed writer Steve Mac, who has been topping charts ­"everywhere in the world." Mac co-wrote and co-­produced Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," which led the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks, and co-authored Clean Bandit's "Rockabye" (featuring Sean Paul and Anne Marie), a No. 9 Hot 100 hit. McCormack also helped bring One Direction's Harry Styles to Universal for publishing.

 

Guy Moot, 51 | U.K. managing director/president of worldwide creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

Moot, who was promoted to his global role in March, notes that Sony/ATV has had a share in the top-charting song in the United Kingdom for 50 consecutive weeks as a co-publisher for hits by Drake, Ed Sheeran, The Chainsmokers and others. He first worked for Sony/ATV chief Martin Bandier at record label SBK in the 1980s, noting: "He had cigars back then, too."

 

Ann Tausis, 49 | Managing director, ­neighboring rights, Kobalt

For Kobalt, Tausis oversees neighboring rights: the ­collection of payments for public performances of master recordings (a right that does not exist in the United States except for digital radio). With a $30 million deal in September 2016 for the music division services (music publishing and neighbouring rights) of Fintage House, an independent market leader in film and TV rights; Kobalt is expected to double the size of its neighboring-rights business.

 

Mike Smith, 51 | Managing director, Warner/Chappell U.K.

Smith began his career in music publishing but had spent the past dozen years guiding labels -- Columbia, Mercury, Virgin -- in the United Kingdom before joining Warner/Chappell in May 2016. His goal: to regain market leadership for the company. "There are only three major publishers," he says, "and to be given the opportunity to run one of them is tremendous."

 

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS

​Gabriel Abaroa Jr., 55 | President/CEO, The Latin Recording Academy

As head of The Latin Recording Academy, Abaroa oversees the Latin Grammy Awards, which generated 14 billion social media impressions in 2016. He also promotes the academy's philanthropy. Last year, it offered 23 college scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $200,000 to students focused on music and the music business. Many young artists, he says, "need someone to take risks with them."

 

Eric Baptiste, 56 | CEO, SOCAN

Baptiste reported record results for the Canadian performing rights organization for 2016 with collections of Canadian $330 million ($244.8 ­million). He also has guided SOCAN's acquisition of the U.S. copyright-administration companies Audiam and MediaNet, which "provide us with ­technology and data that very few [PROs] around the world match."

 

Charles Caldas, 53 | CEO, Merlin

Caldas' leadership of Merlin has allowed the digital rights agency to emerge as a global force: It represents almost 800 companies comprising independent labels from 51 countries, and distributed more than $300 million to its members in the past year. "The streaming economy is invaluable for consumers," says Caldas, "because they have access to more great music -- from both ­independents and majors."

 

Jean-Michel Jarre, 68 President, CISAC

Since 2013, Jarre, a pioneering electronic music superstar, has advocated for creators' rights at CISAC, the Paris-based global association of royalty-collecting societies. CISAC's members (which include societies not related to music) collect almost $10 billion a year in revenue. "Music never generated so much money, and the creators have never had so little," says Jarre, who believes artists need to bring attention to the issue. "Our job is to make noise -- and we're good at making noise."

 

Frances Moore | CEO, IFPI

While IFPI reported a record 5.9 percent annual increase in global music revenue, Moore is focused on the "value gap" -- the laws that, she says, allow YouTube and other services to pay less for music than services like Spotify. "What we achieved last year was a recognition of the value gap worldwide, but also at the European Union [parliament] level," says Moore. "It's a battle, but we're optimistic."

 

Alison Wenham, 63 | Chairman/CEO, Worldwide Independent Network

Under Wenham, WIN in June 2016 released a groundbreaking report that showed independent music accounts for 37.6 percent of the global music market by ownership. The organization's focus is on copyright issues like the value gap, but also ensuring that big digital music platforms play fair with smaller labels.

 

AGENCIES

Brian Ahern, 38 | Brian Cohen, 38 | Tony Goldring, 50 | Rob Markus, 49 | Partners/music agents, William Morris Endeavor

The Weeknd headlining Lollapalooza in South America. Drake selling out eight shows at London's O2 Arena. These recent accomplishments of WME's ­international brain trust -- and the move of Los Angeles-based Ahern to co-run WME's London's music ­department -- are a sign of the agency's global commitment. The firm now has some 30 ­international booking agents. "As the business becomes even more global," says Ahern, "it's exciting to be at the ­forefront of WME's international strategy."

 

Emma Banks | Chris Dalston, 56 | Mike Greek, 49 | Marlene Tsuchii | Co-heads of ­international, Creative Artists Agency

With Banks and Greek in London and married couple Dalston and Tsuchii in Los Angeles, this foursome shares a corporate title and mission. They've led CAA's international business to 10 ­percent growth in 2016 with nearly 7,800 shows, and more than $271 million in ticket sales, thanks to tours through arenas and stadiums by Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. Says CAA head of music Rob Light, "Their blend of expertise, deep commitment to the artists we represent, collaborative approach and love of music has been the fuel behind our double-digit growth year over year."

 

Greg Bestick, 65 | COO, Paradigm Talent Agency

Paradigm has "a ­comprehensive strategy for serving artists out of the U.K.," says Bestick. The agency has a partnership with Coda Music Agency in London, and a joint venture with the United Kingdom's International Talent Group that allows Coda artists to tap ITG's branding and media services. In April, Paradigm and investment partner Yucaipa Companies, announced a joint venture in the United Kingdom with X-Ray Touring, whose international roster includes Coldplay, Chance the Rapper, Eminem, Green Day and Blur.

 

Scott Mantell, 38 | Head of ­international touring, ICM Partners

With ICM artists playing 200-plus festivals last year, many having developed from club shows to arenas, Mantell takes particular satisfaction in J. Cole's rise to headlining status at London's Wireless Festival in 2016. "You look back to talking to J. Cole a few years ago at 3 a.m. about growing a touring career," says Mantell. "I watched that path come to light."

 

Neil Warnock, 71 | Head of worldwide music, United Talent Agency

Warnock once worked for the agency set up by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. "Then, you did a world tour in a maximum of seven months," he says. "Now, you're out for two-and-a-half years." He's excited now by the ­international opportunities created by United Talent Agency's integration of The Agency Group. "Whether it's film, ­branding, reality TV, synchs or whatever, we have experts in all those areas."

 

Contributors: Karen Bliss, Lars Brandle, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Adrienne Gaffney, Andy Gensler, Juliana Koranteng, Robert Levine, Paula Parisi, Alex Pham, Richard Smirke, Colin Stutz