Billboard’s Inaugural Digital Power Players List Revealed
Billboard's inaugural Digital Power Players list honors the 25 executives leading the industry into its brave new cloud-based world.
Welcome to life in the cloud.
Digital music now accounts for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. music industry’s $4.9 billion in revenue, according to the most recent full-year figures from the IFPI, the global music industry trade group. Downloads make up 55 percent of the digital market, but subscription streaming in 2014 jumped 21 percent — and that was before the June 30 launch of Apple Music.
The rapid change behind these numbers drives the daily work of the 25 executives on Billboard’s Digital Power Players list.
Chosen for their roles at companies and organizations that are, collectively, determining how the music business will survive and thrive in the online age, these are the digital leaders at record labels, streaming services, music publishers, concert promoters, booking agencies, rights organizations and more.
FRANCIS KEELING, 42
Global head of digital business, Universal Music Group
As music subscription services continue to grow, Keeling has spent the past year working with Universal Music Group’s partners to find — and keep — subscribers. “Is it trials? It is bundles? Is it free? What is the right on-ramp, not just for subscriptions but in the best interest of the artists, royalties, label and the platform as well,” says the London-based father of two. Some answers, he says, are found though maximizing the use of data that UMG collects to help understand consumer behavior. As of June, digital sales made up 50 percent of UMG’s recorded-music revenue, up 44 percent from the same period in 2013. In September, the company inked a streaming deal with Amazon Prime Music for its catalog in the United States and United Kingdom, a move sure to expand its digital footprint.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “I spent three years in the British Army before starting my business career and learned that with the right leader, a team can achieve any goal.”
DENNIS KOOKER, 48
President, global digital business and U.S. sales, Sony Music Entertainment
Kooker is in charge of driving commerce for Sony Music Entertainment, with responsibility for its global digital business, U.S. physical and digital sales, and direct-to-consumer sales. He wants to ensure that Sony finds the right opportunities for its labels to bring its artists’ music to consumers. That is what led Kooker to guide Sony’s acquisition of The Orchard, a top independent digital distributor, which also owns a label and produces annual revenue of about $230 million. Sony bought a 51 percent stake in the company in 2012 and completed its acquisition in March. Kooker, a father of two, says the latest evolution of the industry is its most dramatic yet. “We thought it was a sea change going from physical to digital. But moving from owning music to accessing it may even be a greater sea change.”
Most Treasured Possession: “Depends on the time of year — either my bike or my skis.”
MICHAEL NASH, 58
Adviser to the CEO, Warner Music Group
Digital media consultant Nash rejoined Warner Music Group just three months ago, with the goal of helping CEO Stephen Cooper refine the company’s digital strategy. Nash has a track record of success: During his first tenure at WMG (2000 to 2011), the company’s digital revenue grew from zero to nearly 35 percent of worldwide revenue. Now “it’s hard to say there’s a single metric” of success, says the New York resident and former Air Force brat. “You judge digital by the success of the company. It doesn’t matter what individual departments achieve if the overall company isn’t successful.”
Music Career Inspiration: “I saw The Police in Salt Lake City in August 1982. I loved the show so much that I wrote a review of that concert for an arts weekly. That was the beginning of my career in music.”
STEVE BOOM, 47
Vp digital, Amazon
Boom scored a coup in late September as Amazon wooed holdout Universal Music Group, bringing acts including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, The Weeknd and Luke Bryan to its streaming service for Amazon Prime members. The father of three and a Harvard Law School graduate, Boom emphasizes what sets Amazon Prime apart, claiming an appeal to fans of acts he says are underrepresented at the competition (“country is not really a central genre in a lot of these other services”), specialty compilations, its Prime Stations radio and compatibility with the new Amazon Echo voice-activated speaker. Boom won’t reveal Amazon Prime’s total customer base, but expansion into the United Kingdom this past July likely drove that number higher.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “Maybe this comes with being in my late 40s, but this whole thing is a marathon and not a sprint, which means being patient and seeing the long term.”
