Both a visionary who early on embraced streaming and the digital revolution, and a traditionalist who signed and supported the careers of such classic artists as the Rolling Stones, Queen, Elton John and U2, Lucian Grainge, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group, is recognized as one of the most innovative, influential and powerful executives in the history of the music business. This year, the Cannes Lions fest is honoring him as the Media Person of 2017.
Few executives have dealt so well with the digital revolution that has turned the indistry upside-down. Born in London in 1960, Grainge has spent his entire career in music. He got his start in A&R (his first signing was the Psychedelic Furs). After successful stints at RCA, MCA and Polydor, he attained his present position in 2011 as the entire music business was in dire straits.
Grainge, however, saw the potential of emerging technology and figured out how to navigate the disruptions caused by the advent of streaming by positioning UMG at the forefront of all the seismic activity. In his first year as CEO, he led the successful acquisition of EMI, which cemented UMG’s position as the global leader in music. He helped re-launch Capitol Records, which scored all the major 2015 Grammys for label artists Sam Smith and Beck.
The exec also pioneered smart distribution models with a wide range of technology partners, including Apple, Spotify, Virgin, Vodafone and 19 Entertainment, as well as spearheading a global strategic deal with Live Nation. Other innovative deals include All Def Music, a partnership forged with Russell Simmons for signing and promoting artists on YouTube, and the Kleek, a partnership with Samsung for a streaming music service in Africa.
Grainge, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2016, has also aggressively overseen UMG’s expansion into movies, winning an Oscar for the Amy Winehouse documentary “Amy” and producing Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary. He also recently re-launched Polygram Entertainment, which has two upcoming projects: “The Story of Motown” and “Mystify.”