Executive Turntable

Executive Turntable: Sony Publishing Taps U.S. Digital Head; RCA Shuffles PR Leadership

Michael Abitbol
Courtesy Michael Abitbol

Michael Abitbol

Michael Abitbol has been promoted to senior vp and head of U.S. digital at Sony Music Publishing (SMP).

In the new role, Abitbol will manage all aspects of SMP’s U.S. digital business and oversee the publisher’s newly expanded U.S. digital team. He is based in New York and reports to SMP’s president global digital Antony Bebawi.

Abitbol joined Sony in 2007, when he specialized in digital deals at EMI Music Publishing. In 2012, he moved to SMP (formerly Sony/ATV) when it took over administration of the EMI catalog. Prior to EMI, he was a lawyer at Davis & Gilbert with a focus on entertainment-related agreements and also worked in artist management.

During his tenure at SMP, Abitbol has negotiated key agreements on behalf of the company’s songwriters and catalog, “helping to achieve higher rates and better long-term financial stability,” according to a release. He was instrumental in securing deals with fitness apps like Peloton and Soul Cycle and renewing deals with Facebook, TikTok and YouTube.

In a statement, Bebawi said that Abitbol “has a deep understanding of the U.S digital licensing landscape, and he has built a great team that shares the same unwavering commitment to SMP’s songwriters.”

Jamie Abzug has been named senior vp and head of publicity at RCA Records. Her hire comes amid the exits of two top PR execs at RCA, confirmed by Billboard: executive vp publicity Mika El-Baz (whom Abzug replaces) and senior vp publicity Sarah Weinstein-Dennison. Both El-Baz and Weinstein-Dennison worked at RCA for over 17 years, with the former serving as executive vp publicity throughout her tenure.

Now based in Los Angeles, Abzug started her career at RCA Records (formerly J Records) in late 2004 and most recently served as head of alternative media partnerships, helping oversee the label’s West Coast PR initiatives including awards show strategy and relationships with broadcast networks. In her most recent role as vp publicity, she spearheaded campaigns for Khalid, Doja Cat, Christina Aguilera, Kesha and more.

Prior to RCA, Abzug briefly worked at Artemis Records.

Charlene Thomas has been elevated to vp marketing at Def Jam Recordings.

Since joining the label three years ago, Thomas has taken on projects including rapper Fredo Bang (who hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart in January), lifestyle marketing around the Coming 2 America soundtrack, the “comebacks” of Fabolous and Jadakiss (who faced off on the viral matchup series Verzuz last July) and the rollout of DMX’s posthumous album Exodus. She is currently developing marketing strategies for Kanye West, Big Sean, Hit-Boy, LL Cool J, 2Chainz, Jeezy and more.

Before being hired at Def Jam, Thomas served as vp marketing and vp A&R at Loud Records, where she worked with Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, Lil Flip and Three Six Mafia, the latter of whom she signed and developed. She later served as marketing head at both Roc-a-Fella Records and Slip-N-Slide Records and guided branding campaigns for Pepsi, Miramax Films, Levi’s, Hugo Boss, Barclays Bank and the Ice Cube 3-on-3 Basketball League.

“As a lead marketing executive at Def Jam, my goal is to create opportunities that will continue to catapult careers and unique experiences for our artists, executives and the BIPOC community,” said Thomas in a statement.

Music, film and TV management company Range Media Partners has tapped Blaike Ford to serve as senior vp streaming and artist development.

Ford arrives at Range after more than eight years at Spotify. In her new role, she will spearhead DSP relationships and streaming for Range’s artist management roster as well as their recently-announced record label, Range Music, which launched in partnership with Capitol Music Group (CMG) and Virgin Music & Artist Label Services.

Range’s music client list includes Mariah Carey, Jack Harlow, Justin Tranter, Wale and PartyNextDoor.

At Spotify, Ford launched the music marketing department and led over 400 marketing programs “aimed at creating innovative experiences, content and moments in music culture,” according to a release. She also managed the development of new editorial products including Spotify Clips, Promo Cards, Playlist Pitch Tool and Enhanced Playlists and led efforts behind initiatives including Soda, Acoustic Covers, Morning Coffee, Alone Again, Creativity Boost and the entire Spotify Singles portfolio. She additionally led marketing for Hot Country, New Music Friday and Mint and ran point on initiatives like CMA Fest, Best New Artist and Rise (now Radar).

