1. SCOTT BORCHETTA
PRESIDENT/CEO OF BIG MACHINE LABEL GROUP
Scott Borchetta isn’t the most powerful person in Nashville thanks to his company’s market share. At best, Big Machine Label Group finishes third among country labels in the first half of 2015 with a 10.1 share of the market when sales by its Valory label (Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore) and Republic Nashville are counted. Borchetta, 53, ranks No. 1 because record buyers aren’t the only ones who want what he’s selling. In a span of just eight months, he engaged in discussions with Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and other suitors to sell his company (which, sources say, had an initial asking price of $225 million to $250 million), appeared on American Idol and claimed the fastest-selling album to reach the 5 million mark with Taylor Swift’s 1989.
That flurry of activity culminated in Borchetta’s July 2 decision to take his company off the market and instead purchase sister label Republic Nashville, which Big Machine had long promoted and worked to radio under its distribution agreement with Universal Music Group. The deal married Big Machine’s roster of acts, including Swift, Tim McGraw and Zac Brown Band, with Republic stars Florida Georgia Line (FGL) and The Band Perry and spared Borchetta (and Swift) the limitation of being tied to one distributor. “We’re a content company,” he says. “And if we create the best content, every distributor will want what we have.”
Exhibit A is Swift, who played a linchpin role in convincing Apple Music, in an open letter to the company, to pay indie artists during the service’s first three months. “I didn’t consult with Taylor on the letter, but it was ironic because I’d been having a conversation with [Apple executive] Jimmy [Iovine] about my concerns the day before and how I didn’t feel we could participate,” says Borchetta. “So when Taylor texted me the link that Saturday, I said, ‘You have no idea how good your timing is.’ ”
“What makes Scott powerful is his ability to separate his ego from the mix,” Swift tells Billboard. “Many people in his position lose the ability to listen over time. Scott wants to hear his artists out. He knows he has a wealth of knowledge, but he also knows that the fresh creative ideas of young musicians are valuable and important in the grand scheme of things. His power comes from his ability to be humble enough to keep learning, keep listening, and as a result…keep winning.”
Borchetta commutes 20 minutes to Big Machine’s offices from Nashville’s upscale suburb of Forest Hills, where he lives with his wife, Sandi (Big Machine’s creative director), and their two dogs. A fervent fan of auto racing, he sponsors the Chip Ganassi IndyCar team and is looking to do more laps around the rest of the industry. With six No. 1s on Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40 chart, Swift is the biggest country-to-pop crossover success in the list’s history, and with acts like FGL and Gilbert further blurring the lines among country, rock, EDM and hip-hop, Iovine says Borchetta “has the capacity to build something great. It just depends on what he wants to do.” Borchetta’s next moves? “There’s a couple of open lanes for another big female artist, and a huge, underlying rock animal out there that just needs to be taken care of. We try to stay on the edge of the mainstream and look at what the most aggressive young kids are running toward.”