Jubelirer had just been promoted to Chair and CEO of the Los Angeles-based label group – a key pillar of Universal Music Group. The mood that night was suitably celebratory… but it was also, it’s fair to say, imbued with knowledge of a tough road ahead.
Jubelirer was widely tipped as the natural successor to Steve Barnett when the British exec stood down as head of CMG in 2020. She had been by Barnett’s side throughout a run of success at CMG over multiple years – via artists like Sam Smith, Halsey, Paul McCartney, and Lewis Capaldi, as well as transformative deals like a JV between Motown (then part of CMG) and Quality Control.
In actuality, Jubelirer’s immediate ascension to running CMG was not forthcoming. Instead, Barnett was succeeded in December 2020 as Chairman/CEO of the label group by Jeff Vaughn, a fast-rising exec who’d previously impressed as a data-and-socials-savvy A&R at Mike Caren’s Artist Partner Group (APG).
Mid-pandemic, Vaughn entered CMG with bold ideas, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out there was a culture clash: Within a startlingly short 12 months, Vaughn was gone from CMG. (He has since launched his label JV, Signal Records, with Sony‘s Columbia).
In the wake of this corporate untidiness, Jubelirer was (some may suggest was overdue-ly) named Chair & CEO of Capitol Music Group. Her most pressing brief? Calm everything the hell down, and get the Good Ship Capitol out of the eye of the hurricane.
So, the mood at that Chinese dinner? Understandable.
Yet if some nervous energy was detected that night, so was a healthy confidence. Jubelirer and co. have been putting both to good use ever since.
Two years on, Jubelirer’s CMG hasn’t only returned to calmer waters – with US market share YTD in the high-5% region – it’s also achieved some glittering successes while priming a promising array of new talent.
A key example: CMG, along with its colleagues at Capitol UK and the artist’s team, has been behind the Grammy-winning global smash that is Sam Smith’s Unholy (an unapologetically ribald banger from a singer who refuses to be pigeonholed as a sweet balladeer).
CMG has also been a crucial partner, alongside Elliot Grainge‘s 10K Projects, in the rise of Ice Spice. The Best New Artist Grammy nominee has landed with such explosiveness, she’s secured no less than four Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles and over 2 billion global streams off her official debut release… which is an EP.
Jubelirer calls Ice Spice “THE breakout artist of 2023”, adding: “She’s the first artist since Olivia Rodrigo to achieve three Top 5 single debuts in her first four months, and she just attained another Top 10 with “Barbie World” with Nicki [Minaj].
“We’re just at the beginning of what is going to be a tremendous career of artistry and global popularity.”
Other priorities at Capitol over the past 12 months have included Tampa-born rapper/singer Doechii, signed to CMG via a JV partnership with Top Dawg and TDE at the start of Jubelirer’s reign as Chair/CEO of CMG.
Doechii’s What It Is (Block Boy) is closing in on becoming the artist’s first Platinum record in the States; earlier this week, it was named TikTok’s fourth biggest global track of 2023. (A debut Doechii album is anticipated in 2024; other new-act priorities at CMG next year include Young Miko and Rylo Rodriguez.)
Elsewhere, Jubelirer’s team has secured Toosii’s biggest record to date with the 3X platinum Favorite Song, plus one of the US’s biggest-selling hip-hop debuts of the year with Offset’s Set It Off.
In addition, long-term CMG signings such as Troye Sivan (recently Grammy nomm’d for his Rush video), Niall Horan, Fletcher, and Maggie Rogers have each celebrated some of the biggest successes of their careers to date.
Discussing Capitol’s long-term investment into these acts, Jubelirer notes: “All are amazing songwriters and performers who are successful globally and have built extremely passionate fan bases. Our focus continues to be on building a rich world for their superfans.
“To us, success is not just about momentary chart position; merch, product drops, and experiential moments are key to building and maintaining engagement of superfans. Streaming is crucial, but for many artists, these areas are equally so.”
And then, of course, there’s been the return of those little-known mop-tops, The Beatles – whose CMG-issued ‘comeback’, Now And Then, released in November, recently hit No.1 in multiple territories including the UK, Germany, and Austria.
