Corner Office: Republic Records Honchos Monte & Avery Lipman Discuss Jennifer Lawrence's 'Hunger Games' Smash and Defend 'The Voice'

Adam Krause
Monte and Avery Lipman photographed Dec. 8, 2014 at Republic's New York headquarters.

The 2014 market-share leaders on maintaining dominance, defending 'The Voice' and finding tomorrow's breakout: "You can't rush hits."

Among the many plaques lining the walls of Republic Records chairman/CEO Monte Lipman’s midtown Manhattan office, the one marking his 19-year-old label’s first 10 million albums sold (certified in 2000) is perhaps most illustrative. Once-buzzing acts such as Godsmack, Eiffel 65, Chumbawamba and The Bloodhound Gang are name-checked on the faded award, with little connecting the projects other than each went platinum off of one big hit.

Recalls Monte of that pre-Napster era, “It was almost like being out on a boat, reaching over and grabbing the fish. It felt easy and it was fun. Every day, you’d come in and think, ‘My goodness, I want to catch a whale today.’ ”

In 2014’s marketplace, of course, casting for hits is far more challenging, but the Lipmans -- Monte, 50, and his brother Avery, 48, president/COO of Republic -- have managed to reel in more than their fair share. For the second year in a row, Republic finishes as the No. 1 label in market share -- 8.5 percent to be exact -- encompassing albums, downloads and track-equivalent album sales, according to Nielsen Music.

The Lipman brothers certainly have a knack for spotting and developing talent, but partners and joint ventures have played no small role in helping Republic achieve its pole position. Of its market-share slice, 3.7 percent comes from Republic Records proper and Lava (Ariana Grande, Lorde, Enrique Iglesias), while Island (Nick Jonas, Tove Lo, Fall Out Boy) reports 1.9 percent (splitting from Def Jam for the first time); Big Machine (Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw) is good for 1.4 percent; and Cash Money (Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne) holds 0.75 percent. Republic Nashville (Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry) and select releases on Dot Records and Caroline Distribution account for the rest. On tap for 2015: the next release from the Zac Brown Band, the product of a collaboration between fashion designer John Varvatos and Big Machine.

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Making up Republic’s inner circle is an executive team that includes seasoned radio man and executive vp Charlie Walk, A&R veterans Rob Stevenson and Wendy Goldstein, West Coast general manager Tom Mackay and former VH1 executive Rick Krim, newly appointed as the label’s first executive vp artist development.

Though the brothers live in different suburbs of New York -- Monte with his wife, daughter and two sons in Bedford; Avery with his wife, son and daughter in Sands Point -- they still log many hours in the city, both at the office and key events including Republic’s annual holiday party, which in 2013 hosted Grande and Iglesias months before their respective smashes “Problem” and “Bailando” hit the airwaves. The Lipmans are a little more cautious when it comes to predicting 2015’s breakouts, however.

“You can’t rush hits,” says Avery. “The nuances are really subtle in what we do.”

Republic finishes at No. 1 in market share for the second year in a row, aided by your many partners. How do you centralize such a large number of joint ventures and third parties?

Monte Lipman: I consider myself the head coach whose job is to keep this winning team intact. I keep everybody focused and motivated. Along the way, you have to always make adjustments and prepare and deal with any variables that come your way. And with that, I’m very confident -- based on our release schedule, our momentum, the types of artists and executives we’re working with -- in anticipating a repeat in 2015. That is the goal.

Avery Lipman: And obviously we had great carry-over coming in from last year -- the core company along with our international partners -- [which materialized itself in projects] like Lorde, who had a great year, and “Bang Bang,” Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj.

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Two of your biggest joint ventures, Lava and Big Machine, both have contracts with Universal Music Group that expire imminently -- Big Machine this month, Lava in April. What outcome do you hope to achieve from their respective negotiations?

