HITS Daily Double


had a blockbuster year, with dominant marketshare in current and overall. The company has 2023’s biggest album in Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time and a staggering seven of the Top 10 releases YTD. Wallen has two of those titles, while the unstoppable Taylor Swift (herself wrapping up an annus mirabilis) has four. Meanwhile, Metro Boomin, Drake & 21 Savage, The Weeknd and Best New Artist contender Noah Kahan, to name a few, have also delivered big-time.

Brothers Monte and Avery Lipman, as students of the biz are aware, started the label in 1995, drawing up plans at the dining-room table of their tiny apartment on NYC’s Upper East Side. They now preside over a juggernaut label group, with hits popping not only from Republic Records but Mercury, Big Loud, Imperial and other Republic labels and partners. We checked in to discuss the secret sauce of their success, the state of the biz, streaming, radio, fan focus and more.

What’s your assessment of where things are at the company right now?

Monte: We’re incredibly grateful for the artists and executives we get to work with every day. This past year was definitely gratifying, but we’re never satisfied; it’s our strength and our curse that we’re never satisfied. We’re already thinking about what’s next and how we continue to grow and go even bigger. We’ve never done a very good job of taking a victory lap. That’s not our ethos, to use a word Lenny likes to tease me about. It’s really just about the focus and the determination. But most importantly, we are inspired by the incredible artists we work with and the music they create.

Let’s start with Taylor Swift.

The success of Taylor Swift is absolutely unprecedented. The impact she’s made on the music industry, the touring industry, the film industry is unparalleled. From my perspective and experience with Taylor, her focus, determination and pursuit of excellence inspires the people who work with her. The imagination and discipline, as we go into every campaign, every initiative, starts and ends with Taylor’s vision, plain and simple.

She’s been delivering content at a staggering pace. How do you approach that?

When we get the call, we’re ready to mobilize. There’s a tremendous sense of flexibility going into every campaign, and no detail is too small in terms of our discussions.

Another of the giant acts you’ve fielded in the last couple of years is Morgan Wallen. What can you say about him, as well as Big Loud and Mercury?

You’ve gotta start with Big Loud, because it’s a strategic alliance. They are fiercely independent and operate with tremendous autonomy. And over the last couple of years with Tyler Arnold at Mercury, we’ve forged this relationship and are able to provide premium services to help expand Morgan’s audience around the world. The credit goes to Seth England, Joey Moi, Craig Wiseman and the team at Big Loud. They are the outliers of Nashville. When you talk about changing the paradigm of a business, the way they operate is incredibly inspiring. Because they have a fresh perspective on the marketplace and it’s clearly had a tremendous impact.

Do you see American country music gaining a foothold outside the U.S.?

Avery: I think for Morgan, in particular, you have to strip away the genres. I mean, he’s just popular—one of the most popular artists in America. It’s been really great to see a lot of the traditional markets—Canada, the U.K., Australia—step up in a pretty significant way. But we’re committed to growing Morgan around the world. It’s gonna take some time. But to say he’s simply a country artist? Again, he’s just a popular artist.

The genre distinctions certainly seem less significant to a worldwide audience driven by streaming.

Monte: One thing we’ve always taken tremendous pride in is that, when you look at our roster, we will never pigeonhole an act in terms of genre. It’s so antiquated to even think in those terms. Acts on our roster touch so many different formats.

We’ve all been conditioned by traditional terrestrial radio, and that was always niche programming. When you look at some of the streaming charts, none of it makes any sense through that lens—there’s no continuity, even in terms of language; you’ve got songs in Korean, Spanish… It’s all over the map.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the K-pop phenomenon and your ventures into it. What sorts of things have you had to reassess as you’ve approached working in this sector?

We’ve got amazing long-standing relationships with the companies in the forefront of K-pop. These strategic alliances, including with HYBE and JYP, operate with complete independence. The way they’ve approached the market is different from anything we’ve done in America.

Their bespoke strategies are wildly successful because they go way beyond just recorded music and sales. You can see this with fan engagement, tours and merchandise, which has forced us to think differently in the American marketplace. We’re creating similar programs to incite fan engagement, which is very refreshing. I’m always a student of the game, and I’m fascinated by how these companies have made such an impact on the paradigm of our business.

What are fans engaging with if hit songs aren’t leading the process?

For lack of a better description, it’s like group chats—online communities come together and they’re completely invested in these artists, in their every move. There’s some similarity to Tiger Beat and magazines like that when we were growing up—talking about who’s the most popular, those watercooler moments. But the technology is much more sophisticated and the reach is much greater. It’s not just one region; it’s become a global phenomenon. The ability to find those like-minded individuals and come together in groups―that loyalty and support is critical, so it’s part of our conversations.

What are you seeing in terms of how audiences are discovering music?

Avery: Discovery is definitely evolving to be more personalized. I think the infrastructure of the business has gotten a lot more accurate, so we don’t necessarily have to cast the widest net anymore; we can be more focused and still reach those core fans. Right now, it feels very much about the narrative, storytelling, making a connection. Streaming has done wonders for the industry, of course, but there’s more―what else is there besides a stream? A stream is great, but there’s a whole lot more an artist can provide to a fan. You see this in the resurgence of vinyl, which has continued to perform and grow, and obviously in touring and live experiences, which are resonating more strongly now.

Let’s talk about streaming. What’s your perspective on some of the recent developments regarding Spotify and other DSPs’ reevaluation not only of monetization but of what music is going to be prioritized and how that’s navigated?

Streaming has been around for over 10 years, so it feels like it’s time for the business and economics to evolve; the business is different now from when streaming first started, so it’s certainly time to reevaluate. Innovating the way artists are compensated is just one example, and obviously, there’s a lot of discussion about that right now. My own sense is that there’s definitely room for improvement. But in terms of discovery, without question, you’re seeing—on a global level—a lot more localized, personalized activity and artist discovery.

