Rob Stringer: The 2014 Billboard Power 100
NO. 20

Rob Stringer

Chairman/CEO, Columbia Records

Created big buzz (and bigger sales) by taking the stealth approach with David Bowie, Daft Punk and Beyoncé

Rob Stringer knew he had finally built something at Columbia when he signed T.I. to a contract to release the rapper’s upcoming ninth album—not based on his own influence, but because of Pharrell Williams, who’s also prepping a new release for the label in 2014.

“He said to T.I., ‘Look, you should take a chance on these guys because they’re treating me the way I expect to be treated,’” Stringer recalls. “Pharrell has an understanding that he can come in here and talk about anything he wants, and I’m not sure I would have been able to do that a few years ago. The ability to have artists feel comfortable in that environment is exciting.”

Columbia’s roster found particular success in taking the stealth approach to unveiling highly anticipated new albums, from David Bowie’s surprise comeback "The Next Day" to the subtle viral marketing campaign for Daft Punk’s "Random Access Memories to Beyoncé’s out-of-nowhere self-titled set, the lattermost becoming the year’s eighth-biggest seller after just three weeks of sales. Those titles were highlights in a year that also had Billboard 200 chart-toppers from J. Cole and One Direction, the return of Nine Inch Nails and Celine Dion, and breakouts from Haim and Krewella.

“The challenge to be more innovative is to assess what you have,” Stringer says of letting artists do the bulk of their own marketing. “The most important thing is to get the art right. Part of the mantra for my staff has been to believe earlier.”

For the fourth year running, Columbia is No. 1 in total album share, though 2013 did mark the end of Columbia’s three-year streak as the No. 1 label in total albums plus track-equivalent albums market share, led by Adele’s diamond-selling 21 in 2011-12. Though Stringer looks forward to Adele’s upcoming third effort, currently being recorded, he values the shared trust he has with the singer even more.

“She gets 100 phone calls, and 99 of those are ‘no’s.’ Because of our relationship with her, we don’t presume that we can tell her what to do. But when we do have the opportunity to discuss, we’re taken seriously, as we were with ‘Skyfall.’ And that’s how I want our record label to be.”