Q4 Label Special: Atlantic's Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman on Navigating 'the Xmas Bum-Rush' (Q&A)

From left: Michael Kyser, Julie Greenwald, Mike Easterlin, Craig Kallman and David Saslow

Axel Dupeux

TOP RELEASES, YTD
Bruno Mars, "Unorthodox Jukebox"
2.1M TEA, 1.2M copies
No. 1, 44 weeks

fun., "Some Nights"
903,000 TEA, 572,000 copies
No. 3, 86 weeks

BIG Q4 RELEASES
James Blunt, "Moon Landing"
Release date: 11/5

B.o.B, "Underground Luxury"
Release date: 12/17

THE DARK HORSE
K. Michelle, "Rebellious Soul"
The album made a surprise No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 in August, and the artist just hit the top 10 at R&B radio with “V.S.O.P.” and is touring through the end of the year with another rising Atlantic act, Sevyn Streeter. “It should be a good Christmas for K. Michelle—she’s one of the best live performers out there, and she’ll win a lot of new fans on the road,” chairman/COO Julie Greenwald says.

ALSO WATCH
Rising alternative act Twenty One Pilots, and 2011 breakout Young the Giant returns in 2014.

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.

Q4 Label Special: RCA's Strategy, Q&A with Tom Corson and Peter Edge

Today, a look at Atlantic's Q4 strategy, its big releases, dark horses and key executives as well a Q&A with Atlantic co-chairs Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald who discuss if the fourth quarter really matters, how they're stacking the deck, Q1 set-ups, baby bands and navigating the "Christmas bum-rush." 

THE INSIGHT

At this time last year, Atlantic was gearing up for the December release of what would become its biggest seller of 2103, Bruno Mars’ "Unorthodox Jukebox." Three other 2012 releases -- fun.’s "Some Nights," Hunter Hayes’ self-titled debut and Ed Sheeran’s "+"  -- also had strong-enough staying power to rank among the label’s top five performers. That’s why chairman/COO Julie Greenwald and chairman/CEO Craig Kallman will be relying on a lot of albums between summer and early autumn to help them navigate what Greenwald dubs the “Christmas bum rush" -- K. Michelle, Wale, Icona Pop and Panic! at the Disco among them. “It’s an opportune time to consume a lot of music, whether you’re on Spotify, iTunes or YouTube,” she says, “and it’s great for television performances. We book a lot of TV in November and December, and try to make our artists as available as possible.”

Moving forward, Kallman is hot on Janelle Monáe’s just-released "Electric Lady" -- “we love this Miguel single [“Primetime”] and Janelle herself is a force that we’ll continue to grow in the coming year,” he says -- and more music from breakout Sheeran in 2014. “We have a nice glimpse into what he’s doing, and it’s going to be a pretty formidable record.”

One quarter, Greenwald says, “doesn’t break make or break our year. Christmas is great for us just because of the physical albums that are bought and the gift cards that are redeemed the week after, but we want to have as much awareness as possible for our artists all throughout the year.”

KEY EXECS

Craig Kallman chairman/CEO; Julie Greenwald, chairman/COO; David Saslow, GM; Mike Easterlin, GM, Fueled by Ramen/Roadrunner; Michael Kyser, president of black music, Atlantic; Jeff Castelaz, president, Elektra; Rick Ross, founder, Maybach Music Group; >Mike Carem, president of Worldwide A&R, Atlantic.

Fourth Quarter Label Special

Q&A WITH JULIE GREENWALD AND CRAIG KALLMAN

Does fourth quarter still matter?
Julie Greenwald: It’s interesting for us because our releases are so scheduled throughout the year that one quarter doesn’t necessarily make or break our year. But we just have a bunch of artists that are in play in terms of carryover from all of 2013 that you want to make sure you ramp up so we can have a great Christmas for them. Then we’re also launching a bunch of new singles because we have a lot of artists who are coming in 2014. Christmas is great for us in physical, gift cards and digital, and we obviously want to have as much artist awareness [as possible] for the consumers. But our last quarter was so fantastic, and every quarter is so spread out for us. One isn’t heavier than the other.

Craig Kallman: We like January, too. It’s a brand-new year, you’re coming in fresh releasing new music, and kids are redeeming their gift cards. Every quarter has its own merits as well. We definitely don’t frontload everything going into the season necessarily, particularly when launching a new act.

