As chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group, Lucian Grainge sits atop an empire that controls more of the recorded-music business than any company in the modern era. In 2016, its labels -- including Capitol Music Group, Def Jam Recordings and Republic Records -- accounted for more than 35 percent of the market, four of the 10 best-selling albums and two of the most popular streaming artists, Drake and Rihanna. So when Grainge talks, the industry listens.
Case in point: Until late last summer, exclusive releases were a key strategy for Apple Music, an important source of revenue for superstars like Drake and a subject of industry debate about whether they helped or hindered the growth of streaming overall. But in August, shortly after Frank Ocean dropped both a contract-fulfilling release for Def Jam and the independent project Blonde as Apple exclusives, Grainge (who lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife, Caroline, and their daughter) sent a memo to his top executives pushing the pause button on such deals. There hasn't been a major Apple exclusive -- from any label -- since, and during the past year, Grainge has signed deals that will let Pandora, iHeartMedia and Amazon get into the on-demand streaming business, in an attempt to prevent one company from dominating it.
"The industry is in a fragile recovery," says Grainge of his business strategy. "I'm doing everything I can to improve it for the artist, for my company, for the industry."
For the first nine months of 2016, Universal Music Group took in $4.1 billion -- a 4.8 percent increase over the same period in 2015 on a constant currency basis -- and revenue from streaming grew 64.3 percent. And though the label group's U.S. market share is down from 2015, Grainge, a Brit who was knighted in 2016 for his accomplishments in the music business, would say Universal is not a record company but rather a music-focused entertainment company, with the second-biggest song-publishing business, a merch division (Bravado, which created pop-up stores for Kanye West and Justin Bieber) and ambitions to leverage its content in Hollywood (a documentary on INXS singer Michael Hutchence is slated for later in 2017).
There's more to come -- new products to investigate and potential growth to exploit. "Nothing we do is ever over, " says Grainge. "And I'm never satisfied."
“Lucian has always been an honest, straight-up guy, and that’s something I really respect about him. He cares about his artists beyond the music and has built that kind of relationship with Scooter [Braun] and myself. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.” -- Justin Bieber on Lucian Grainge