Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde (@bwerde) spoke to Atlantic Records Group Chairman/COO Julie Greenwald, Billboard's 2011 No. 1 Woman In Music about her beginnings in the record industry, her rise through the executive ranks, and how the business has changed through her almost two decade-long career in this exclusive video interview.
Part 1: Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde sat down with Julie Greenwald, Atlantic Records Group Chairman/COO, in a nine-part interview. In this first video, the two start with Greenwald's beginnings at Def Jam under the watchful - and frugal - eye of Lyor Cohen, and the importance of street promotion for a genre of music that hadn't quite broken into the mainstream as of yet. Greenwald's position as one of the only women in the business at the time excluded her from many of the "good old boys" clubs that were prevalent among executives, she said, which only made her hunger for more.
Part 2: From her beginnings as Cohen's assistant (with the arm of a sofa as her desk), Greenwald moved into a role running promotions for Def Jam, helping to use establish acts like Run DMC to help break some of the label's up and comers, such as EPMD and Redman. After moving to New York following a one year stint working for Teach For America in the New Orleans projects, she immersed herself in the vibrant club scene that sprung up at venues such as The Palladium, The Tunnel and The Grand in the mid-90s.
Part 3: In the early years, when rap music was facing such massive resitance in terms of its culture and lyrics, the staff at Def Jam only became more resolute in its determination to prove the doubters wrong. As Greenwald rose through the company's small, tight-knit, non-bureaucratic community, she considered getting other degrees in order to branch out in her career, only to wind up learning all she needed to know just by doing her job.
Part 4: After Def Jam was sold, Greenwald moved to running the rock and pop side of Island, transitioning from the urban music scene to the rock side of things, eventually signing and breaking Sum 41, Saliva, The Killers and Fall Out Boy and bringing Bon Jovi back into the mainstream with It's My Life. Through hard work and sheer commitment, she was able to transcend gender or racial barriers that might have kept her down otherwise.
Part 5: Cohen's decision to leave for Atlantic caught Greenwald while she was pregnant with her second child, and she soon followed him to the new company. The move came so late in her pregnancy that she actually had to reschedule her C-section in order to have enough time to set her affairs in order before taking time off for maternity leave.
Part 6: Despite her career's upward trajectory, Greenwald talked about some of the mistakes she made along the way, including green-lighting Sisqo's $1 million video for "Unleash The Dragon," which ultimately got shelved. She also discussed the issues she faced when trying to take Atlantic and Elektra and make them into one new, viable company, including creating a new culture, instituting a more open approach to discussing successes and problems, and paring down the roster from a bloated size to one that was much more manageable.
Part 7: After moving to Atlantic, Greenwald began working with the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, whose enormous influence and hands-on presence were the hallmarks of Atlantic's personal touch. Ertegun and Cohen were responsible for handing down significant lessons on how to succeed in the industry, such as the importance of creating an environment where people are not afraid to speak up, and a never-ending emphasis on the crucial role of A&R.
Part 8: Greenwald said that the aspects of Atlantic's business model that she's most proud of are its constant embracing of new technologies, hard work in using those technologies to help artists better connect with fans, and the familial vibe that permeates the label, which she referred to as "a large indie." She also touched on the "myth of Julie Greenwald," how important it is to her to be a role model to women in the music industry, and how many important women there are out there now doing innovative work to push the business forward.
Part 9: Greenwald is in a place at Atlantic where she can define her role to a degree, taking on more responsibility while maintaining a commitment to the label side rather than the corporate side of things. She also discussed some of her favorite women in the industry today, exuding positivity both in how they work together and in how her own career is progressing, even in this turbulent time for the music business.