This is where it all gets started,” says Avery Lipman, leaning back against a sleek mahogany dining room table in a cramped Upper East Side apartment. “Republic Records.”
On this brisk November afternoon, he’s sitting beside his older brother, Monte, in the little garden apartment where, a quarter century ago, they first hunkered down and started a record label. There’s not much common space, or even room for furniture, and the two “bedrooms” are separated by a single slab of wall. A few feet above the Lipmans’ heads, three rectangular windows offer a peek at the shuffling feet of passersby on 76th Street; because the apartment is below street level, explains Monte, nocturnal pests were often crawling and scratching in the walls.
Back then, the 20-something brothers spent countless hours at this table preparing mailers for a pre-digital music industry. The Lipmans made themselves a mini assembly line inserting, taping and labeling vinyl records and writing personal letters in a desperate attempt to launch their careers. “When we look around, all we remember is just stacks and stacks of vinyl records and cardboard and envelopes,” says Monte, stroking the edge of the table. “This was our postage desk.”
Avery hovers his hand over its center: “This is actually where I filled out my Chapter 11 paperwork.” Roughly two years after launching Republic as an independent label in 1995 — spending every spare moment and penny hustling for a big break — the Lipmans found themselves on the brink of declaring bankruptcy. Then, a few days later, that break came: KROQ, the Los Angeles alternative radio juggernaut, had just played “Fire Water Burn” by the Bloodhound Gang, rap-rock goofballs who were the Lipmans’ first signees. Suddenly the Lipmans’ phones wouldn’t stop ringing with inquiries about the group and partnership deal offers. Finally, the brothers could escape the subsidewalk apartment — and, Monte notes with a laugh, upgrade to a Times Square office previously used as a broom closet.
“I think there was probably some benefit in not really knowing how high this mountain was,” recalls Avery with a twinkle in his eye. “We started on a track not realizing it was Mount Everest. But we said, ‘Let’s just go.’ ”
The Lipmans have scaled that peak and then some. In their current offices at the Universal Music Group (UMG) building on Broadway, they’re just a few avenues west — but worlds away — from that dingy first Republic headquarters. They’ve got a breathtaking view of Manhattan’s West Side and the Hudson River, not to mention an array of awards and a collection of memorabilia on par with the Grammy Museum’s. They oversee a roster packed not with novelty acts, but with today’s biggest pop superstars. Yet Monte, 57 (Republic’s CEO), and Avery, 55 (the label’s COO), talk about their past struggles with an air of reverence. They cap off each other’s hard-luck anecdotes with coy smiles, and nod toward the framed Bloodhound Gang album tucked away in Monte’s office behind a signed Taylor Swift guitar.
That’s not just because their story has a happy ending, but because it has been shared with each other. As the only current heads of a major label they also founded, their longevity in the industry is unprecedented. Republic ends 2021 as the No. 1 label on Billboard’s year-end chart — its fifth time finishing at the top within the past seven years — thanks to a roster studded with stars like Swift, Drake, The Weeknd and Ariana Grande. This year, for the first time, Republic tops all three of Billboard’s leading year-end label rankings, placing atop the Top Labels, Billboard 200 Labels and Billboard Hot 100 Labels charts.
“Great entrepreneurs are at once UMG’s foundation and north star — both grounding us and guiding our future — and Monte and Avery are among the finest examples of that legacy,” says UMG chairman/CEO Sir Lucian Grainge. “What is particularly exceptional about Monte and Avery is their successful evolution from scrappy entrepreneurs to global executives without ever losing sight of what brought them their success in the first place: drive, focus and passion. The fact that, through the years and market changes and industry shifts, they just keep on building their business, continuing to break global artists, is nothing short of remarkable. Monte and Avery are not only first-class music executives, they are also inextricably part of UMG — they are family. I am honored to have worked with them for more than three decades and so proud of what we have achieved together. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
And though they’re now pragmatic professionals with a storied track record, Monte and Avery still perfectly complement one another — just like they did as kids who, in 1970, first went into business together running a lemonade stand. They’re equally warm and gregarious, although Monte possesses a politician’s even-keeled tone and fondness for sports metaphors, while Avery is more whimsical raconteur, his eyebrows bouncing above a mischievous grin.
“Avery can read the tea leaves on a record,” says Wendy Goldstein, Republic’s co-president who was, until recently, president of West Coast creative. “Avery could see into the future — what’s taking off and what’s not — and have a very good read. Monte’s skill set comes from promotion: understanding how you sometimes have to beat people over the head with something to get them to like it.”
