In the summer of 2010, then-RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss, son of industry legend Hy Weiss, found himself in a spitting contest with other Sony label executives vying to succeed Sony Music Entertainment CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, who was due to leave in early 2011. But when it became clear that Weiss wasn’t going to be the anointed one, he stuck a finger in Sony’s eye, leaving to head up East Coast operations at Universal Music Group (UMG) as chairman/CEO of what’s now called Universal Republic & Island Def Jam. It’s a good fit. Weiss got his hip-hop pedigree building Clive Calder’s Zomba/Jive into a rap powerhouse in the ’80s; his pop chops from diversifying the label into tween pop with the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Britney Spears in the ’90s; and his rock bona fides through the emergence of Kings of Leon.
Weiss is respected for both his business acumen and his eye for creative talent, a rarity among label heads, who tend to be strong in one or the other. When Weiss was overseeing RCA/Jive, Sony sources say it was the most profitable label based on profit as a percentage of revenue.
In his approach, Weiss is known for spending big on the front end, ensuring the songs, production and the artist’s image is right. But upon release, his marketing spend is conservative and, unlike most label heads, he’ll walk away and not spend more money on a title that doesn’t meet initial sales or buzz expectations. But sources also point out that he was fascinated by Kings of Leon’s ability to gradually grow sales, which they said might influence his thinking at UMG.
By virtue of overseeing both East Coast labels for UMG, Weiss now controls the label group with the largest U.S. market share for albums and track-equivalent albums, based on IDJ and Universal Republic’s combined share of 11.2% for 2011, versus 7.9% for Jimmy Iovine (see No. 10) and Interscope Geffen A&M, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The addition of Weiss and his power base alongside Iovine and Interscope will give UMG its best one-two punch since Iovine and Lyor Cohen (No. 14) were going toe-to-toe in the early part of the 2000s.
Order the special edition Billboard Power 100 issue, printed on glossy stock with lavish original photography (available now).
What do you think of the 2012 Billboard Power 100? Sound off in the comments area of the Letter From the Editor page, where the criteria is explained.