HITS Daily Double


TAKING STOCK: How many big-time label players can you name who’ll be renegotiating their deals during this year? Could we see more changes on the top tier? And while we’re on the subject, how will the forthcoming IPOs impact executives’ deals at the label and group level? One interesting facet of the planned WMG IPO is that, when Len Blavatnik bought the company in a down market and handed the reins to Steve Cooper to turn it around, he asked his top execs if they’d take smaller salaries in exchange for participating in a company stock plan. Several execs bet on themselves—and should be reaping huge returns as a result.

This all came to light when former WBR chief Cameron Strang left the company after having chosen the stock plan; some close to the negotiations say he was owed north of $30m. Unofficially, that settlement was in the neighborhood of $20m+. A couple of other top label players, including Craig Kallman, were also believed to have taken the stock plan when Blavatnik and Cooper offered it. What kind of elephant bucks are they looking at, assuming the IPO—with Cooper, who must have a major equity position, said to be doing much of the heavy lifting with the banks—proceeds smoothly?

This and UMG’s future planned IPO, driven as they are by steep rises in music-company valuation, are as reliable an index as any that the biz is bathing in a stream of prosperity after its years in the digital desert. (WMG’s offering is likely to further spike UMG’s valuation, just as the Tencent’s Uni play drove up WMG’s.) These gambits follow on the heels of the Spotify IPO, which generated behemoth bucks for the Swedish streamery’s top-tier execs.

But the WME debacle, wherein top agents took stock over salary jumps in anticipation of an IPO that never came to fruition, serves as a cautionary tale; Ari and Patrick’s stock-market folly crumbled, and while the pair ended up taking $160m out of the firm, the agents got the short end of the stick. Where does Sam GoresParadigm fit in the evolving landscape? Talk continues that he’ll combine his music-centric agency with UTA or ICM.

THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE: 2020’s first change at the top of a major label is upon us, as UMG confirms Paul Rosenberg will step down as Def Jam chief to launch a new Universal JV label and focus on the management of Eminem. UMG General Counsel/EVP Biz & Legal Jeff Harleston, while continuing his regular duties, has stepped in as interim chief as the search continues for a new boss; SVP A&R Naim McNair will hold the same title at corporate and Def Jam. All eyes are on Harleston and the UMG team as they seek a new topper. Who are the key contenders? Could Def Jam regain some of its prior glory?

Rosenberg struggled to crack the code of the new economy as label boss, but during his 30-month tenure, his superstar client Eminem released three albums (on Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, of course) and had a worldwide tour, so he was a tad preoccupied. What’s more, the hip-hop lane Def Jam once had almost entirely to itself is now the one that matters most, so anybody who’s anybody is in it. In any case, Rosenberg, despite the misstep of this chapter, remains well liked and highly regarded in the biz (as his new deal would seem to demonstrate).

UPTOWN RULERS: In other UMG news, there has been some discussion that Def Jam’s Steve “Steve-O” Carless might be tapped to lead a rebooted Uptown Records, the imprint legendarily run by Andre Harrell, at which Sean “Diddy” Combs first rose to prominence. Insiders say the label would fall under Monte Lipman’s Republic umbrella.

Speaking of Def Jam, word has it that erstwhile Co-Head of Atlantic U.K. A&R Alec Boateng is headed to Def Jam U.K. to launch its rebranding, accompanied by twin brother Alex, of Island U.K. In recent years, Def Jam U.K. had been an imprint that went through Virgin EMI.

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