New Universal Music CEO has star-making plan

By CLAIRE ATKINSON  NY Post  08/28/11

In his first major interview since taking over as Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Lucian Grainge explains his management philosophy and thoughts on creating the right environment in a time of massive technological change and dislocation in the record industry.

Grainge emphasized the importance of the artists and repertoire staff, who find and cultivate the upcoming talent.

“A&R people are an indication of your commitment to new music and to new artists,” he said. “There are so many categories of A&R people; some are talent scouts, some have an instinctive sense of marketing, and others are brilliant at making records.

“There are High Street opportunists aware of fashion trends and individuals who can be turned into recording artists. I started as a talent scout; I’m still a talent scout. It’s about identifying anything that is creative.”

Grainge added, “The commitment to rejuvenating and refreshing at Universal is constant. I’ve always felt that if you constantly challenge, by definition there’s always something new.

“I’ve always liked to work in a state of creative conflict. It doesn’t mean you fall out with people in your company or an artist; it’s about discussing a song or direction.

“It’s a state of mind, and you have to allow yourself to go into it: I’m going to debate it. If you have an attitude like that, I believe you can do more, and the level of accountability is greater because it’s a state of mind.”

Grainge says that tension is the lifeblood of creativity.

“Good management in all creative businesses is based on conflict and debate and discussion. It’s what makes good companies and what makes it attractive for creative people to join.

“I like my people making mistakes; I want them to have the confidence to take risks.”

Grainge has his A&R people mining every niche for the next big thing.

“We made a deal with ‘The Voice’ and ‘American Idol’ and another TV show partnership. They are things I’m incredibly excited about.

“We also have a completely global approach. We’ve increased our spending [on A&R], and we have to take tough decisions in other areas because the lifeblood of our company is our innovation in all forms.”

The only thing constant in the music business these days is change, Grainge says.

“It is less of a singer-songwriter market, but that will change. The demographics are constantly changing — there are so many scientific factors and analytical tools –but some things will never change: the magic of innovation and raw talent.”

In addition, “the Internet has changed A&R, in a sense. There were [once] four to five taste-making publications, [but] . . . the platform now is social media. . . . It’s the people who are talking and spreading. Social media has enabled that, and its been incredibly fertile.”

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