One prominent trait the brothers do share, though, is an insatiable drive to come out on top: They run the No. 1 label because, they agree, anything less would be unsatisfactory. “Monte and Avery are A-plus competitors,” says UMG executive vp Michele Anthony. “They never lost their hunger, drive, or will to succeed. They are scrappy, resourceful yet humble — and they never take anything for granted.”
Republic’s latest big year came at a precarious moment. Following last year’s COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, the industry has gradually tried to regain its footing, with a new normal not quite figured out yet. Unlike in 2020, when all major in-person events ceased after mid-March, touring resumed in 2021 — with new safety precautions and concerns varying by artist and market. Major Republic acts like The Weeknd had their tour dates postponed and venues shifted; rising roster artists, like New Zealand pop act BENEE, developed new stateside fans during the shutdown, but still haven’t been able to play shows for them.
“We know how we used to do it, we know how we do it now, and then there’s this area in between that is very gray and hybrid and kind of uncomfortable and being reinvented every single day,” says Jim Roppo, Republic’s recently named co-president who served as executive vp and GM of the label beginning in 2018. “There are costs that go with that, there are logistical challenges, there are last-minute changes. But we’re able to process that, and thankfully, 18 months or even more into it, we’ve got a lot of experience in that, and we make the best of it.”
In 2021, that meant meeting the need for new-world flexibility with old-school persistence. Some of Republic’s biggest hits resulted from hard-nosed, monthslong (sometimes yearslong) promotional campaigns. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” was released in late 2019, reached No. 1 in early 2020 and became the top Hot 100 hit of all time in late 2021, thanks to a prolonged push that helped keep it on the chart for a record-setting 90 weeks. The achievement is the culmination of Republic’s own long-term investment in The Weeknd, once a Toronto mixtape artist who obscured his face in press photos and now the headliner of this past year’s Super Bowl halftime show, who never veered from his sound or style on the way up.
“Monte and Avery are the best in the business,” says The Weeknd, who’s signed to Republic through the label’s partnership with his own XO Records. “And what I love about partnering with them is their openness to the artist’s vision and the lengths they go to uphold that without conforming to the usual industry pressures.”
Take another, very different Republic act — the British rock group Glass Animals. The band’s “Heat Waves” benefited from a similar slow-burn radio campaign: After bubbling up on TikTok earlier in 2021, the single from last year’s Dreamland (the band’s Republic debut) got a multiformat push and eventually hit the top 10 of the Hot 100 in its 42nd week on the chart in November. Republic was promoting another single from Dreamland earlier this year after “Heat Waves” had a run in 2020, but when the Lipmans noticed some of the early data around “Heat Waves” online, they pushed to go back to the rhythmic pop track.
“They saw that when I didn’t,” says Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley. “Our A&R guy moved on, which happens sometimes. And I remember Monte and Avery saying, ‘We’ll do it.’ And we’re like, ‘Whoa, are you sure?’ How often does that happen? That’s a hands-on approach for you right there.”
Throughout Republic, the Lipmans cultivate that kind of work ethic. “The majority of people that work with us have a chip on their shoulder — they’ve got something to prove,” says Monte. He likes to repeat the phrase “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” a mantra designed to encourage passion and create an environment in which there’s always a new high score to top. In the wrong hands, that could get exhausting. But Goldstein — a longtime hip-hop A&R executive who the Lipmans challenged to help mine pop hits for Republic nearly a decade ago — says that the brothers, particularly Monte, make that competitive streak seem endearing.
“If you watch Ted Lasso, you see all these different aspects of what makes a great team,” says Goldstein. “Monte is Ted Lasso. He’s the inspiration, and he does it with so much love that he makes you work harder.”
Monte and Avery have been geeking out about music since the 1970s, when they were kids sitting next to the radio, ranking their favorite songs from their father’s record collection or Casey Kasem’s countdown. Their mother and father, proud hippies who became parents as teenagers, were divorced and broke. When their dad, laundromat owner Cary Lipman, moved out to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1971, their mom, Gilda, a fitness instructor, took the boys and followed, hitchhiking across the country as far as Boulder, Colo., and decided to settle there for two years instead.
