These days, the cultural universe loves to rank anything and everything. It’s a way to convey authority, generate media coverage and create controversy by pricking a few overinflated egos. It’s almost as if we have begun judging our own worth solely as it relates to others. And it’s a depressing development.
It is amid this climate that Billboard is forgoing ranking its 50 Women in Music executives. As Janice Min, who oversees this magazine and its sister publication, The Hollywood Reporter, lamented upon announcing the shift, ranked lists of female executives have unwittingly created a “beauty pageant of brains.” Which is right on the money.
Frank Zappa once said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” And so we are choosing to deviate from our norm, and society’s new norm, to focus on progress and diversity and to pull our list from the industry’s fighting pit – while shining a light on an exceptional group of women that is rewriting the music industry’s rules and, in some cases, creating a whole new rule book.
One of those women is Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson, who — to the surprise of almost no one — is Billboard‘s 2015 Executive of the Year. She arrived at UMPG in January, having already established a reputation as a calculated risk-taker, relying on her ear and intuition as much as algorithms. She’s a music nerd in the best sense.
Case in point: Earlier this year, Gerson signed an unproven talent named Tobias Jesso Jr., a gangly, 30-year-old, piano-playing Canadian, to a reported seven-figure publishing deal. At the time, I thought she was completely off-base and may have actually said that to her (although I’m hoping I’m misremembering the conversation).
“It was a lot of money for an unproven artist,” she admitted. “But I went on instinct. I knew his songs would be priceless.”
Her instincts proved correct. Jesso co-wrote “When We Were Young” with Adele, regarded by many to be one of the strongest cuts on her record-smashing new album, 25. (Perhaps you’ve heard of it.) And Jesso himself may eventually deliver the musical progeny of Honky Chateau and Nilsson Schmilsson.
Oh, and Universal controls Adele’s publishing as well. Are those two of the industry’s smartest moves in recent years? No contest.