Twenty-one exex with 20/20 music biz vision

The Memorial Day shakeup at EMI Music set in motion a series of restructurings at the U.K.-based conglom that momentarily distracted industry types from the dismal atmosphere at the retail level, where sales keep slipping while the number of executives playing musical chairs keeps growing. The following list of 20 execs features key players who recently have assumed new posts or are making a wide impact in their existing ones.

Happy Walters

CEO, Immortal Entertainment

Epic Records recently inked a five-year pact with Walters and his company with an eye on enhancing Epic’s West Coast profile and creating a label that can lure cutting-edge talent capable of merging film and music projects under one banner. A big task, but Walters is up to it. His tony firm has had a number of successes since its bow in 1989, including its flagship act Korn, whose “Life Is Peach” has passed 1 million units. Walters, a former artist manager, also has a number of film projects in the hopper, including “Players Express,” which is set up at Orion. He also is a sought-after music supervisor and has established a mail-order operation to hawk Immortal Gear, items that sport its artist and label logos.

Richard Rowe

president, Sony/ATV Music

Competitors of Rowe’s lament that he’s always there when they look over their dealmaking shoulders. The lawyer-turned-publishing chief has made enormous strides, especially considering that he started from ground zero in 1990 when the company opened its doors. Since taking the reins of the domestic and international publishing operation, Rowe has established the arm as a formidable foe capable of landing the biggest deals despite its relatively small size when compared with such mammoth operations as EMI Music and Warner Chappell, industry leaders that have been in operation for decades. Since orchestrating the acquisition two years ago of Michael Jackson’s ATV Music (the publisher that holds the rights to many Beatles tracks) for a whopping $85 million, Rowe continues to be a player in every significant deal to come down the pike and has firmly established Sony as a writer-friendly operation and not merely a rights-buying conglom.

Tim Sexton

veteran film music supervisor and former prexy, Track Factory Records.

Sexton surprised many seasoned record industry execs with the out-of-the-box success of Sammy Hagar’s “Marching to Mars,” the singer’s first solo disc in a decade and his first since leaving Van Halen. Hagar also was the first artist signed by Sexton to Track Factory, the label offshoot of the Sid Sheinberg-led production company Bubble Factory. But as the Hagar disc was gaining steam, the Bubble’s deal with Universal burst and, along with it, Track’s distribution deal with MCA Records. The well-liked and respected Sexton, who recently settled his exit pact with Sheinberg, has been mulling offers from other congloms to start a new label while he serves as a non-exclusive consultant to MCA. Few doubt that Sexton, who also is a highly regarded music supervisor, will have difficulty making lightning strike twice in his new endeavor.

Martin Kirkup and Steve Jensen

Direct Management

As one of the first management companies to recognize the prominent future alternative music would have in the marketplace, Kirkup and Jensen have established themselves as a career-oriented shop with a hands-on approach. Kirkup, a former artist-development maven for A&M Records, and Jensen, a former ICM agent with strong touring sensibilities, are credited with launching and sustaining the careers of such acts as the B-52’s and Counting Crows. During the past 12 years the pair have become known for working well with the layers of label execs shepherding their artists’ releases. Now they are going to practice what they preach to other labels with the bow of their own diskery, E Pluribus Unum, a joint venture with Geffen and Universal Records. The first release from pop-rocker Neilson Hubbard bowed earlier this month to strong industry word of mouth.

John Sykes

president, VH1

It has taken almost four years, but VH1’s tagline “Music First” finally is being taken seriously by label execs and viewers. Credit for the sea change goes to Sykes. He has revamped the look of the channel and repositioned it from offering a 50-50 mix of music and often obnoxious programming — such as lame gameshows — to a 75-25 mix of music and special programming. Wags still occasionally chafe at the channel’s interest in fashion and “Mike Douglas Show” reruns, but the channel’s clout — and Sykes’ vision — recently was validated by the sales successes of new albums from James Taylor, the Bee Gees and Paul McCartney, all of whom were heavily promoted on the vid channel. Label execs say Sykes works hard to help labels tout new discs by developing promotional opportunities aside from merely playing an act’s musicvideo.

Dan Beck

prexy, V2 Records

No one in the industry is betting against V2, the return of Richard Branson to the record industry, and the tapping of Beck to the label’s top post gives the label even greater odds of succeeding. The startup already has inked a number of key deals with well-known indies Gee Street and Blue Rose Records, and Beck, a 20-year marketing veteran who had a hand in the careers of such artists as Pearl Jam, Michael Jackson and Boston, has quickly become one of the first execs to whom dealmakers bring their artists. The label inked a distribution deal with BMG and recently sold a 40% stake to investors to give the growing label a war chest for expansion and artist signings. It is on the verge of landing a pair of big-name recording artists and pacting with other credible labels to further enhance its foothold in the marketplace.