ROBERT KONDRK, 53
iTunes vp content, Apple
While Jimmy Iovine and Eddy Cue take the spotlight for guiding Apple’s music strategy, Kondrk is the guy making things happen at the iTunes store and Apple Music streaming service. On Dec. 16, 2014, when Madonna wanted to combat the leak of demos for her Rebel Heart album by issuing some finished tracks before the iTunes store froze for the year on Dec. 19, her team turned to Kondrk (who was on vacation in Mexico) to get it done. At Apple Music, Kondrk and his staff are the go-to contacts for those seeking play on the service, as the end of its free trial period puts it in direct competition with Spotify. While streaming rises and downloads fall, Apple still commands about a 40 percent share of the U.S. music market, which makes Kondrk’s iTunes store four times larger than the next biggest account.
Beyond His Job Title: Kondrk is said to be involved in all aspects of Apple’s music effort including its economic model and business development.
STEVE SAVOCA, 47
Vp content and distribution, Spotify
Savoca spent the past year preaching Spotify’s ability to help break artists. Initiatives including an editorial team, playlist programming and 75 million monthly listeners worldwide make Spotify a powerful platform for artist development, says the native of New York’s suburban Westchester County. For example, a coordinated effort pushed Major Lazer‘s “Lean On” to the top of Spotify’s global chart. Savoca also convinces artists and labels to use worldwide releases to best capture global buzz. Case in point: One Direction’s surprise release of “Drag Me Down,” which set a single-day record of 4.75 million streams. The old ways of doing things are becoming obsolete, says Savoca. “We are in an unprecedented transition from transaction to consumption, which requires new thinking, understanding, structure — a whole new rulebook.”
Business Mantra: “Artists are the only true stars, not the executives who bring them to market. Hits are made in the studio.”
PETER BRODSKY, 52
Executive vp business affairs and legal, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Sony/ATV has been a leader in efforts to get the U.S. Department of Justice to revise the nearly 75-year-old consent decrees hobbling music publishing, and Brodsky is at the forefront of that fight. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and father of two, he oversees the business deals of Sony/ATV’s $1.3 billion publishing portfolio, and has been involved in several large direct licensing deals including one with Pandora. That pact helped lead to a decision by a rate court judge in May requiring Pandora to pay 2.5 percent of its revenue to BMI, an increase from 1.75 percent. If plans proceed for a possible buyout of the 50 percent share of Sony/ATV owned by Michael Jackson‘s estate, look for Brodsky to be involved in those negotiations.
Favorite Business App: “Candy Crush, because it helps keep me focused.”
MARC CIMINO, 44
COO, Universal Music Publishing Group
As the first executive appointment by Jody Gerson after she took the UMPG reins in January, Cimino helps execute all of the publishing company’s activities, including digital, throughout its 43 offices in 36 countries. The Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised father of three now guards the interests of UMPG’s 3 million copyrights as new digital uses arise. “As much as we want to facilitate new technology, it’s difficult to do when you are lacking control of how your content is exploited,” he says. One area fully under UMPG’s control is its Royalty Window online payment-tracking system. Cimino lauds 2015 updates to the 7-year-old program that now allows songwriters to check daily balances of their earnings and execute one-click royalty advances.
Music Career Inspiration: “I’m from the Jersey Shore. If you ask anyone who comes from there, their life changed the day they saw Bruce Springsteen live. It was in high school for me. My wife and I stumbled into a bar in Asbury Park and he played a two-hour set for 300 people.”
Executive vp North America operations, Warner/Chappell Music
A publishing executive and lawyer by trade and a guitarist at heart (his treasure is a 1952 Gibson ES 175), Miller took on his current role at Warner/Chappell in January. The move reunited him with Warner/Chappell CEO Jon Platt: They worked together for nearly two decades at EMI Music Publishing. Traveling to work from homes in both West Orange, N.J., and the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Miller says his work in the digital realm for Warner/Chappell is guided by clear strategy: “Simply put, the services that bring value to our songs and songwriters are always welcome here,” he says. “And services that undermine that value really have no place in our business. History has proven that technology and devices come and go. But great music does not. It endures. Period.”
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “It’s that, occasionally, I am wrong.”
