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Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer Talks Spotify, Columbia Records Succession, Adele

Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer is set to make a triumphant homecoming to the U.K. next week to receive the country’s prestigious Music Industry Trusts Award on Nov. 6. The event raises money for the BRIT Trust, which supports the BRIT School and industry charity Nordoff Robbins. Previous winners have included Chris Blackwell, Annie Lennox and Roger Daltrey, among others.

Ahead of the honor, Stringer sat for a number of interviews with the British press, including the Times of London, GQ and Music Week, where his revelations included attending 29 consecutive Glastonbury Festivals, and admitting he’d never have predicted Ed Sheeran’s rise to global superstar status.

Some highlights:

On succeeding Doug Morris: “I don’t think we’re alike at all, but he’s taught me a lot… about being someone who looks at a scenario and understands it by just sheer experience and knowledge.”

Adjusting to America: “I made a lot of mistakes because I was British and I didn’t understand the marketplace and I worked for a company that, we joke about it now, but [the Sony BMG merger] was like the Slough and Swindon branches on ‘The Office.’ The reason I went to America was because the company was screwed up. I didn’t get the job because it was great. I got it because it wasn’t in good shape.”

Dealing with superstar artists: “Bob Dylan has seen six of me. I’m passing through. I get on really well with Barbra Streisand, but she’s seen six of me; Bruce Springsteen has probably seen five. Adele will be a part of our company long after I’m gone.”

What a record label does for its releases: “What we’re here for is to magnify. But you have to start with something beautiful. If you enlarge something that isn’t good, it’s like enlarging a picture that’s blurred.”

Signing One Direction and Adele: “Those moments can change the destiny of a record label. The number of artists that make that much difference is less than 10.”

Spotify: “I have huge admiration for everything Spotify has done to build their business. We have a complicated relationship with it now because we have to make sure that we’re represented properly and they don’t bypass us. There’s a temptation there, if they’re valued at what they’re supposed to be valued at, they could become larger than all the labels put together. It is my job to maintain the balance. We don’t control distribution and we are therefore not as much in control of our destinies as we were during the boom of CDs, or the explosion of vinyl in the ‘60s.”

His successor at Columbia and a new head of Epic: “There would’ve been at the beginning. It’s fairly common knowledge I offered it to one person [new Warner Music CEO Max Lousada], and maybe they used that to get somewhere else. … That’s OK. With Columbia, I want someone to do, not exactly what I’ve done, but to take it to a different place. On Epic, it wasn’t something I wanted to happen or envisioned happening. I had to do something about it and really reflect the appropriate conduct of the company. But Sylvia Rhone is there and she’s run labels before, so I’m not actively searching for anybody else at the moment.”

Compiling his playlist for the MIT Award compilation (on Spotify): “It’s sort of like a therapy session. For me, doing that list wasn’t hard, because I can remember where I was the day I heard those records. I remember every detail. Some of those records were tied to the greatest moments of my life.”

His hopes for Sony Music: “I want it to be futuristic, well-run and if people are taught the right way, we’ll always attract artists… If I can add to what we’ve built up, we’re going to be absolutely fine.”

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