Amos Newman

A&R chief, Java Records

The son of songwriter-composer Randy Newman and a member of the Newman musical dynasty, Amos has been tapped to set the musical tone for producer Glen Ballard’s Java Records. The hiring of Newman earlier this year for the startup label, bowed in mid-1996 by the producer and co-writer of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” sends a message to the town’s dealmakers that Java will offer an artist-nurturing environment. The Capitol Records-affiliated label will remain small, with just a handful of annual releases so each one can be concentrated on. Newman gets high marks for his keen musical instincts and strong relationships honed while working for Tommy LiPuma at GRP Records; he is expected to tap those traits to make Java one of the industry’s hot spots.

Ken Berry

prexy-CEO, EMI Recorded Music

In less than a month after being named as the worldwide chief of EMI’s music operation, Berry has added $80 million-$100 million to the company’s bottom line through staff cuts and label closures. But these typical chieftain moves — a new regime typically slashes costs to boost profits — seemingly have not diminished Berry’s stock in the industry: He still is considered an artist-friendly exec and a shrewd dealmaker, two traits that rarely co-exist in the music business of the ’90s. He has made several high-profile moves, such as closing EMI Records and eliminating a North American management layer, yet has stayed out of the limelight in the process. Although EMI has long survived on tapping its vaults, Berry has mandated that on his watch the labels left standing are to concentrate on releasing current artist repertoire.

Danny Goldberg

prexy-CEO, Mercury Records.

Goldberg landed at Mercury in late 1995 after playing a rousing round of musical chairs in the exec suites of the Warner Music Group during much of 1994, which saw the well-liked exec segue from prexy of Atlantic Records to chief of Warner Bros. Records. The nod to Goldberg put Mercury, which often was derisively dubbed the home of Bon Jovi, near the top of dealmakers’ shopping list. In less than two years, Goldberg has jumpstarted the label’s release slate and scored a number of home runs, including Hanson, whose “MMMbop” single has led the group’s debut to the top of charts in the
U.S., U.K., Germany, France and New Zealand, among other countries. His inking of Morrissey added to the label’s credibility, which was on an upswing thanks to previous regime signings Rusted Root and Joan Osborne.

Gary Gersh

prexy-CEO, Capitol Records

The recent restructuring at EMI Music and a red-hot release list has helped significantly raise Gersh’s stock both in the industry and within the British conglomerate. Capitol and Virgin have become EMI’s principal U.S. labels and Gersh, whose vision for the label is beginning to bear fruit, is in the midst of negotiating a new pact. Successful discs from Paul McCartney, Meredith Brooks and the Dandy Warhols speak to the depth and diversity of Gersh’s roster, as they join albums from Radiohead and Luscious Jackson on the label’s upcoming release slate. Under Gersh, and senior veep-general manager Lou Mann, Capitol has realigned its marketing ranks and has made the Tower a place where artists feel their careers will get nurtured and their albums heavily supported.

Jay Boberg

prexy, MCA Records

The decades-old moniker Music Corp. of America has perhaps never been more applicable to MCA Records than today, as prexy Boberg has made the label the first stop for most dealmakers. With a free hand from Universal Music Group chieftains Doug Morris and Mel Lewinter, Boberg has established MCA as a force in today’s marketplace boasting successful discs from a range of artists such as New Edition, Sublime and Sammy Hagar. Along with exec veep-general manager Abbey Konowitch, Boberg has made the label artist-friendly and recently has expanded its marketing and A&R staffs in an effort to land and release the music industry’s next wave of chart toppers.

Ian Duffell

prexy-CEO, Virgin Entertainment.

Although most music retail chains are experiencing sluggish sales and have shuttered outlets, Virgin MegaStores is in expansion mode. With Duffell calling the shots, the chain is experiencing a double-digit rise in revenues and has the retail industry’s highest average sales per square foot with its freestanding stores. Duffell oversaw the construction and bow of the chain’s flagship Times Square store in New York, which opened last year and boasts three full floors of product. Plans include the opening of 16 of the mammoth stores in the next two years, which is good news to music industry execs, as the chain is known for its customer-friendly atmosphere and for not charging labels for premium display space. Duffell’s group also is expanding into the hotel and restaurant business.

Jodi Gerson

senior VP, creative, EMI Music Publishing

In seven years, Gerson has risen through the ranks at EMI and established a formidable niche at the music publisher by landing many of the top creative talents in the R&B genre. By signing artists on the cusp, Gerson’s impressive track record includes signing then 19-year-old producer-writer Dallas Austin at the beginning of his success with Motown crooners Boyz II Men and landing producer-writer-artist Jermaine Dupree before his work with Kris Kross put him and the act atop the sales charts. Known as one of the few publishing execs who still go after the song, rather than the flavor of the month, Gerson has become a well-respected exec with solid relationships.