“Blaike’s energy and excitement for music and helping artists grow their fan base paired with her unique insider understanding of the world’s biggest streaming platform make her an invaluable addition to the Range Music team,” said Range Media managing partner Matt Graham in a statement. “She will help our managers and their associated acts navigate the all-too-often complicated maze of relationships across streaming and better position our new record label to fulfill its mission of launching developing artists.”

In her own statement, Ford called Range Media “the epitome of what a music company should aspire to be. Range places immense value in communication, teamwork and innovation and has structured the company in a way that encourages vital growth for both the individuals and the company at large.”

Myn Jazeel has been hired as senior vp at Warner Music UK’s Rhino UK starting Nov. 29. He was previously senior label and industry relations manager at Amazon Music UK.

The interim head of Rhino UK, Jeremy Marsh, will remain in the role to help with the transition while also continuing to act as a special adviser to the global catalog team.

Reporting to Warner Music UK CEO Tony Harlow, Jazeel will oversee and spearhead marketing activity for Rhino UK’s artists, which include David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Prince. He will also join Warner Music UK's senior leadership team, giving him a voice in the business’ overall direction.

Jazeel started his music industry career in 1991, when he was hired at Entertainment UK as a music buyer. He later served as general manager at Telstar TV starting in 2000; established and ran V2TV as managing director starting in 2004; became senior vp of Sanctuary Records TV in 2007; and also served as managing director of advertising agency Addiction Entertainment, worked as sales and marketing director for Pete Waterman and acted as a senior board advisor to music and entertainment businesses including Maven International and Vision21.

In 2015, Jazeel was hired as senior label and industry relations manager at Amazon Music UK, where he was senior label and industry relations manager and led the European catalog streaming strategy while working with labels to deliver cross-category partnership campaigns with artists including Anne-Marie, Billie Eilish, Coldplay, Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran.

“More and more, the streaming audience is evolving, and both deep and shallow catalog are seeing the benefits of new audiences being attracted by the ease of voice search and services like Amazon Music,” said Harlow in a statement. “Myn has been at the forefront of driving those consumers in their music choices, and he’s going to help us create huge opportunities for our artists.”

Jazeel added that he’s “worked with Warner Music, and indeed Rhino, in many ways throughout my career; from running an agency tasked with making TV commercials for their artists, to more recently working on some great strategic partnership campaigns at Amazon Music.”

Corey Berkowitz has joined Saban Music Group as head of pop & urban A&R.

In the role, Berkowitz will spearhead A&R for Saban’s roster, which includes Static & Ben El, Mergui, Nakkia Gold, Don Omar and Chesca.

Berkowitz, who was inspired by his radio programmer father, began booking concerts during his freshman year at Michigan State University. After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles, where he served in a variety of music internships and early jobs before being recruited to an A&R role at Rock Mafia, the production and songwriting team comprised of Tim James and Antonina Armato. While working as Rock Mafia’s vp A&R, he developed alt-electronic artist Elohim, discovered and signed Yoshi Flower and secured Migos and Megan Thee Stallion for The Addams Family and The Addams Family 2 soundtracks, respectively.

Signed to Downtown Music Publishing (now Concord) as a songwriter, Berkowitz co-wrote Bahari’s “Ways of Love” and Quin XCII’s “Holding Hands” feat. Elohim.

Concord Music Publishing has announced a wave of new hires to its Nashville A&R team.

First up among the new additions is Melissa Spillman, who joins the company as vp A&R. Over a more than 17-year career, Spillman has worked with acts including Lady A (the band), Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Keith Urban and Eric Church. She will lead the Nashville A&R team in supporting both established and developing talent on the Concord roster while reporting directly to senior vp A&R Brad Kennard.

Matt Turner joins as senior director A&R. He was most recently with Downtown Music Publishing, whose copyright catalog was acquired for a reported $300 million by Concord in April. During his tenure at Downtown, Turner represented songwriters including Andy Albert, Andrew DeRoberts and Joey Hyde, all of whom are now with Concord. He started his publishing career at Anthem Entertainment and later moved to independent publisher Big Loud Shirt, now known as Big Loud, where he worked with songwriters Chris Tompkins, Sarah Buxton, Matt Dragstrem and The Warren Brothers and was involved in the early songwriting careers of Morgan Wallen and Chris Lane.

