In a special feature package in the most recent issue of Billboard, Ed Christman and Andrew Hampp examined the leading labels heading into the crucial fourth quarter of 2013. Over the next week, Billboard.biz will excerpt portions from this special package featuring Q4's top releases, dark horses and extended executive interviews.
Today we examine Republic Records' approach to the final quarter of the year through an extended Q&A with label heads Avery Lipman, Monte Lipman and Charlie Walk who touted the year past and their big plans -- including soundtracks to "The Hunger Games" and Ben Stiller's new passion project "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."
Republic has had a fantastic 2013 thanks to strategic label partnerships that run the gamut from country and Americana to hip-hop and alternative: Big Machine (Taylor Swift), Lava (Lorde), Brushfire (Jack Johnson), XO (the Weeknd), Cash Money (Drake) and American (the Avett Brothers). Not bad for a label founded in 1995 that’s only been in its current form under Universal Music Group since 2006.
The importance of release strategies means Republic enters the last two months of the year having already drawn most of its big guns, following Pearl Jam’s recent "Lightning Bolt," relying mostly on a trio of soundtracks, a repackaging of Florida Georgia Line’s smash debut with new songs and the debut from “The Voice” winner Danielle Bradbery to close out the year. It also expects to get long-term results from Drake’s "Nothing Was the Same," which scanned 658,000 in its debut week (according to Nielsen SoundScan) and now sits at 947,000 after four weeks.
Monte Lipman, Republic co-founder, chairman, ceo; Avery Lipman, Republic co founder, president, coo; Charlie Walk, executive VP of Republic; Michael Horton, senior VP of urban promotion; Tom MacKay, executive VP of Republic; Rob Stevenson, executive VP of A&R; Wendy Goldstein, senior VP of A&R; Jim Roppo, executive VP of marketing; Pat Monaco, executive VP of sales and production; Cynthia Sexton, executive VP of brand partnerships and licensing; Steve Gawley, executive VP of business and legal affairs of Universal Music Group East Coast labels.
Q&A WITH CHARLIE WALK, AVERY LIPMAN AND MONTE LIPMAN
Why does fourth quarter still matter?
Charlie Walk: Well, something like 40% of music is sold during that period, so it’s a crucial selling period for us.
Fourth Quarter Label Special
- Q4 Label Special: Atlantic's Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman on Navigating 'the Xmas Bum-Rush' (Q&A)
- Q4 Label Special: RCA's Tom Corson and Peter Edge on Miley, Britney & JT, the Adult Xmas Market, 'Focusing on Hip-Hop & Rock' (From the Magazine)
- Q4 Label Special: Columbia's Rob Stringer on Big Releases, Dark Horses, Gift Cards, 'No Daft Punk Xmas Record' (From the Magazine)
Avery Lipman: For us it’s interesting, because to a large degree the fourth quarter is all mostly records that came out in September and before. We’ve still got I would say the three big ones as far as Christmas, three soundtracks -- with “Hunger Games,” “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” and “Anchorman 2.” I’ve seen screenings of all three and each one of those are gonna be truly massive films. For us, these are not artists per se, but these are major media events that will cover all kinds of territory from just being the fact that it’s a motion picture. So it’s the music as well as the fact that they’re films, so they’re really widespread in terms of their appeal.
Monte Lipman: It’s a culmination of a full season, and we do operate by calendar year. The largest number of records are sold typically between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so everything you work towards is that moment. So if you are gonna break a new artist, the idea is to break it before Q4 and Lorde is a great example of that. Also Ariana Grande and The Weeknd -- you want to get a running start and catch the whole season. If you’re still running hot before the end of the year, that’s another indicator that you’re gonna have a good season ahead.
What are some ways you’re stacking the decks this quarter with new releases or music that might come in early 2014?
Charlie Walk: There’s a lot of releases and signings that are just starting to break now. At Casablanca, we’ve got Tiesto and Martin Garrix, who’s blowing up with “Animal.” At Republic, we have an artist we’ve just signed called SoMo, the song is called “Ride.” He’s this kid from Texas we went to see to him play, he’s selling out every city and he’s been selling 11,000 singles a week with this song. It’s been an amazing audience in every city, and the video for “Ride” is already up to 2.5, 2.6 million views. So we know from a single-selling point of view and a physical show point of view that somebody likes him. We’re very excited about this music, this body of work. His first single will turn people onto his body of work. And I think you’ll see him breaking over the Christmas holiday into the top of the year. He should be a staple of the pop music landscape.
