In a special feature package in the most recent issue of Billboard, Ed Christman and Andrew Hampp examined the leading labels heading into the crucial fourth quarter of 2013. Over the next week, Billboard.biz will excerpt portions from this special package featuring Q4's top releases, dark horses and extended executive interviews.
Today, a look at RCA Records' strategies as we head into this important time of year, as well as an extended interview with Tom Corson and Peter Edge, RCA's president/COO and CEO, respectively. Here they discuss their label's breakout year, releases by Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, their retail strategy and the adult Xmas market, "focusing on hip hop and rock." and much more.
“It’s the selling season,” Corson says of the fourth quarter. That should explain why his label is blanketing the pop marketplace with a bevy of new material for the next two-and-a-half months and beyond. In addition to recent releases from Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Miley Cyrus and Gavin DeGraw, there are major forthcoming albums from Britney Spears, R. Kelly, Daughtry and Chris Brown. There are also Christmas packages from Kelly Clarkson and two holiday-themed soundtracks for “The Best Man Holiday” and “Black Nativity.” Not to mention an “event single” from new signing Shakira, who will release her first album since 2010’s Sale el Sol in early 2014, and teaser EPs from developing acts Mikky Ekko and Foxes, both of whom have a head start on artist development, having appeared on Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits (Ekko on Rihanna’s “Stay” and Foxes on Zedd’s “Clarity”).
Early 2014 will see the return of Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Hudson, as well as a Greg Kurstin-helmed album from Sia. Guiding all of this year’s releases, however, is Corson’s tried-and-true axiom: “If you want to have success, you got to be riding a hit. We always lead with hits, because it’s very difficult to recover from something that’s not a hit, especially going into Christmas.” That hit-driven philosophy is reflected in the label’s market share: RCA’s track share for the first nine months of the year exceeds its album share by a score of 7.7% to 6.7%. RCA has already issued four of the top 11 digital track sellers this year, with P!nk’s “Just Give Me One More Reason” (featuring fun.’s Nate Ruess) the No. 3 seller.
Tom Corson, president/COO and Peter Edge, CEO; Joe Riccitelli, general manager – exec VP of promotion; Mark Pitts, president, urban music; CEO, Bystorm Entertainment; Keith Naftaly, exec VP - head of A&R; Dan Zucker, exec VP of business and legal affairs; John Fleckenstein, exec VP of international, Sony Music Entertainment; Rani Hancock, executive VP, A&R; David Wolter, senior VP, A&R; Mika El-Baz, exec VP of publicity; Aaron Borns, head of pop and rock marketing; Lisa Cambridge and Carolyn Williams, senior VPs of marketing
Q&A WITH TOM CORSON AND PETER EDGE
Tom Corson (left), Peter Edge and many Nippers in an elevator.
(Photo: Alex Dupeux)
Billboard:Does the fourth quarter still matter?
Tom Corson: It’s the selling season. Music is a big gift opportunity, and we’re a retail product at the end of the day. We have to have our best offers disposed to capitalize on that. But it’s also creatively driven -- Justin’s album came out in March and that’s the biggest-selling album of the year. It’s kind of like: "When the wine is ready, that’s when we’ll drink.”span
Peter Edge: We say that sometimes with comfort, it’s ready when it’s ready. We’re not gonna hold an album for seven months to wait until the fourth quarter.
Conversely, have you held albums that were ready to go to avoid the crowded fourth-quarter marketplace?
Corson: We did it with [A$AP] Rocky.
Edge: It wasn’t intended that way. We would’ve jammed it out for Christmas, but we found it was actually better being out of the fray.
So what are some ways you’re stacking the decks this year?
Edge: We have Britney the first week of December, which is one of the big ones coming, and the single is doing well right now. Then we have the Kelly Clarkson Christmas record, which we’re shipping a lot of records on.
Corson: It’s gonna be huge.
Edge: It’s an amazing album too. We have a great original song called “Underneath The Tree” where we’re going after that Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas” gold. And then we have another Kelly, R. Kelly, who’s made this amazing, mainstream R&B album called “Black Panties.” True to the whole R. Kelly historic subject matter, you can’t believe he’s really thinking some of these things, but it’s a really quality, great album. That’s coming December 10, and we’re already working three different tracks from that; a song called “Genius” that’s gonna be at adult R&B, and “My Story,” featuring 2 Chainz, which is building in the top 15 now at mainstream. It’s been several years since he’s had a mainstream urban hit. And then there’s a third song called “Cookies” -- it’s controversial, he takes it all the way there. We launched it virally [last week] and it’s already getting major reactions for the lyrics. It’s one of those out-of-the-box kinda songs that could be really big for him.
And then we’ll have a new song from Shakira that’s gonna be an event single, we plan on having out before the end of the year, and Jennifer Hudson just dropped her first single Chris Brown album called “X.”