President, Kobalt Music Group
While Kobalt Music Group founder Willard Ahdritz brings the vision behind the company’s multipronged strategy, Sanders is the one often charged with executing that vision. The 30-year veteran of the music industry joined Kobalt in 2012 after heading up global marketing for Sony Music International. He has been with Kobalt as the company evolved from its early role as a music publishing administrator, focused on transparency for the billions of annual digital transactions. It has moved into acquiring publishing assets, including the catalogs of Steve Winwood, The B-52s and Lindsey Buckingham‘s Fleetwood Mac repertoire, and into label services for albums including Lenny Kravitz‘s Strut. In August, the collection society AMRA, acquired by Kobalt in 2014, announced an agreement to handle royalty collections worldwide for its clients’ copyrights streaming on Apple Music.
Business Mantra: “Supporting the needs of the artist has always been my focus.”
STEVE BLATTER, 49
Senior vp/GM music programming and digital music, SiriusXM
SiriusXM gained 913,000 new paying customers in the first half of the year (not counting those with promotional deals), bringing its subscriber base to 28.4 million as of June, despite increased streaming music competition. “As our reach gets bigger, we have the ability to influence the music tastes of even more people,” says Blatter, citing SiriusXM’s role in breaking such acts as Elle King, George Ezra and OMI. The Brooklyn-born father of two says a new partnership with YouTube to co-produce shows and share data is key to talent discovery. “We’re able to see what’s bubbling under on YouTube at an incredibly early stage,” he says.
Business Mantra: ” ‘If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.’ That’s a quote from [business book author] Jim Collins and something I preach to my team.”
SARA CLEMENS, 44
Chief strategy officer, Pandora
Three years ago, Pandora was vilified in the creative community for pushing royalty-lowering legislation. Now the digital service is trying to mend fences by giving artists access to its 80 million listeners. “Building up the Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) has been our singular focus,” says Sara Clemens, Pandora’s New Zealand-born chief strategy officer and leader of its artist-facing team. AMP is an online portal that allows artists to deliver audio messages that direct fans to ticket links or, on the Pandora platform, mixtapes and prerelease premieres. “We really feel like this is a unique conversation between the artist and the fan,” says Clemens. The company’s $450 million purchase this month of the San Francisco-based ticketing company Ticketfly will further strengthen its ties to the artist community.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “Failure is a part of growth. As you get on in your career, it’s a useful thing to realize.”
ERIK HUGGERS, 42
Since Vevo’s launch in 2009, it has brought some 140,000 high-definition music videos, concerts and original programs to a global audience. But unsuccessful efforts in 2014 to sell the company led to the departure of then-CEO Rio Caraeff and the arrival in March of Huggers, a Dutch native and father of two with significant experience guiding companies (like the BBC and Verizon) into the future of video. Calling Vevo “one of the leading video assets on the planet,” Huggers is convinced it has room to grow. “An audience in the millions and millions, consuming video at ever-increasing rates — it continues to shock me how much time people have for video.”
Possible Next Move: Vevo was reported to be negotiating to add videos from Warner Music Group, the sole major not aligned with the service.
ROBERT KYNCL, 45
Chief business officer, YouTube
“User engagement, which means getting as many people around the world to watch as much video on YouTube as possible — that’s goal No. 1,” says Kyncl, who’s looking beyond the service’s current levels: more than 1 billion users, 4 billion views per day and 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. A native of the former Czechoslovakia, Kyncl says overall visits to YouTube are up 40 percent since March 2014, and he continues to focus on driving revenue to the company, its content creators and a growing tide of advertisers. “We’ve seen a great acceleration of the ad business. The technology tools and ad-buying tools we’re providing are giving them access at scale, and that’s hugely attractive to them.”
Favorite Leisure App: “I like using Clipboards to read. It’s my favorite downtime activity. I have all of my favorite magazines tied into it.”