We’re also very excited about John Newman, he’s had a number-one single in 20 countries and should come to the top of the year with some exciting things happening around this EP that’s just come out, a full-length and some other stuff with him in the States.
Phantogram is as an act we’ve been developing for awhile now, that will have an album out in 2014. Sage the Gemini has two songs currently breaking, and you can just see the buzz he’s been building up. He’s an artist who will launch a full album in 2014.
Avery Lipman: “Hunger Games” is a great, modern collection of original songs. “Walter Mitty” will be combination of new stuff and pre-existing. It’s a really cool, curated, collected feel of music that’s Ben Stiller’s brainchild. It just has a nice tone and the music sort of ties into the idea of the film. “Anchorman” is a period piece that takes place in the '70s so you’ve got a lot of classic catalog tracks. And I’m not at liberty to say yet, but we’ll have a nice surprise there as far as new material.
We’ve also got a Florida Georgia Line repackage with a couple new songs, a Black Sabbath DVD. So for us it’s all of those plus Drake, Lorde, Jack Johnson, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd -- those are all big active titles that came earlier but will still hit in Q4. It’s funny, with hit records you’re in this weird kind of dynamic now where everything is so instant and discovery occurs faster than ever in many respects. You’ll get two Christmases per album if its’ a hit -- Adele probably had three Christmases. It’s sort of a mixed bag because the landscape is so mixed.
The other I should mention is the Avett Brothers, which came out last week. They’re these silent assassins -- they come out, I wouldn’t say without fanfare, but they just sell. The music is great, but I wouldn’t say they necessarily are woven deeply into pop culture. But boy oh boy are they consistent, on every front. The record sales, they just go.
Monte Lipman: We’ve also identified half a dozen records we believe are gonna make a difference come Q1 -- we’re really excited about Sage the Gemini. You also have a new record from Colbie Caillat, which may be the best record of her career and something we’re very excited about. You’ve got new music form Tyga featuring Justin Bieber, and he’s gonna hit critical mass at the top of the year as another example. Enrique Iglesias, Austin Mahone, Eli Young Band, you’ll see Jessie J, so the top half of our year is actually gonna be pretty active. Look, the real wild card could be these soundtracks, where you strike a nerve and you can really kick in. “Walter Mitty” is so full of musical scenes that are emotional and hearth-wrenching and boom! There goes a song. So we might see a surprise moment with something like “Walter Mitty.”
What about market share -- does that mean anything to you?
Charlie Walk: Market share is important if you’re number one. It means you probably have the most success. It’s sort of our Grammy Award of acknowledging achievement in the last 12 months. It’s especially rewarding for us because we’re not a catalog label. Most labels have catalogs that keep them afloat. If we don’t break new artists, if we don’t eat where we kill, it’s a very tough year. So we’re really laser-focused, and this may sound generic, on breaking new artists. That’s the DNA of this place. I think the culture, especially from me coming in, is identifying new talent, marketing it as such it and treating our managers and labels as partners. When you talk about market share it’s a collection of making the right decisions with the right partners and understanding the right timing.
Avery Lipman: Does it matter? I would say of course. I would say, does that change by the fact that we’re No. 1, No. 3 or No. 5? It’s sort of like being a baseball player at the plate. Maybe the ball looks just slightly bigger. If anything it’s a feeling of confidence [and] a responsibility to lead. It’s also knowing, sort of like a reminder -- it’s interesting, because you could be no. 2 and striving for No. 1 and that keeps your blood pumping. And by the way, I’ve always been in that position -- it’s the same reminder, that everyone’s gunning for you. If you don’t stay on your game, you’re gonna get knocked out. And that’s a great motivator.
Monte Lipman: Our strategy has been to be consistent, remain competitive and vigilant in our pursuit of capturing the cup. The people that work here have got a sense of pride and a mission and also have a cause -- those are the kinds of people I want working at Republic. I want to be surrounded by a bunch of people that aren’t necessarily satisfied with one hit album, they want five -- we’ve had Pearl Jam, Lorde, Drake, Ariana Grade Jack Johnson in the past few weeks, and you’ll have “Hunger Games” which will be a very competitive title. But our head’s already in Q1.