Capitol Music Group's 2018 Capitol Congress Was About Newcomers, But a Beatle Stole the Show

Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Capitol Music Group
Paul McCartney and Marc Maron speak onstage during Capitol Music Group's 5th annual Capitol Congress Premieres new music and projects for industry and media at Arclight Cinemas Hollywood on Aug. 8, 2018 in Los Angeles.

“You still got it, Capitol!” said Sir Paul McCartney, addressing the 2018 Capitol Congress, Capitol Music Group’s annual gathering for its staff and other music industry insiders. 

Held Wednesday (Aug. 8), at the Arclight Hollywood movie theater in Los Angeles, the daylong event featured presentations from all of the company’s major divisions, recapping their recent accomplishments and future plans. There were also performances, panels and a live taping of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast with McCartney -- whose next album, Egypt Station, arrives on Capitol this fall. The former Beatle, who began his career at Capitol and signed a deal in 2016 that brought him back to the label, also received the Capitol Icon Award from CMG chairman and CEO Steve Barnett, organizer of the day’s events.

McCartney’s appearance capped off the Congress and was clearly a highlight for CMG employees, who greeted his arrival and departure with standing ovations. But most of the 5th annual event focused on new and emerging artists, rather than the label’s many veteran and legacy acts. All three of this year’s live performances were by relative newcomers to the label group: recent signee Fletcher, who performed her forthcoming single “Undrunk”; rising R&B star Queen Naija, who delivered a stirring acoustic version of “Medicine”; and platinum Australian pop star Troye Sivan, who debuted his latest single, “Animal,” from his Aug. 31 album Bloom. Several of Capitol’s other young stars, including rappers Migos, Lil Yachty and NF, also made appearances over the course of the day, and 16-year-old YouTube star-turned-pop singer Loren Grey presented her debut single for Capitol, “My Story,” via a pre-taped video.

In his opening remarks, Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge looked to CMG's future, saying he hoped 2018 would be remembered as “a year when we really started to build our company for the next five to 10 years.” He singled out the company’s gains in the hip-hop and R&B markets for special praise. “Historically, Capitol wasn’t in the urban or the hip-hop business in a particularly meaningful way and that goes back decades,” Grainge said. “Now, thanks to the excellent work of Ethiopia [Habtemariam] at Motown, [CMG executive vp] No I.D., [Quality Control co-founders] Coach and Pee, Gabriela [Schwartz, senior vp of marketing], amongst several others, Capitol, I’m proud to say, is at the forefront of those genres."

Grainge’s point was driven home later in the day by Jacqueline Saturn and Matt Sawin, general manager and exec vp of Caroline Records, CMG’s indie label services and distribution division, which doubled its market share over the past year thanks largely to new artists, in particular wildly popular hip-hop acts including 6ix9ine, $uicideboy$, NF and the late XXXTentacion. "Over three quarters of the artists in our presentation are brand-new to Caroline this year," Sawin said, before screening a video reel that included all the aforementioned rappers as well as recent signees G Flip, Masego and Static & Ben El. Caroline’s impressive presentation also included more well-established artists Mac DeMarco (whose Mac’s Record Label just announced a distribution deal with Caroline), E-40, Lido, SOPHIE  and Christine & the Queens, the latter of whom gave a brief video speech introducing a rough cut of the band’s latest video, "Five Dollars."

Not all of Capitol Congress’ highlights came courtesy of newcomers. Bruce Resnikoff, president and CEO of Universal catalog division UMe, introduced a lengthy video showcasing a host of upcoming CMG reissues, including a 50th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ White Album remixed by George Martin's son Giles, a “lost” Glen Campbell album featuring a duet with Elvis Presley, and multiple vinyl reissues celebrating the 60th and 80th anniversaries of Motown and Blue Note Records, respectively. Also coming on the Motown front is Hitsville: The Making of Motown, a documentary featuring never-before-seen footage from label founder Berry Gordy’s private archives.

Besides McCartney, the other legendary Capitol artist in attendance was MC Hammer, whose presence somewhat belied Grainge’s earlier statement regarding the label’s history with hip-hop. Hammer’s 1990 Capitol release Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em was the first hip-hop album certified diamond by the RIAA, a legacy of which he spoke proudly in a conversation with UMe’s vice president of urban catalog, Andre Torres. "I chose to make records … that reflected hope, inspiration and good times," he said.

Among the other divisions that presented over the course of the day were Capitol Christian Music Group, who paid tribute to their late CEO Bill Hearn with a scholarship established in his name; Astralwerks, whose new GM Toby Andrews gave attendees a sneak preview of "Happier," the forthcoming single from his label’s flagship artist Marshmello and Capitol/Virgin artist Bastille; and Blue Note, whose president Don Was gave the day’s most offbeat presentation, a spoken word summation of the jazz label’s storied history by poet Jessica Care Moore, accompanied by saxophonist Dave McMurray and Was (playing the riff from “Seven Nation Army”) on upright bass.

Aside from McCartney’s rambling, anecdote-filled conversation with Maron, one of the day’s most interesting presentation came courtesy of Motown’s Habtemariam, who moderated a panel on hip-hop culture with a group of African-American music executives that included CMG executive vice president and ARTium Recordings boss No I.D., Live Nation Urban CEO Shawn Gee, A$AP Rocky/Playboy Carti manager Chace Johnson, Beats music marketing mastermind turned entrepreneur Kristen Fraser, and Quality Control co-founder Kevin “Coach K” Lee. All five shared their perspectives on hip-hop’s growth as a global phenomenon, and talked about the importance of better cultural representation on the executive side of the business. “We need to be the people green-lighting the culture,” said Gee.

Before the panel, Habtemariam presented Coach K and his Quality Control co-founder, Pierre “Pee” Thomas, with plaques honoring the 7 million in sales they’ve generated for Capitol Music Group through their partnership with Motown. Several of the Atlanta-based imprint’s artists, including Migos, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby, joined the label bosses onstage to accept the honor. Pee promised more major releases from Quality Control in the coming months: "Third and fourth quarters [are] about to get serious," he said. "Everybody needs to have their shoes laced up."

Habtemariam promised more great things ahead for Motown, as well. "We gonna turn this tower up," she declared, to enthusiastic applause from her CMG colleagues.

The day also included an interview with BBC Radio 1 head of music Chris Price and controller Ben Cooper with CMG’s exec vp of global marketing Robbie McIntosh to commemorate  the influential station’s 50th anniversary.

Additionally, CMG announced the launch of Annex Tower Creative, a branding initiative between CMG and advertising leader Havas -- both owned by Vivendi -- that will help facilitate partnerships between brands and music. The first deal pairs Lil’ Yachty with Conagra Brands’ Chef Boyardee.

Following the Congress, CMG continued the proceedings with a party on the grounds of Capitol Tower. In addition to all the CMG execs, also spotted were attorneys Eric Greenspan and Aaron Rosenberg, Maverick’s Greg Thompson, manager Andy Gould, Creative Artist Agency’s Rob Light, ABC’s Scott Igoe, United Talent Agency’s Jbeau Lewis, RIAA’s Joel Flatow, Universal Music Publishing Group’s Jody Gerson and Nickelodeon’s Doug Cohn.