Courtney Allen, hired as director A&R, joins Concord from BMG, where she was creative director. Prior to BMG, she was creative director publishing at Starstruck Entertainment.

Ashley Nite has been brought on as manager A&R. She was previously creative manager at JRM Publishing and Mailbox Money Music.

Finally, Garrett Stephenson joins the global publishing A&R team as a coordinator. He comes to Concord from Downtown, where he was also a coordinator.

With the new hires, Concord’s Nashville A&R team now includes seven employees, including senior vp A&R Brad Kennard and director A&R Jen Hubbard.

At Warner Music Finland, Ramona Forsström has been promoted to general manager. She will continue reporting to Niko Nordström, managing director at Warner Music Finland and executive vp at Warner Music Nordic.

Forsström will continue leading marketing campaigns for both local and international artists while taking on an expanded leadership role at the company. During her time at Warner Music Finland, which she joined in 2008, she has helped drive the success of local artists including Antti Tuisku, Arttu Wiskari and BEHM and break international stars such as Ava Max, Bruno Mars and Dua Lipa in the region. She was hired as international promotions manager before moving to marketing, where she served as international marketing manager and was subsequently promoted to international marketing director and, later, marketing director for both the international and local roster.

In 1997, Forsström launched her music industry career as a product manager at EMI Finland, where she was later upped to promotions manager. She stayed with EMI until 2006, when she joined Live Nation Finland as a promotions manager, a role she held for two years. She won the Record Company Promotions Person of the Year Award at the Radio Gala Awards eight times between 2009 and 2017 and took home the Promotion/Marketing Person of the Year award at the Music & Media Industry Awards Gala in 2012.

The Lexington Center Corporation (LCC) and Oak View Group (OVG) Facilities have jointly announced that Brian Sipe has been hired as general manager of Central Bank Center in Lexington, Kentucky, which includes the 20,000-seat Rupp Arena, the new 200,000 square-foot convention center and the 900-seat opera house. He replaces longtime Lexington Center Corporation executive Bill Owen, who’s set to retire on June 30, 2022.

Sipe was previously Oak View Group’s director booking at Rupp Arena, a role he’s held since Apr. 2019. During that time, the arena recorded its fastest sell-out (Luke Combs) and highest gross (Paul McCartney) and had more events on sale than at any time in its 45-year history.

“Brian has done an outstanding job of making sure top touring acts perform here in Lexington,” said Oak View Group Facilities chairman Peter Luukko in a statement. “As our new General Manager, he will be able to expand his role and create new business partnerships and opportunities for Central Bank Center facilities and the region.”

Sipe previously served as general manager of OVG Facilities’ Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, which was annually ranked in Pollstar magazine’s chart of the top 200 arenas worldwide. In Sept. 2017, Sipe received the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional of the Year award.

Prior to that, Sipe served in roles at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey; the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pennsylvania; and the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, West Virginia. He has a professional voting membership in the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the International Entertainment Buyers Association. In 2013, his peers recognized him with the Generation Next Award from Venues Today magazine.

Samu Rast has been hired to head up the sales team at commercial music licensing platform SyncFloor.

In the role, the New York-based Rast will apply his music sales background to SyncFloor’s catalog of commercially released music from across the globe, which is ready to license for ads, podcasts and fitness applications.

Rast previously served in roles at production music house Anthem Entertainment/Jingle Punks and BMG.

“We're thrilled to have Samu joining SyncFloor to build out our fitness book while driving expansion in our media and podcasting business, all spaces in which he has significant relevant experience,” said SyncFloor CEO and co-founder Kirt Debique in a statement.

Added Rast, “I’ve been waiting for a platform to emerge that will completely change the experience of licensing commercial music, and I’m pleased to say that SyncFloor is that platform. Kirt and Cestjon [McFarland, SyncFloor co-founder] have built a marketplace that provides an unparalleled search experience and removes the friction and uncertainty from the process of licensing commercial music.”