UPDATED: The music industry was rocked on Thursday with the news that Epic Records chairman and CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid is leaving Sony Music. The executive was six years into his tenure at the label he relaunched as a hub for urban acts (Future, Travis Scott, DJ Khaled) with a proven track record in pop (Meghan Trainor, Fifth Harmony). In fact, Reid was riding a winning streak that culminated in a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit for Khaled the same week his exit was revealed.
Sony’s only comment has been a terse press release saying “L.A. Reid will be leaving the company,” but an insider tells Variety that the search is on for a new CEO. Meanwhile, the label continues to operate with a full slate of releases on deck, including new music by Fifth Harmony (expected in June), the first solo effort from Camila Cabello (coming very soon), and a new album by Mariah Carey. Also on the horizon is a scheduled appearance by Reid at the Midem conference in Cannes on June 6, where he is due to give a keynote address. It is unclear as of now whether that commitment will be honored.
Elsewhere in the Sony universe, the company has recently seen several changes at the top, not the least of which was the promotion of Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer to CEO of Sony Music, a position he officially stepped into in April, succeeding Doug Morris, who joined Sony from Universal in 2011. That leaves two chief executive vacancies at the company, in addition to a recent exit by international head Edgar Berger back in January after 12 years at Sony, a daunting task for any executive, never mind one that looks over the likes of Adele, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, and Harry Styles, whose debut album was released today (May 12).
Although Reid’s departure was unexpected — even sudden — Sony does have a history of shakeups every six or so years. To wit: Jive Records’ Barry Weiss’ defection for Universal in 2010, and before that, Epic President Charlie Walk’s exit in 2009. And, of course, who could forget the ill-fated year-plus run of Amanda Ghost as Epic chief. Reid, too, had left Sony for Universal’s Island Def Jam in 2004, only to return as a Morris lieutenant in 2011.
But if anything, Reid turned around a label that, seven years ago, was essentially left for dead, ushering in a robust period that included No. 1 albums by Future, Travis Scott, and DJ Khaled. Reid was rewarded for that success by being allowed to move Epic’s base — and his own — to the west coast and take hold of a brand new space on the Sony Pictures lot (Sony/ATV Music Publishing, along with Sony imprints Columbia, RCA, and Syco also operate out of the Akio Morita building).
And while speculation immediately turned to purported internal strife among the upper ranks, multiple Sony sources expressed bafflement at such an insinuation. Insiders say, other than the occasional spirited — and usually colorful — conference room banter, there was no tension between Stringer and Reid. These days, however, the vibe at Epic, and throughout Sony, is far from jovial as nervousness and uncertainty sets in for staffers.