COLE GAHAGAN, 38
Chief revenue officer, Ticketmaster
“I’m tired of going to concerts and seeing moms and little girls standing outside of Taylor Swift shows who can’t get in because they bought a fraudulent PDF ticket,” say Gahagan, a Dallas-based father of two who’s on a mission to stop ticket fraud. Ending such incidents would be one benefit to Ticketmaster’s drive toward mobile ticketing, which has required selling client venues and concertgoers on the advantages of that system. Those efforts are paying off. The company this year expects to scan more than 6 million mobile tickets across its North American client venues, a 160 percent increase over 2014.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “The importance of timely feedback from people that not just work for you, but you work with — particularly the stuff that’s hard to say.”
JOYCE SZUDZIK, 44
Vp digital marketing, AEG Live
Szudzik heads up AEG Live’s 17-person team that figures out the best digital strategies to support tours, and rolls out digital tools to AEG’s regional offices. “My goals are to strengthen our capabilities — in personalization, localization, advertising optimization and data analytics — so that concert fans can get what they want, when they want it and on their preferred device, all while keeping things simple,” she says. Szudzik proudly notes that she joined AEG Live in 2003 as one of the concert promotion company’s first 50 employees. A self-described “startup brat” (“my dad moved us around while working for many great new companies that did, or didn’t, get off the ground”), she now lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., as “a beach girl for life,” she says.
Business Mantra: “KISS — not the band, but Keep It Simple, Stupid. I’ve switched it to Keep It Short and Simple. People need something simple and efficient.”
JORDAN ZACHARY, 33
Chief strategy officer, Live Nation Entertainment
Although Zachary officially joined the Live Nation team in the spring, his ties to the live entertainment giant go back further. As a board member of C3 Presents and Vice, the New York-based father of one worked closely with Live Nation chief Michael Rapino to lock down new deals with those two companies in late 2014. At Live Nation, his first music industry job, Zachary says he will continue working with the company’s digital streaming partners like Yahoo, Apple and Snapchat to expand the live experience for fans and boost ad revenue. “We’re ready to build this new layer of digital activity,” he says.
Greatest Recent Achievement: “With over 100 million streams of our live shows across our platform partners, it was exciting to see a growing and meaningful portion coming from outside of the United States.”
KENNY LAYTON, 33
Agent, digital and personal appearance department, William Morris Endeavor
At William Morris Endeavor, Layton leads the digital and personal appearance department in a booking realm so new that it has its own acronyms. Layton’s explains his role as helping “grow native digital talent footprints in the traditional touring world, taking them off their digital platforms and putting them IRL” — or, in real life. The Santa Monica resident draws parallels between the potential of digital stars and the rise of EDM, whose DJs have grown into major live draws. He has turned to promoters, labels and managers (“everyone else who has seen the rise of traditional music or EDM in the past”) to support the offline opportunities of WME digital clients, including Rachel Brathen, Andie Case, Cameron Dallas, Grace Helbig, Kurt Hugo Schneider, Lilly Singh and Veritasium. “Growing all of those relationships was probably the most difficult thing, but it has had a snowball effect,” he says. “The department has booked over 1,000 shows or appearances for digital clients in the past year and a half.”
Music Career Inspiration: “I was in four bands and four choirs in high school, so it kind of wasn’t even a decision to go into the music business. It was just, ‘Well, I have to do this, right?'”
JONATHAN PERELMAN, 34
Head of digital ventures, ICM Partners
Perelman brought digital credibility to his new role at ICM from his previous gig as vp motion pictures at BuzzFeed, where his work helped bring in 1.5 billion monthly views on 75 original pieces per week. The Brentwood, Calif., resident and father of two boys aims to make ICM “the most digitally advanced agency in the business” by identifying opportunities and potential investments in technology and new media. That goal involves digital integration across the company, he says. “We have a strategy to make every department as digitally savvy as possible.”
Most Treasured Possession: “My grandfather was in World War II and I have this — for lack of a better word — handkerchief made of silk. It has the American flag on it and a [phrase in a] dozen different languages that says, ‘I’m an Allied fighter and I come in peace.’ “
MARGO PLOTKIN, 37
Executive of digital packaging and talent, Creative Artists Agency
Plotkin has helped some of music’s biggest digital stars cross over into traditional media during her four years at Creative Artists Agency, repping Pentatonix, Charlie Puth, Troye Sivan, Epic Rap Battles of History and others. Deals with Johnson & Johnson products, tie-ins with the hit show Empire and Pentatonix’s platinum album with RCA are examples of the Laurel Canyon resident’s emphasis on brand-building through partnerships, leveraging her clients’ collective social media reach of nearly 85 million followers. It’s largely uncharted territory, which she likes. “We’re so fortunate to have clients who want to be pioneers and aren’t afraid to take risks — because that’s the only way.”