Corson: There’s also a Daughtry album coming, which our first single from, “Waiting For Superman,” is exploding up the hot AC charts. Gavin DeGraw street[ed last week]. And we’re in the rock derby right now with Kings of Leon and Cage The Elephant.
Edge: We’re feeling really good about the Britney album. We’re not quite sure how the credits are gonna be, but Will.i.am’s really the main creative on the album -- but he won’t be the only one. He has a lot of great songs. There’s a song we feel fairly strong will be the second single called “Perfume.” It was written by Sia and could be a big career song. It’s more of a downtempo song, but people are amazed at the quality of her vocals on it. She sings it beautifully and it has a real sincerity to it. And it’s outstanding -- I think people are not only gonna be surprised but also see another side of Britney. There’s a lot more personal content on this album than we’ve seen from her in the past.
Who are some artists you’ll be setting up for 2014?
Edge: We’ve got Mikky Ekko, who had one of the biggest songs of the year with “Stay,” which he wrote and produced. And his album is outstanding -- definitely gonna be one of the big albums in 2014. There’s some great songs on there. He’s a great vocalist and a strong artist. We were fortunate enough to get involved with Betty Who before that viral clip launched her. We had worked on a deal prior to that coming out, and were able to close that deal. We think she’s a lot of fun and a great songwriter and a great pop star in the making.
Corson: In hip-hop and R&B, we have Kid In, who’s building very nicely and has a great track with Chris Brown called “Show Me.” He’s developing very nicely and should be one of those mainstream hip-hop breakouts.
A$AP Ferg has a new single “Shabba” with Rocky on there, and “Work” is another potential breakout. We’ve made a real point in focusing on hip-hop and rock here. Hip-hop we were low on in particular, and Rocky’s been the catalyst in getting us in that game. And rock, we needed to refresh that, and now we have Smallpools and New Politics, who just had a modern rock hit with “Harlem.” Smallpools is building with “Dreaming.” They’re on tour right now with Two Door Cinema Club and about to go out with Walk The Moon. So, we’re getting our foothold.
And we just signed Israel Houghton to RCA Inspiration. We’d be remiss in not mentioning he’s got a film and soundtrack coming this month.
Edge: We’re really building our gospel footprint. We just made a deal with Kirk Franklin. He’s got a group called The Wall that we’ll be releasing.
And the other thing is our affiliation with Kemosabe Records and Dr. Luke. It’s widely discussed, but Dr. Luke is an incredible hitmaker who’s got a couple big ones right now with Katy Perry, and he was the producer on “Wrecking Ball” [for Miley Cyrus], and the new Pitbull record. But Becky G is the first artist that’s coming to Kemosabe. She’s gotten a lot of attention from a CoverGirl campaign this summer and a single that’s out. We’re just building a story with her virally in the Latin community, and we think she’s a star and definitely will be the first hit artist at Kemosabe.
What’s a key insight you’ve learned about fourth quarter over the years in terms of buying behaviors?
Corson: This is the time period where you have to address the grown-up and adult market. Those people are in the stores, and when you sell music to that physical buyer, whether it’s online orders or brick-and-mortar, there’s an opportunity to move your physical goods and grow an artist. That could be an artist like Justin Timberlake, he will be a big gifting artist for that crowd, or a P!nk, or specifically something like a Kelly Clarkson Christmas record. That will appeal to her fans and also people who buy Christmas music, who aren’t generally in retail for music. You’ve got to have those opportunities in place and set them up properly.
One other axiom that’s true every year -- if you’re gonna put out a record, and you want to have success, you gotta be riding a hit. If you’re not, you’re creating a lot of risk you don’t want to create. We always lead with hits, because it’s very difficult to recover from something that’s not a hit going into Christmas.
You guys have placed a lot of bets on December, which can sometimes be seen as a missed opportunity for releases not out in time for Black Friday. What’s the secret sauce to those releases?
Edge: It’s a timing thing, but there’s a general lift in the marketplace at that time. As long as you can set it up, you can release it. What really is the tricky part about December is largely to do with international. We have global artists, and most global retail markets shut down after the first week of December -- that’s the last week you can be with a major release. It’s more of a consideration than anything else. But we’ve always been bullish about December.
What does market share mean to you?
Corson: We’re positioned and thrilled to be part of a battle -- if not for No. 1, a battle for No. 2. We’re a company that has been really only together for two years. We’ve come into our own now -- we broke Rocky and Miguel this year, Miley Cyrus to a new audience and we have a number of developing things. As you can hear from the excitement Peter has, we’re really looking forward to next year, and the next three to four years. We have to prove it every year. We love the idea of waking up everyday and looking at our report card. Even if it isn’t always great.