Structurally, Jubelirer has had some fun and games to contend with at CMG in her first two years in charge.
One of Jubelirer’s most successful gambits, indie distribution/services company Caroline (later Virgin Music) was in recent years ‘spun out’ of CMG – forming a foundation for the global UMG priority venture that is today known as Virgin Music Group.
Meanwhile, Motown was also ‘spun out’ of CMG, to become a standalone frontline label, in early 2021… before being ‘spun back’ into CMG at the top of this year.
Partners of CMG have made their own headlines in the past 12 months, too: Quality Control – which inked that JV with Motown back in 2015 – was sold to the Scooter Braun-led HYBE America for $300 million in February; Elliot Grainge’s 10K Projects – with whom CMG partners for Ice Spice – was 51%-acquired by Warner Music Group in September.
(CMG continues to work exclusively with Quality Control on acts such as Quavo, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby, while Ice Spice was ‘carved out’ of 10K’s Warner deal and remains signed in partnership with CMG on an ongoing basis.)
Here, MBW gets into it with Jubelirer regarding her first two years in charge at CMG – and, particularly, how she’s overcome the challenge of quelling, and then re-energizing, one of the most iconic label brands in existence…
Capitol Music Group is in significantly stronger shape than it’s been for a while. It also feels meaningfully influential in pop culture – with several tracks in TikTok’s end-of-year / most popular playlists. It’s fair to say things looked less steady when you took over as CEO & Chair in 2021. You had to right some turbulence…
Be careful what you wish for, right [laughs]?
As you well know, [before Jubelirer was named CEO/Chair] CMG had undergone a few leadership changes within a short period of time, and that turmoil was compounded by the economic volatility of the pandemic. As a result, the company faced eroding market share, low morale, and a stagnant artist roster.
Because I had spent almost a decade here, I was uniquely situated to bring both a fresh perspective to the job and build a modern culture within the company, while still honoring Capitol’s legacy in profound ways. Meaning, we could be a company that excels at launching and developing Ice Spice, and, at the same time, bring real innovation and full-throttle commitment to the release of a new single from The Beatles. And everything in between!
“CMG had undergone a few leadership changes within a short period of time, and that turmoil was compounded by the economic volatility of the pandemic. As a result, the company faced eroding market share, low morale, and a stagnant artist roster. Because I had spent almost a decade here, I was uniquely situated to bring both a fresh perspective to the job and build a modern culture within the company.”
Major kudos go to [President of Capitol Music Group] Arjun [Pulijal], my partner in all of this, who is a brilliant creative marketer and equally adept at strategizing innovative paths for artists that range from Ice Spice and Offset to Troye Sivan and Paul McCartney. He’s a great motivator and I’m proud of how he’s stepped into this leadership role and excelled over the past two years.
And I’m really glad you mentioned the TikTok-in-2023 wrap-up. Overall, Capitol was the top-performing label across the global and US lists, which tells yet another facet of our success story.
What were your biggest priorities for change on day one as Chair of Capitol Music Group – and what do they tell us more generally about modernized major label groups in 2023?
First, signing a truly diverse array of new artists, with specific attention on building a strong presence in hip-hop and R&B. Our President of A&R, Jeremy Vuernick, has been crucial to working with me in this regard, as well as overseeing the making of our records. The company hadn’t been consistently competitive in these areas for a very long time, and, remember: Motown had been spun off on its own long before I took the reins of the company. [Motown was spun out in early 2021, then returned to CMG in early 2023].
Second, we took a hard look at every aspect of our business. We revamped our entire organizational structure, reset our value system, and even replaced certain terminology that was outdated. All to meet the needs of the modern music business. Arjun was key to this process; his expertise really drove a new dynamic in how marketing, creative, international, digital and commerce now interact.
“Today, literally every plan is tailored for a specific artist or project — not pulled from a well-worn playbook — and our focus is on finding and creating opportunities that will have an impact, no matter where an artist is in their development.”
Today, literally every plan at CMG is tailored for a specific artist or project — not pulled from a well-worn playbook — and our focus is on finding and creating opportunities that will have an impact, no matter where an artist is in their development. The artist’s vision still lies at the heart of every plan, but we really listen to the audience, which is smarter and savvier than ever, to determine if our marketing direction is working and if our artists are properly engaged with their audience.