Our job is to find the greatest-possible audiences for our artists. Through the years, there have always been disruptions, innovations and challenges, including the limitations of technology. So we’ll continue to evolve, no matter what the landscape might look like.

Where do you feel radio fits into the overall picture at this moment?

Monte: I started in radio promotion, and they were talking about the death of radio at the beginning of my career! Radio is still a key component in all of this for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, there’s still discovery, a sense of excitement. And there’s also relevance, which comes by way of terrestrial radio because it’s part of your culture and your community. Having disc jockeys in and out of the music is still incredibly valuable.

What’s the number one catalyst to selling music? That question has become more difficult than ever; there are so many different factors and so much more niche programming —not just on radio but through the DSPs and social media.

Are you seeing any change in the influence of TikTok on the landscape?

Avery: TikTok is a tool, a platform like many others, and we use it accordingly. It can’t feel forced—that’s something we’ve learned. Artists have to find their voice on every platform; it’s not one size fits all. But there’s no question that when something flies on TikTok, it’s a real runner.

I’m hearing a lot of ambivalence from biz people about the relationship the platform has with the business.

Monte: We don’t wanna get political here and go down that rabbit hole. Our focus and our attention is always on the artist community.

Do you think there’s a change in the air with respect to how big a role data should play in A&R?

A good example is Noah Kahan, who was signed by Ben Adelson at Mercury. That was nearly eight years ago, and Noah’s development has been good old-fashioned A&R at its best: identifying an amazingly talented songwriter, a storyteller, bringing him into the studio, working with the producers and curating EPs and singles and ultimately albums. And now you’ve got a candidate for Best New Artist.

And a huge record.

We’re proud of it. And again, when you talk about some of those third-party platforms, do they help make a difference? They make a contribution, no doubt, but there’s no one catalyst in that respect. The number one catalyst is that Noah Kahan makes great music.

You’re seeing a storytelling narrative— real life, relatability—resonating now. I think the trend-driven signings that occurred during the pandemic―when none of us could get out and nobody was touring and some kid in their bedroom would make a novel record and find a trend and then get a lot of money―are fewer now. If something pops up, sure, we’ll always look at it. But this moment feels very much like a return to basics. If you look at our roster, you see the artistry and what these artists put into their craft, and again, I think that’s starting to resonate in a very strong way.

Let’s talk a bit about some of the other acts on the roster.

The one common thread, I suppose, is this tremendous sense of resourcefulness. Obviously, it starts with incredible music and creative vision, but there is that resourcefulness, which can also involve independence and autonomy. Superstar acts like Drake, The Weeknd, Post Malone, Pearl Jam, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Metro Boomin and the other acts on the label are the epitome of that. It’s our job to constantly mobilize, be incredibly flexible and move like the wind on behalf of any campaign. We’re honored to be part of their careers and very proud of our contributions, but at the end of the day, it’s always about the artists.

As far as the new and developing acts, in addition to Noah Kahan—and also by way of Mercury—there’s Stephen Sanchez, who’s also having a breakout moment. He’s captured the imagination of the industry; Elton John has been wildly supportive of him. Stephen is a tremendous talent and, to me, there’s nothing standing between someone like him and 10 million albums sold other than time and patience. We’ll get there.

Tell me something about your team.

There’s a collective pursuit of excellence. We set incredibly high expectations, with a sense of accountability. The Republic staff, led by [co-Presidents] Jim Roppo and Wendy Goldstein, competes at the highest level. Kevin Lipson leads our global commerce initiatives and has delivered a record-breaking year. Glenn Mendlinger runs Imperial, and he’s done an extraordinary job specifically with our partners in South Korea.

Gary Spangler, who’s been with us quite some time, is the best in the game. Another essential player in the radio space is Mike Horton, who oversees hip-hop and R&B. Joe Carozza is absolutely key for messaging, as you well know. And we have some very strong executives who have recently joined the company, including Danielle Price, our executive vice president, who’s done an incredible job in a very short period of time and continues to help us sail into uncharted waters.

We also want to recognize the work of department heads Steve Gawley [biz and legal], Joe Schmidt [finance], Dana Sano [film & TV], Kerri Mackar [brands & ventures], Duro [A&R] and Donna Gryn [marketing], who work relentlessly to support the artist community.

It’s not lost on us that there are so many people we’re not mentioning who keep the trains running on time and are so important to the respective ecosystems they work in; it’s truly a group effort.

We must also mention the support of UMG around the world, their incredible roster of executives who work on behalf of Republic Records. [CFO & EVP] Boyd Muir continues to be an invaluable resource for us. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention [EVP] Michele Anthony. She’s a big sister and we lean on her constantly—we’re very fortunate that she’s based here in New York. Very rarely will you come across a situation where Michele doesn’t have some experience or relationship she can draw from. She’s definitely a critical factor in our success and we love her.

But above all there’s Sir Lucian Grainge. Lucian has allowed us to operate with tremendous entrepreneurial spirit―he encourages us to take risks and not be preoccupied about making a mistake or overextending ourselves. For that alone we are incredibly grateful and indebted. He knows how to get the best out of the Lipman brothers in that respect, because we come from the independent-label community; we started Republic when we didn’t have a pot to piss in and found a way to scratch up the resources and live to see another day.

In 2011 Lucian took over UMG and allowed us to operate as Republic Records. We’ve never looked back.

And as I said earlier, it’s about that pursuit of excellence and never being satisfied but also having that autonomy and support to roll as we see fit. It’s a formula that works really well for us.