How are you stacking the decks this season?
Greenwald: We just put out a Panic! [At The Disco] album this week, which is doing really well. We have a B.o.B. album coming in December. James Blunt, we’re super excited with a global smash right now. And Straight No Chaser has another Christmas project coming this year. It’s very single-heavy for us, but not necessarily album heavy. You know artists -- they come when the music is done, and there are a lot of artists we feel good about it in the start of January and February to be the new thing in 2014 for us. A lot of our new acts we put out at the top of the year as opposed to being a part of the Christmas bum rush. We have a lot of acts that we’ll be marketing through Christmas like a Bruno, a Paramore, a K. Michele and a Wale. Also Icona Pop, Twenty One Pilots, Janelle [Monae] -- we just put out a bunch of albums at the end of summer that we’ll be marketing through Christmas. We also have Nickelback’s “Greatest Hits,” which is just all the hits, no originals. All killer no filler – it’s amazing too when you listen to it -- they have so many smash records.

Kallman: Our business is just closing on fourth quarter and rolling in, with Bruno’s next single “Gorilla” being a beautiful lead-in to Bruno doing the Super Bowl. That Q4/Q1 is gonna be another beautiful wave of Bruno with the Super Bowl, and we’re so excited about the video.

Who are some artists you’re setting up for first quarter?
Greenwald: B.o.B. has an album out in December and will be a major priority at the top of the year. Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco, Meek Mill, Christina Perri and Young the Giant will be our big ones in terms of the more established acts. And then we have a bunch of wonderful babies -- Birdy coming from the U.K., Stalley from Maybach Music Group, Max Frost, Sevyn Streeter, Ty Dollar$ -- all these babies we’re starting now for the top of the year. Sevyn is on tour with K Michelle, and it should be a good Christmas for K. Michelle. She’s one of the best live performers out there.

What are some key insights or marketing strategies you’ve developed during fourth quarter?
Greenwald: For us, more people are shopping and giving the gift of music -- whether you’re dropping a new album or trying to sell an album that came out six months ago. Our job is to make sure everything is positioned while our artists are out on the road. For us it’s a very busy time. It’s an opportune time to consume lot of music, whether you’re on Spotify, iTunes or you’re watching stuff on YouTube. People are on television performing. We book a lot of TV perforamances in November and December -- we definitely try and make our artists as available as possible. Flo Rida -- we’re doing a massive single on him, and he’ll be performing on TV in November. And he’ll do really well during the digital gift card season and all the people shopping online.

Kallman: We’re super proud of Paramore, too, with “Still Into You,” which has become such a fantastic success and that song is doing fabulously well. That’s just an album that continues to surprise us going into Q4.

Greenwald: And they’re on a headline tour playing arenas with a big single and an amazing album that came out this spring. So if there’s any proof that it’s about more than what comes out in the fourth quarter, that’s a great example.

Who are some dark horses on your roster breaking now that we might be talking a lot more about 12 months from now?
Greenwald: I think you’re gonna hear a lot about Twenty One Pilots. I feel really good about the development job on them. Max Frost, Birdy this wonderful artist from the UK. Ty Dollar$, who’s an R&B artist and magnificent writer whose pen game is no joke. He’s out there touring and touring. Stalley -- he’s from the MMG camp and just got the Lupe tour this fall. We have a bunch of dark horses. Craig and I keep saying to each other the set of babies is a really formidable list. James Young, Meg Myers, Sirah -- it’s really incredible.

Kallman: Young The Giant have a really important new album. We’re super excited about that one.

Greenwald: And the new Switchfoot album coming in January. They made a big record as well.

Kallman: The Switchfoot record is amazing. And Janlle Monae, we love this Miguel single and this duet is just beautiful. Janelle herself is a force so we’ll continue to grow the Janelle Monae brand. That will be really important for us coming into this new year. Ed Sheeran is coming back quick, so we’re really pumped for that. We have a nice glimpse into what he’s doing, just hearing the music unfold. It’s gonna be a pretty formidable record.

How are you feeling about the holiday marketplace overall?
Kallman: It really seems like every week there’s some really great conversations happening about each week’s releases. And so I’m very bullish -- people are obviously listening to a lot of music and paying attention. I think you’re in for an exciting run, honestly.

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