Favorite Leisure App: “Next Issue: you pay a monthly subscription and have access to almost every magazine. As someone who travels a lot, I would go to the store before I’d board a plane and get weighed down with 20 pounds of magazines. Now you just have every one on your iPad.”
STEVEN MARKS, 48
Chief of digital business and general counsel, RIAA
In his role at the principal trade group of the U.S. record business, Marks focuses on protecting the value of a record label’s intellectual property. Three years ago, the Florida native and father of three helped the RIAA beat back legislation that would have resulted in lower royalties paid by many digital music services. This year, along with record-label attorneys, Marks helped give the majors Christmas in June: a $210 million settlement with SiriusXM over unpaid royalties on pre-1972 recordings. It was the first time a service this size had paid for the performance of these older recordings. “It’s a significant achievement for the industry,” says Marks.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “Relationships are as, or more, important than believing you are right about something.”
J.D. CONNELL, 39
Vp new media licensing, SESAC
“SESAC is better-described now as a ‘music rights organization’ rather than a ‘performance rights organization,’ ” says Connell, whose job — licensing music in the digital space — reflects the PRO’s rapidly evolving structure. The Memphis native has worked closely this past year with such digital content providers as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix as SESAC integrated recent acquisitions including mechanical rights management firm The Harry Fox Agency and Rumblefish, which focuses on “micro-licensing” for digital uses. “We’re trying to be innovative and we’re moving fast,” says Connell, “and it makes my job very exciting.”
Favorite Leisure App: “I’m constantly on Instagram.”
MICHAEL HUPPE, 47
As head of SoundExchange, Huppe leads the performing rights organization that collects billions of micro-royalties from statutory digital services like Pandora and SiriusXM and distributes them to record labels and artists. The Delaware-born father of two now oversees 22 percent of all wholesale record-label revenue and 46 percent of streaming and digital radio revenue. SoundExchange also represents labels and artists in current court proceedings that will set webcasting royalty rates for the next five years. “SoundExchange has probably delivered more innovation in the last 12 months than at any point in the organization’s history,” he says. “We have made changes in our process and platform, and approach to data, that have helped us become the most efficient, most transparent organization at what we do.”
Most Treasured Possession: “After college, I went around Europe with a buddy. At one point, we chiseled out parts of the Berlin Wall. It’s a reminder of trying to break through, so the right way of thinking and the right way of living can spread.”
ALICE KIM, 44
Executive vp/chief strategy and development officer, ASCAP
In six months as ASCAP’s first executive vp of strategic development, Kim has set the stage for the performing rights organization’s transformation. The mother of three (including two tech-savvy 5-year-old twins), Kim cut her teeth in the Wild West of tech startups and venture capital, and is focused at ASCAP on key executive hires, implementing tech innovations and increasing transparency for an organization that in 2014 earned a record-breaking $1 billion in revenue and distributed $883 million. “I am a doer and a fixer,” says Kim.
Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “You have to be able to distinguish between what you can and cannot control.”
DAVID LEVIN, 44
Vp digital licensing, BMI
“We had our biggest year ever,” says BMI’s Levin. “We crossed a really important threshold in our digital licensing with $100 million [in revenue].” The father of a 12-year-old daughter, Levin credits several factors for the digital licensing revenue growth, including the expansion of music streaming and the growth of video services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime (which brokered its first deal with BMI this year). But there was also a legal victory that bolstered BMI’s bottom line. “A big part of our 2015 success was the Pandora court case we litigated and prevailed in,” says Levin of the ruling that boosted BMI’s fees from the digital radio service to 2.5 percent of Pandora’s revenue, up from 1.75 percent.
Most Treasured Possession: “Probably all my ’80s vinyl that I still have in the closet and will never get rid of.”
This list was originally published in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.