“We found ourselves at a very, very young age needing to rely on each other,” recalls Avery. In Boulder, the Lipmans fell in love with The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and continued to devour new music during visits with their father in Malibu, Calif., and when their mother moved back to the East Coast. As teens, some siblings grow apart, but not the Lipmans: They were as close as they are today, spending summers as lifeguards at Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach while living in Sheepshead Bay and watching Mork & Mindy and Happy Days shoulder-to-shoulder. Early in their careers, they’d often share a hotel room on business trips, even when they could well afford their own; as Monte puts it, anything else “seemed foreign to us.” Today, adds Avery, “I would say at least once, twice a week, we wear the same clothes. There’s a photograph in our mom’s Brooklyn apartment of Monte in his bar mitzvah suit. And right next to it, it’s my bar mitzvah photo — same suit.”
Yet the dream of running a label together wasn’t a boyhood scheme — it was borne out of “angst and frustration,” says Monte. Before founding Republic, the brothers held various roles at labels like Arista, Atlantic and EMI (including, for Monte, a stint in top 40 radio promotion at Atlantic — making him, now, a rare radio veteran in a sea of major-label heads hailing from A&R). They thought about becoming managers (that’s how they started working with the Bloodhound Gang) but realized it wasn’t the right role: They didn’t have the control they wanted.
“We would spend nearly every day trying to convince the label to do things that we knew were important, that we knew could make a difference, that we knew could serve as a catalyst, and it got to the point where we said, ‘You know what, let’s just prepare the plan,’ ” recalls Monte. The Lipmans started Republic Records with an enthusiastic attitude, maxing out credit cards and booking a last-minute flight to Switzerland to convince Chumbawamba to sign with them because they thought “Tubthumping” could take over the world (and then, it did). Those early wins yielded a joint venture with UMG in 2000, which allowed the Lipmans to work with an array of best-selling talent, from Prince to Amy Winehouse to Jack Johnson.
Working with Prince on his 2006 album, 3121, particularly prepared Monte for his current reality managing a roster packed with superstars. Prince had grand ambitions for 3121’s promotion and commercial prospects, and Monte tried to temper the legend’s expectations. “I was young, I was naive, and I would find myself constantly trying to explain to him why things couldn’t be done,” he says. After nearly a year of disagreements, Monte gave up and stopped trying to stifle Prince’s ideas — and the artist was overjoyed. “It was a great learning experience for me,” says Monte. “When you talk about the big personalities, we embrace the curiosity of the artists that we work with.”
Case in point: Swift, who has spent the past two years releasing a pair of folk-leaning albums recorded in secret with some indie-rock pals, simultaneously started to roll out the ambitious rerecording of her first six records in an effort to control their masters. Those projects may have seemed like commercial and creative gambles even for the biggest star in the world, but they’ve been unequivocal successes, producing four No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, three Hot 100 chart-toppers, two album of the year Grammy nominations and one win in the category for folklore in 2021; evermore competes in 2022.
Recently, Monte recalls with a smile, he overheard his seven year-old son telling a friend “Taylor Swift works for my daddy.” He offered a gentle but clear correction: “Kids, just so we’re clear: Daddy works for Taylor Swift.” At a New York fan screening of Swift’s All Too Well short film in mid-November, Monte stood in the back of the movie theater, arms crossed, lightly swaying as Swift capped off the screening with an acoustic performance of the new, 10-minute version of the song. When she set down her guitar, he clapped just as wildly as the rest of the fans.
“Monte has a very sharpened gut instinct about projects, and I feel very fortunate to have benefited from that gift of his,” says Swift. “He was the one who championed my move from country to pop, and I’ll never forget him telling me that ‘Shake It Off’ was the one he thought should be the first single. Or calling him to tell him and my Republic team that I’d made a secret album in quarantine called folklore and that I wanted to put it out the following week. I had prepared a speech to persuade my label to let me do it. I should’ve known I wouldn’t need to use it, because Monte reacted as if I’d given him the best news of his life. He gets fired up about music in a way that’s very contagious. Hard work doesn’t scare him. Challenges don’t fatigue him. I’m very lucky to be on his team.”
It makes sense that adaptable, artist-friendly executives like the Lipmans would thrive in today’s music industry, where creatives increasingly control when and how fans can hear their music. Three years ago, Republic had to call an audible when Ariana Grande wanted to cut her Sweetener promotions short in order to roll out her Thank U, Next album — which became an even bigger commercial blockbuster, as well as a watershed moment in how pop music is marketed.
“She said, ‘It’s my art, it’s my music, and that’s the way I want to share it with my fans,’ ” recalls Monte. “And I said, ‘You know what? You’re right. Let’s go.’ And guess what? She changed the paradigm of radio.” In fact, in 2021, Grande made history at radio: Three singles from her Positions album (“34+35,” “pov” and the title track) became concurrent top 10 hits on the Pop Airplay chart, the first album to achieve this in the survey’s 29 years.
