ROB STRINGER, 55
CEO, Sony Music Entertainment
Last Year’s Rank: 5
After a decade running Sony’s Columbia Records, Rob Stringer in April started his new job as Sony Music’s CEO with a bang. One month in, he dismissed Antonio “L.A.” Reid as the head of Epic Records following sexual harassment claims. Since then, while wooing Ron Perry from SONGS Music Publishing to replace himself at Columbia and installing UMG veteran Daniel Lieberberg to oversee continental Europe and Africa, Stringer has eagerly shifted his focus from the “clear-cut priorities” of the label to the open-ended questions facing a global corporation amid huge technological change. “There are 10 different ways to take this company in 10 different directions,” says the energetic father of two teenagers, noting that he reads “everything” to inform his decisions and embraces new sounds rather than rooting for rock’s comeback or “trying to find the next Smiths.” The prudent Brit takes nothing for granted, and is less concerned with competition from his major-label rivals — with whom he says has a good relationship — than with tech giants and other music outsiders elbowing in as analysts cheer newfound revenue from streaming: “Everyone else is going to want some of that revenue, too.”
What are you most proud of from the past year?
That I’ve been really careful, and that I haven’t rushed to change the world in an hour. I’ve got to create a legacy. I had two jobs for about six months – I’m really glad I don’t have two jobs now. But it’s actually been very good. [Before Perry took over Columbia in January] we’d grown a dialogue outside of the day-to-day constraints of running a company. It was almost like a seminar-based relationship where we would see each other once a week.
Did you make a decision about Epic?
“Sylvia [Rhone, Epic Records’ president] is running Epic.”
What are your biggest concerns?
Within six months of a lot of the optimism becoming much more dramatic, the cost of doing business has become twice as expensive as it was a year ago [in terms of] deals, talent, overhead structure. These companies were built on long-term catalog in perpetuity. There are no more long-term catalog-in-perpetuity deals, so any artist we sign today, in theory, by 2025 is probably a free agent. There are people who know we’re not going to control the rights [after 2025], and then they could control the rights. I liked building something with no one bothering me. Now it’s not going to be like that. Everyone’s going to want the money earlier, and everyone’s going to want the money in the multiples that are potentially unrealistic…But despite the hurdles and pitfalls of this current industry chapter it’s still a very exciting time to be involved, particularly on a creative level.
Do you think there will be more fallout from the #MeToo movement?
Yeah. Hopefully not [at Sony] but if you’re really going to start looking at the ’80s and ’90s in the American music industry, it’s going to be pretty frightening. Did I ever tolerate any nonsense at Columbia Records? No.
How much more hiring do you expect to do this year?
That will be fairly fluid. There are some people in the organization that deserve to be retrained for the next chapter. We’ve got to retrain people.
What are you excited about musically?
The question I get asked most is when is rock coming back? Can it just be the same as it was? Where’s the protest music? There’s tons of great music around. It’s all there, it’s just different. I don’t ever look back.