Hitmakers: From ‘Despacito’ to Post Malone, Republic Records Had (Another) Very Good Year

With seven entries on BuzzAngle’s Top 30 songs chart, Republic Records is having a very good year. Or, as anyone working at the Universal Music Group imprint would tell you, another very good year. For the company’s achievements, Variety has recognized Republic as Hitmaker Label of the Year for 2017.

“We’re in the superstar business,” says chairman/CEO Monte Lipman who, along with his brother, president/COO Avery Lipman, founded the label in 1995. “I always say to artists contemplating signing with us: ‘If you want to be the biggest act in the world, you’re at the right place.’”

Republic is equally in step with hip-hop (Post Malone’s “Congratulations,” Drake’s “Fake Love” and “Passionfruit”) as it is with pop (Zayn and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” Julia Michaels’ “Issues”). The label even claimed a Latin crossover hit in “Despacito” and the genre-defying “I Feel It Coming” by the Weeknd.

“For us, the core principles of every successful campaign start with expectations: we set the bar high,” notes Monte Lipman. “We don’t want to just break records, we want to shatter them.”

In the case of Post Malone, that’s resulted in the No. 5 track of the year. And the September release “Rockstar” has a potentially even longer tail. “Like Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling,’ ‘Rockstar’ came out of nowhere and kicked everybody’s ass,” boasts Monte Lipman.

Streaming is rewriting the rulebook by elevating songs that might not necessarily find their way to radio in the old promotion system, and it’s a welcome change. Says Lipman: “It’s track-based and song-based now. With artists like Post Malone, we’re not preoccupied with an album. All of that is taking us into uncharted waters.”

Of course, sometimes familiar terrain is the way to go, as Republic did with the Zayn and Swift single from “Fifty Shades Darker.” The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” the track from the first “Fifty Shades” film, was nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy. Credit for the success of “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is due in large part to Universal Film Music president Mike Knobloch, says Lipman, as well as Swift’s label Big Machine and chief executive Scott Borchetta. “I’ve always said that if Martians landed on Earth tomorrow and created the perfect artist, it’s Taylor Swift,” Lipman adds.

Another feather in Republic’s cap: cracking the code on crossovers, as Republic Records Group president Charlie Walk did twice — with Michaels, who transitioned from hit songwriter to solo artist this year, and Hailee Steinfeld, who added pop star to a resume that already includes Academy Award nominee. Says Lipman of Steinfeld: “Between balancing film and music, [she’s] the hardest-working woman in show business.”

As with all the hitmakers working in music today, the industry veteran has a motto: Take chances. “Every decision we make is a creative leap of faith, no matter the data and intel we’re surrounded by. A song starts with one person and a pen and paper — with an idea, a melody, a narrative. The business will continue to change, but one thing that never has in over 100 years is the impact music has on people.”

Read on for additional hitmaking insight from Monte Lipman.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber – “Despacito” (No. 2): I give tremendous credit to Universal Music Latin America because that record was massive already. The original version had generated hundreds of millions of views and streams. It was a genuine hit in the Latin space. And when I spoke with [UMLA chairman/CEO] Jesus Lopez about crossing it over to the mainstream and English market, it took a little bit of time to identify the best strategy. What’s great about today’s technology is that [Justin Bieber manager] Scooter Braun and I were on the phone on a Tuesday night, and within 48 hours that record went live in the streaming space and the rest is history. Back in the day you’d have to book [Justin], get him in the studio, mix the record, cut the record, produce the record — and here it was literally two days from idea to finished record. It’s exciting. And now we’re seeing that because of  how big and popular Latin music, Mexico has turned into a giant in terms of territories in the streaming world. Everybody’s got a phone and the subscription model makes sense, and now it’s one of our biggest markets.”

Post Malone – “Congratulations” (No. 5): “He represents a realness, an authenticity and something that no one’s ever seen before because he’s really his own person. None of it is calculated. None of it is rehearsed. It’s just Post Malone. There’s a sense of honesty to what this guys does, and it’s everything from the music to the performance to the interviews. He’s unlike any other artist that I’ve ever worked with. And that’s what’s cool about the streaming revolution. There’s no boundaries, no rules. … With ‘Rockstar,’ when it first came out, it wasn’t attached to an album release. It just had everyone looking around like, ‘Where’d this come from?’ All of that is taking us into uncharted waters. Post Malone is a genuine streaming superstar.”

Julia Michaels – “Issues” (No. 17)Julia is such an extraordinary talent as a writer. It’s in her DNA. She has over 10 billion streams at this point for songs she’s co-written. And it’s interesting, because when you  hear the original versions of those hits in demos, it gives you goosebumps because at its earliest stage you can hear the narrative and the melody and you just know it’s one of those. The first time Charlie brought Julia in and she played ‘Issues,’ I went, ‘F—, this record is big.’ So it was really no surprise to me. And I’m thrilled the global marketplace embraced her because it is one of those songs I believe is a candidate for a record of the year Grammy. I also believe she is a candidate for best new artist. There’s going to be a lot more from her. I consider Julia to be one of the best additions to the roster in many years.”

Zayn and Taylor Swift – “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” (No. 18):The universe aligned and everyone came together. It was a shot heard around the world. And following the first [‘Fifty Shades’] movie, when The Weeknd’s ‘Earned It’ picked up both the Oscar and the Grammy nomination, if I had to bet. this will be the same. ‘Fifty Shades’ has become a franchise. It’s a massive platform. Remember that the book sold 120 million copies — that’s a lot of books. There are fans out there. And when you talk about the movie, whether it’s Taylor or The Weeknd, it’s obviously racy and dark and strange, but at the core of it, it’s still a love story.”

Drake — “Fake Love” (No. 24) and “Passionfruit” (No. 28): “Drake is an artist’s artist. He operates in a very unique space. He doesn’t solicit. He is not making music for radio programmers. It wasn’t this crazy orchestrated or sophisticated campaign. The music went into the marketplace and the people reacted. That’s the brilliance of Drake. He references ‘More Life’ as body of work and challenges the status quo of our business. And with “Views,” he was also a pioneer as the first artist to sell a million copies as a digital release only between streaming and downloads. With him it’s never status quo. It’s always pushing himself creatively and pushing us as his strategic partner.”

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