Like many music companies, Interscope Geffen A&M started off 2020 full of optimism. Streaming had fueled several consecutive years of growth, touring was booming and the label had a huge presence at the Grammy Awards, when breakout star Billie Eilish and her brother, producer Finneas, collectively won 10 awards, including a rare sweep of the top four categories: album, record and song of the year and best new artist.
That optimism was severely challenged in the following months as the industry and the world were upended by the pandemic, social and racial unrest and the most polarizing presidential race in memory.
But through it all, the Universal-owned label has grown its market share, moving from second place in 2019 to the top of the stack, and notching five of the year’s 25 top songs. Its overall consumption share — album sales plus equivalent revenue from audio streams and track sales — has improved from 9.78% last year to 10.25% so far this year, overtaking Warner Music’s Atlantic, which led the market in 2019.
“It’s a testament to the team,” says IGA chairman and CEO John Janick. “I’m the face of it, but I always talk about the strength of the people at our company and the amazing artists who inspire us every day. That’s what really got us to where we are, although obviously managing it through the pandemic has been hard in a lot of ways.”
As an entrepreneur who started the punk-leaning Fueled by Ramen label at age 17, Janick and his senior management are also quick to share credit with Interscope’s label partners.
“A few years ago we made a real investment to try to find the right young entrepreneurs who we could partner with,” says Interscope exec VP Joie Manda. “A lot of those relationships and partnerships have come to fruition in a big way.”
In fact, IGA’s I’ve biggest 2020 singles all came through such partnerships: DaBaby’s “Rockstar” (featuring Roddy Ricch), from Arnold Taylor’s South Coast Music Group; Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo,” from Josh Marshall’s Mogul Vision; Trevor Daniel’s “Falling,” from Todd Moscowitz’s Alamo; Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted” from Justin Lubliner’s Darkroom; and Mustard’s “Ballin” from the artist’s own 10 Summers Records.
Janick notes such joint ventures have been an integral part of Interscope since his predecessor, co-founder Jimmy Iovine, set up shop in 1990.
“Something I probably understand more than most people is being an entrepreneur inside a big company,” Janick says. “The foundation of Interscope is all off the backs of entrepreneurs — Jimmy first, but then you think of all the artists who were signed through partners, like Timbaland back in the day, and Dr. Dre and Pharrell. We have great partners who we try to empower.”
Janick’s two lieutenants represent both of the label’s eras. Vice chairman Steve Berman has been with the company since the beginning, while Manda joined when Janick took the helm seven years ago. Both attribute IGA’s league-leading status to the man on top.
“When John first came into the company, he built an immediate bond with Jimmy and he soaked in the culture and the history of Interscope,” says Berman. “I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the room, because I took the incredible ride with Jimmy of building Interscope, and I get to be with John for the next generation.”
Hip-hop has always been the core of Interscope, with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac among the artists who drove the label’s early success. The genre has accounted for seven of IGA’s 10 biggest 2020 albums and eight of its 10 most consumed tracks.
“The way that albums from our hip-hop and R&B artists perform is a testament to what we do on the A&R side, on artist development and our partners,” says Manda, whose career has been steeped in rap. “We’re not just singles driven; we’re not just ‘Hey, this just exploded on TikTok’ or ‘This guy is going to be a one-hit wonder.’ We really are about building career artists.”
Adds Janick: “I want to find the best music in any genre. The market is very hip-hop focused; it’s in Interscope’s DNA, and we have some of the best music in the genre, but I think we have some of the best music in pop and in and alternative too.”
To be sure, bubbling under the top 25 are additional IGA wins like Blackbear’s “Hot Girl Bummer,” Maroon 5’s “Memories” and DaBaby’s “Bop.”
Despite the satisfaction of growing the label during such a challenging year, Janick and Manda both eagerly anticipate the day when everyone can return to their offices after many months of working from home.
“I really miss the staff and I miss the camaraderie of it,” says Manda. “I mean, we’ve had a phenomenal year, we’ve exceeded our goals, but there’s something to being in one place. You know, when DaBaby comes into the o ce and he talks about his next album, to have 20, 30 people in that room and all walk out energized and excited — yeah, I really miss that. You try to do it on Zoom, but you don’t get it.”
Janick also relishes the memories of working alongside his team, but notes that this year’s disruption has been instructive. “The good thing is that we’ve cut out a lot of the shit that we don’t really need, some of the travel or the meetings, so I think we can be more focused,” he says. “Whenever there’s a crisis in life, people have a chance to assess what really matters. The key in this is time management and what you really need to do — and what you don’t need to do — to get the job done. Hopefully, we’ll be able to adapt our business to be even stronger once it’s safe to be around everybody.”
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