Drake, another Republic star, is the ultimate example of how an artist can bend the music world to his will. And this year, the Republic team had to remain nimble as he finished his long-awaited Certified Lover Boy, releasing the three-song Scary Hours 2 EP in March before the full album arrived in September. Neither had prerelease singles, but both produced No. 1 hits upon release, and Certified Lover Boy scored the largest streaming week for an album since Drake’s last full-length in 2018, Scorpion.
Monte points out that the foundation of Republic’s partnership with Drake is the label’s long-term alliance with his OVO Sound imprint and Toronto-based brain trust. Such partnerships have become a bedrock for Republic’s day-to-day operations over the years — their generation-old deal with Cash Money Records yielded massive releases from Lil Wayne, then Wayne protégés Nicki Minaj and Drake — and now include Swift’s 13 Management, The Weeknd’s XO, Grande’s Schoolboy teams, the Pop Smoke estate’s Victor Victor and Post Malone’s DreVision, partners that are looped in on strategic decisions.
Not every partnership has worked out entirely smoothly. Country star Morgan Wallen made his Republic debut in January with Dangerous: The Double Album, through a partnership between the label and Big Loud. The album arrived at the top of the Billboard 200; then, mere weeks later, Wallen was caught using the N-word in a video leaked on TMZ. Although he had previously been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and disinvited from Saturday Night Live for violating its COVID-19 safety protocols, the video prompted swift industry action, with Big Loud/Republic immediately suspending his contract while his songs were removed from streaming and radio playlists. (Wallen remains signed directly to Big Loud, and Republic is in discussions with the label about potential strategy going forward.)
“It’s not complicated at all,” says Monte of the situation. “What Morgan did was hurtful. It was insensitive and it was disrespectful.” Monte and Big Loud CEO Seth England enlisted Eric Hutchinson, executive vp and chief people and inclusion officer at UMG, to work with Wallen, who recently announced a 2022 tour but hasn’t quite yet been reembraced by the music business. “He has been working very hard toward bettering himself — his description — and we’re just hopeful that it’s going to make a difference and there’s going to be people that learn from this, most importantly Morgan.”
Dangerous still ended 2021 as the Billboard 200’s top album of the year, generating $23.4 million in the United States and $30.4 million globally for Republic and Big Loud, Billboard estimates. And — behavior aside — Wallen’s emergence was a bellwether for the ways Republic leadership sees the label expanding in 2022. Roppo expects more focus on country music; singer-songwriter Lily Rose, another Big Loud/Republic artist, recently released her debut album, Stronger Than I Am, and will tour with Big Loud labelmate Chris Lane next year. Roppo also says that the success of girl group TWICE hints at a greater investment in K-pop next year, while Inside (The Songs) — the best-selling companion album to Bo Burnham’s Netflix special Inside released through Imperial/Republic — has inspired a harder look into the comedy space.
Regardless of genre, short-form content like TikTok clips will continue to be “a major factor in how we adjust our strategy,” says Roppo. “We’re marketing music in advance of its release even further and further out now across that short form. Those content platforms are sort of the way the movie industry uses trailers a year or more [before] their big releases, and we find that to be very vital and important in every campaign — longer lead times, more marketing, more prerelease awareness leads to bigger results in many cases, whether those are superstars or developing artists.”
The new year will bring the full launch of a just-opened, Republic-owned recording space in Manhattan — a counterpart to the label’s Century City studio opened in 2017 — as well as much-awaited music from Post Malone, John Mellencamp and Nicki Minaj. “Monte, Avery and Republic have always taken such good care of me,” says Post Malone. “I’m happy to say my fourth album is finished now, and I’m so f—ing excited for everybody to hear it.” There’s also plenty of promise on the artist roster, from L.A.-based rapper Coi Leray, as well as BoyWithUke, a recent signee with a hidden identity but flashy streaming numbers.
“He writes, he produces, he takes a new-school approach with his craft and how to create anticipation,” Avery raves of BoyWithUke. This is how the Lipmans still speak about rising artists, as if they’re still in that tiny Upper East Side apartment: fully confident in their mass appeal, desperate to get the chance to fight for them.
“Every campaign is an audition — you go after it as if it’s the very first one,” says Monte. “It always starts with the music. It starts from a creative place and that sense of excitement. There is no ceiling in terms of what we believe we can accomplish with anyone.”