Exclusive: Iovine Talks Axl, U2, Dre, Eminem

When Universal Music Group pushed highly anticipated albums from U2, Dr. Dre, Eminem and 50 Cent from the fourth quarter to 2009, it seemed like a final stake in the heart of music retail this year.

But Interscope-Geffen-A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine refuses to apologize for the decision, which he says he made to ensure the projects would be the best they could be. And it's not like the company doesn't have some big album coming before year's end: All-American Rejects, Soulja Boy, Keyshia Cole and, of course, Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy," which arrived yesterday (Nov. 23) as a Best Buy exclusive.

Iovine spoke exclusively to Billboard about the release schedule, retail exclusives and what parts of his business are growing.

Yesterday was an exciting day for a lot of Guns N' Roses fans. What are your thoughts now that this record is a reality?

Axl delivered a great Guns N' Roses album. Period. He did. It took him a long time for whatever reasons. I am sure there were many different reasons. Bottom line is, he did it. It's hard to say if something is worth the wait, because how the hell do any of us know? I judge it based on what it is. Does it sound better than 99% of the rock records out there? Yes. I'm just thrilled for him.

The proliferation of retail exclusives like Guns N' Roses with Best Buy has been one of the biggest stories of the year. What are you thoughts on how this has developed?

With the confusion and how much media is spread out and how hard it is to market things to a mass audience right now, I think you'll see the labels needing marketing partners to drive this music, whether it's a song, an album or a new configuration. In this case, Best Buy gave this album a great deal of marketing that we couldn't have gotten any other way. Now we have the press on our side as well, which is extraordinary.

But what about indie retailers who throw their arms up because of deals like this? Is there a silver lining for them?

I don't know the answer to that. But when a guy works that hard on a record, you want to give it the best possible chance it has. We found a great partner in Best Buy, and Axl's new management felt it was a good idea. It looks like it's going to do really well. I mean, really, really well. Beyond anybody's expectations.

So, let's move from a record that is coming out this year to some that aren't, like U2 and Eminem.

I met with the guys in U2, and they say to me, 'You know what? This album needs two more songs, and it will be exactly what we have in mind.' I go there and I listen, and I agreed with them. It's a great record, but it deserves the time. Labels need to work with artists to help them achieve their best work, not to jam records out that are half-baked or three-quarters baked.

I'll tell you about Eminem. We only tried to put him out this year to replace Dr. Dre, but we got into a quagmire. Eminem was always coming next year. But what happened was, I lost Dr. Dre to Eminem. Dre had to stop making his album to finish Eminem's album. Eminem hit a streak, and when a guy like Eminem gets on fire, you stop everything. That's how we lost Dre.

So what's the status of Dre's record?

Dre's going back in in January. He'll be finished with Eminem by then, and he'll finish his album.

There's a rumor in the retail world that Eminem might be an exclusive as well.

No. There's no truth to that.

What parts of your business are growing?

Well, our Pussycat Dolls tour has sold 150,000 of 160,000 tickets, with eight weeks to go until the tour. That's big. Other than Miley Cyrus, I don't know a label that has something like that. We're doing really, really well with licensing. Our 360 deals are working. We have that with Lady GaGa. Dr. Dre's headphones are doing really, really, really well. It's a fabulous product. We're building a lot there. We're building out some of our management stuff.

I've always felt, and this is just in general, that there's an oil well for the record industry in their music videos, and so does Doug Morris. Universal Music Group had 3 billion views on YouTube and we are so underpaid for those videos. Now, we'll set up an infrastructure, and Doug's in charge of this. We'll make a deal where we really see the value. We have the most perfect content for the Internet. People love to watch them and they watch them over and over again. If "Saturday Night Live" gets 100,000 views on the Internet, they throw a party. Soulja Boy, on his site alone, got 500 million! It's nuts. The Lady GaGa video has 25 million views.

This is all going to be turned back toward the labels. That value has to be achieved.