Monte: In regards to Lava, we are very proud of our accomplishments together and it will be interesting to see what lies ahead. With [Big Machine president/CEO] Scott [Borchetta], it comes as no surprise that I can’t comment on a potential sale. I love Scott, I support Scott -- he’s a true record man. We have an unbeaten track record, and we have done things that no one else has done before. The dynamic of New York and Nashville, you can’t show me one other company in over 10 years, if not longer, that has had the [same] kind of track record. And we also have had crossover into the pop marketplace. That’s a valuable dynamic that I don’t want to see compromised.

Some of your competitors consider your A&R approach “mezzanine financing,” or signing acts based on high social-media engagement that doesn’t always translate to actual hits. How do you respond to that?

Monte: Artists will come into my office and say, “I just came from another label and they said you’re research guys, you’re data guys.” I don’t know what that means. Everybody who says that is being naive. To me, what I think about is listening to the universe. I don’t care if it’s Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” which had 40 million views before we sold it, because it was still a creative leap of faith, or James Bay, who’s an artist Ben Adelson and Rob Stevenson signed. He just won the BBC Critics’ Choice Award. That’s a leap of faith, too.

Is there a similar challenge with winners from The Voice, whose albums you also release, and this idea that a built-in audience should automatically convert to sales?

Monte: We take tremendous pride in our relationship with Talpa, the production company, and, of course, NBC and Paul Telegdy, because The Voice has become a phenomenon and it has had a tremendous impact on pop culture. We’ve had some success with Cassadee Pope, for example, and the show just celebrated 20 million track downloads in its seventh season. The show is popular, we are selling records, but there’s a different way of quantifying it.

With all the strategizing labels do these days, how do you react when a surprise 
hit comes your way?

Monte: I don’t think anyone went into the Hunger Games movie anticipating that we’d have a smash from Jennifer Lawrence. But the difference is, we capitalize. When the universe offers a gem like “The Hanging Tree,” you run with it.

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Michele Anthony is coming up on a year as president of U.S. recorded music. How has her role affected your dynamic with UMG leadership?

Avery: It’s great to have senior management based here in New York because most everyone is in L.A. Proximity does matter. And she totally gets it. We talk a lot about innovation and reimagination, and she’s right there on the forefront, pushing us forward, really being supportive and helping us be smart about it as well.

Monte: I remember when Michele was one of the chief assassins over at Sony. I always admired her as a fierce competitor -- laser-focused.

You signed John Mellencamp to a "lifetime" deal with the label, which began earlier this year. Why such a limitless term, and could there be others like that in the future?

Monte: That was the first deal I've ever made with "lifetime" built in to the contract. I love John, and for me it's such a cool opportunity, because growing up and when I was in school, records like "Jack and Diane" and "Little Pink Houses," those were important records in my life.

Seth MacFarlane is an unexpected artist to have on your roster. How can you help translate his side gig as a standards crooner to the Family Guy fanbase -- and beyond?

Monte: Seth McFarlane is a force of nature. The thing about Seth is, people are still discovering him. When you watch Family Guy or American Dad or Ted or the rest of it, you hear the voice, but you don't necessarily see the guy. He is somebody that's multi-talented, incredibly charismatic, he's a handsome guy. He came out with this Christmas album that I think just went No. 1 on the Christmas charts, and continues to grow. Again, this is something he's very serious about. When I reached out to work with him, he was like: "Well, I already got my Family Guy soundtrack at Interscope." I said: "I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in you. Seth McFarlane." We've already done another album with him, and I hope to do many more.

Streaming is a contentious debate right now when it comes to Taylor Swift and Spotify. As the top major label, what are your hopes for changes in 2015?

Monte: I support Taylor Swift, because she is not against streaming. I want a model that’s fair to the artist, that’s transparent to the artist. What usually works: Simple sells. When you have to get out an encyclopedia and an Excel sheet to show somebody how much they make on a stream that comes by way of ad revenue, it gets a little complicated.

Avery: I don’t know how impressive of a prediction this is, but my sense is streaming will overtake downloads by the end of next year. In some places, it’s already there. I wouldn’t be surprised if, for us, streaming is pretty close or overtakes the download business by the end of next year.

From a consumption standpoint? Or revenue?

Avery: (Laughs.) Well, I’m not going to answer that but... yeah, from a revenue standpoint.

This article first appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of Billboard.


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