Jeanne Mattiussi

managing director of musicvideo, Johns+Gorman Films

Since bowing the musicvid arm of top commercial production house Johns+Gorman Films 18 months ago, Mattiussi has tapped her experience in record company video and artist development departments to turn the fledgling operation into an industry powerhouse and the first choice of artists and label execs who seek unbridled creative vision for their projects. By repping the next generation of David Finchers and Michael Bays — two top vid and TV spot directors who have won awards for their work and have segued into features — the savvy Mattiussi has made the names of comers Ramaa Mosley (who directed Tonic’s vid “If You Could Only See” and an upcoming series of groundbreaking spots for Rockport shoes) and Ralph Ziman (who helmed vids from Ozzy Osbourne to Vanessa Williams) well known to label execs and vid channel watchers.

Randy Miller

exec VP/general manager, Red Ant Entertainment

Miller segued from G.M. at major player MCA to independently distributed startup Red Ant without missing a beat. Before being ousted in a management shakeup, he led MCA to its fourth consecutive year of record profits with No. 1 discs spanning several genres. He helped put tiny Red Ant on the map by inking several key deals that resulted in making the label a competitor against major labels and such potent startups as DreamWorks. The affable Miller, a respected dealmaker, also was instrumental in landing the sought-after Symposium, and shepherded the release of Naked, which has been getting increased interest from radio. His acumen and easygoing demeanor keep him on the short list when labels are looking for a top-notch general manager.

Cor Dubois

prexy, BMG Classics

At a time when other labels have responded to declining sales by pinkslipping staffers and jettisoning artists from rosters, Dubois has kept his classical operation intact, but with a mandate to do more with less. As a result, BMG Classics has gone from an also-ran to a serious player in the genre in the nine months since the former Rothschild Winery prexy took the group’s helm. He has reduced the classical release slate to two or three new discs per month and has expanded into jazz and world music. He also has put more Broadway cast albums and film soundtrack discs on store shelves, striking gold with “Chicago” and “Star Wars” alongside discs from pianist David Helfgott and composer Michael Tilson Thomas.

Steve Backer

head of marketing, the Enclave

A veteran record marketing exec with strong relationships and high-level ties throughout the industry, Backer’s 13-year track record includes guiding discs from a diverse contingent of successful artists including Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and World Party, the latter the first act of the Enclave to get significant attention from radio and retail. Backer’s yearlong tenure at the fledgling EMI-owned label was just beginning to bear fruit when the conglom put the diskery on life support and gave it until Sept. 15 to wind down. The reputation of the resilient marketeer has several suitors circling with designs on nabbing Backer to boost their respective operations to the next level.

Steve Vining

president, Windham Hill Group

Since replacing Windham Hill Records co-founder Anne Robinson in 1996, Vining has shaped the adult contemporary label into the genre’s leader with a lock on the market. A savvy marketeer, he also is known for exploring nontraditional ways of marketing albums, often sidestepping radio in favor of building a base of support for a project. Before becoming chief of the newly formed Windham Hill Group, which encompasses all of the labels in the BMG-owned operation that tread in the adult fare, Vining was general manager of BMG Classics and produced more than 100 recordings by such seminal artists as Marilyn Horne. At Windham Hill he has inked a number of the adult contemporary genre’s top guns, such as Janis Ian and Kenny Rankin, and has scored big with several discs including George Winston’s “Linus & Lucy — The Music of Vince Guaraldi” and pianist Jim Brickman’s “Picture This.”

Jose Behar

prexy-CEO, EMI Latin

Since bowing the label in 1989, Behar has made EMI Latin the preeminent label in the genre, generating hits and revenues besting rival labels that have been in the game for decades. And while his competitors can fall back on catalog to shore up a thinning current release slate, Behar must constantly deliver hits and fresh repertoire. Best known as the exec who signed Selena, Behar is widely credited with recognizing early the major role Latin music would have in the music industry. He also has scored big with a number of acts in several Latin sub-genres, such as norteno artists Los Tucanes de Tijuana and grup
ero-style Los Mismos. He also orchestrated the potent venture pact with Disa, the leader in regional Mexican repertoire.

Glen Brunman

exec veep, Sony Music Soundtrax

Widely credited as one of the architects of the film soundtrack landscape, Brunman’s is the first name most film producers think of when looking for someone to shape a pic’s music. His recent ascension to exec veep of the newly created Sony Music Soundtrax is a testament of his musical mettle, as it gave him supervision of all soundtracks emanating from each of the conglom’s labels. Brunman, a former publicist and artist development exec, will work closely with execs at the labels to ensure efficient use of artists and repertoire while continuing to establish Sony as the leader in film music projects, even in an era where each year the number of soundtracks released increases.

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