Executive of the Week: Republic Records Executive VP Gary Spangler

Gary Spangler
Courtesy of Republic Records

Gary Spangler

With the pop radio successes of Ariana Grande and The Weeknd, Republic Records executive vp Gary Spangler earns the title of Billboard's Executive of the Week.

This week, Ariana Grande achieved a feat that no one else has achieved in her lifetime: as her single "34+35" dethroned the title track to her latest album, "positions," atop Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart, she became the first artist to have succeeded oneself as the only credited act in the chart’s history, which dates back to 1992.

It’s the latest feat on the chart for Grande -- "positions" had been her longest-reigning No. 1 on Pop Airplay in her career, at seven weeks -- and the latest success story for Gary Spangler, Republic Records’ newly-promoted executive vp, who oversees the promotions department and earns the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Of course, it’s not just Ari that has kept the Republic promotions juggernaut on top: almost a year since The Weeknd released his massive fourth album, After Hours, singles from that release are still dominating various radio charts, with "Blinding Lights" -- the centerpiece of his recent Super Bowl Halftime Show performance -- still in the top 10 on the Radio Songs chart 14 months after its initial release.

Here, Spangler discusses the success of The Weeknd and Ariana Grande, how the promotions world has changed in the pandemic and the difference in breaking an act at radio vs. working with established superstars.

Ariana Grande replaced herself at No. 1 on Pop Airplay this week as "34+35" dethrones "Positions," making her the first artist to have succeeded oneself at No. 1 as the only act credited on both tracks, dating to 1992. What key decision(s) did you make to help make that happen?

It was truly Ariana’s vision to break all of the rules with regard to traditional timing beginning with the thank u, next album. Within three months from the first single release from the album we were also working follow up singles “7 Rings” and “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” successfully at radio, resulting in two No. 1s and a top three song on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart, respectively.

She doubled down for the next album, releasing “positions” only a week before the album. We launched the second single "34+35" immediately with the album. Instinctually, she knew that listening cycles had become shorter. It was on us to keep radio moving as quickly and the only way to do that was work both simultaneously.

With seven weeks at No. 1, "Positions" had been Ariana’s longest-reigning leader on that chart. What work have you and your team done this cycle that has led to such an extended run of success at pop airplay, particularly with multiple singles at once?

We’ve learned with the streaming revolution that new is always king. You have to keep feeding the insatiable appetite of fans with new music while congruently keeping songs on the radio as long as possible to affect the long tail of streaming. The best way to do that is by working multiple singles at once. Of course, it all hinges on the music. And Ariana makes hits on top of hits.

Similarly, The Weeknd’s "Blinding Lights" is still in the top 10 at Radio Songs (and in its 11th week at No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs), while "Save Your Tears" has grown significantly each of the three weeks it’s been on the Radio Songs chart. What was your long-term strategy for The Weeknd with this album?

When it comes to an artist like The Weeknd it truly takes brilliant artist management and a full team effort. You need the right marketing, publicity, digital, commerce and radio to all hit at the right moments. But “Blinding Lights” is an exceptional song. Just this week we’re in the hunt to return to No. 1 on the Hot 100 over 14 months after release.

We started the After Hours campaign with the two-single approach. “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” were released 48 hours apart and both impacted radio within a six-week period. Both ascended to No. 1 on the Hot 100. With the release of the album we serviced "In Your Eyes” to radio. At the time, “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” were so massive the growth on “In Your Eyes” was really stifled. Fast forward to a steady campaign on “Save Your Tears,” coupled with a brilliant Super Bowl performance, this chapter shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

How has the pandemic changed or altered how you guys pitch songs to radio? Do you approach those campaigns differently now?

Like everything else the pandemic has completely upended business as we know it. At the core, promotion is a relationship-based function. You can’t duplicate the connection a partner can make with an artist during an in-person meeting over Zoom. Right now, the playing field is level. But once life gets back to normal, the question becomes, how much will promo departments return to the road? An in-person meeting will win 10 out of 10 times.

The pandemic has also significantly changed how radio is programmed. Fewer people on the road means a dip in listenership. Radio tends to go gold-heavy in that scenario, which makes it more competitive to get new music on. But lately chains such as iHeart have made a concerted effort to pick new songs at the national level and try them on select stations -- and that’s good for everyone.

What is the difference in your approach when working a song by a more established artist, like The Weeknd or Ariana Grande, vs. a newer artist, like with Pop Smoke?

For superstar releases we do everything we can to "eventize" the launch and ride the kinetic energy. Developing artists are a completely different game. The competition for people’s time and ears has never been more intense. It takes a proper hit and continual exposure across multiple platforms to cut through the noise.