We strive to be ideas-driven and have honest constructive conversations with our artists and each other. We run our business efficiently, and are constantly thinking about where we find real value for our artists.
Were there any other things at the top of your ‘to-do’ list?
Prioritization. I think companies often use that word to mean, “we’re going to focus on one group of artists and ignore all the others.” For CMG, it means defining what success can uniquely mean for each artist, and then delivering for them.
We identify which artists will benefit from, say, the close attention of a small group of people who will bring passion and nuance to marketing and development. Others will clearly need the full power of our organization firing on all cylinders from the get-go.
What’s particularly changed in how you approach artist campaigns both domestically and internationally?
We engage directly with international partners earlier than ever before, and don’t unfairly rely on our ex-US affiliates within UMG to do the heavy lifting early on. They have their own local repertoire to work on.
A good case in point is Doechii’s What It Is, which is platinum in the U.S. and has surpassed 1.1 billion worldwide streams so far. Our team instigated innovative digital strategies through TikTok in Nigeria, then Kenya, which in turn prompted a reaction in the Philippines, then to China with Douyin.
Within a few weeks, there were 1.5 million daily ‘creates’ [using the artist’s music] across those platforms.
“A big reason for our early emphasis on international is to start the process of building revenue streams as early as possible. I’m talking about brand building and direct-to-fan monetization.”
A big reason for our early emphasis on international is to start the process of building revenue streams as early as possible. I’m talking about brand building and direct-to-fan monetization.
Ice Spice is a great example of that; she still hasn’t released her debut album, but is recognized around the world through commercials, syncs in video games, TV and film, a big soundtrack presence, and innovative products on her own store.
Have you seen the Ice Spice American Flag or Chia Pet?
What achievements are you most proud of in the past 12 months?
We’ve had an incredible year. Call it our biggest, our best, our strongest—they’re all accurate.
I’m not one to rattle off a lot of statistics, but I will say that our year-over-year market share is up by 25% and we’ve moved up a notch in the label rankings as well.
“We’ve had an incredible year. Call it our biggest, our best, our strongest—they’re all accurate.”
You referred to CMG not being in strong shape and going through turbulence when I took over, and that’s all true.
I don’t think any label group has been able to turn things around as quickly as my team and I have done in less than two years.
One decision that I’m guessing wasn’t in your control in the past few years was the ‘spinning out’ of Caroline/Virgin Music into what is now Virgin Music Group. What have been the pros and cons of that move for you?
Virgin [first, Caroline] was a major priority for us since the launch of Capitol Music Group in 2012. We really prioritized this area, and oversaw the transition from Caroline into Virgin directly within our company.
We were so fortunate to have the talent, and friendship, of [now-Virgin Music Group President] Jacqueline [Saturn] and her team as part of our company for many years.
“We were so successful in building [Caroline/Virgin Music], that it really was only a matter of time before the other labels within UMG would want to grow a similar business within their groups.”
We were so successful in building that end of the business, that it really was only a matter of time before the other labels within UMG would want to grow a similar business within their groups. It wouldn’t have made sense to have multiple indie label/artist services divisions within UMG, so the plan to globalize Virgin and scale it to work with all the labels made so much sense.
Do I miss having Jacqueline and her team only a few steps away? Of course. But I’m proud of the crucial roles they’ve played in Virgin’s growth and evolution, and we work as closely together as we ever did.
On the flip side, Motown has returned as an imprint within CMG after a period as a standalone label. Obviously, that came with an inevitable downsizing process. what shape is Motown in now and what does it add to the CMG makeup?
Motown is once again fully unified within CMG’s culture after being separate from the company for a couple of years. We have strengthened our longtime partnership with Quality Control, with whom we continue to share tremendous success and plan for a big future.
We worked with them on a bold and innovative Lil Yachty alternative album, and we’re all looking forward to new music from Lil Baby next year. Offset not only made a great album – I expect Grammy nominations for him next year – he really puts the work in, day-in, day-out.
“Music is music, and genres shouldn’t be defined by color. In fact, this business really needs to change its definition of “pop” music. There seems to be real confusion there; we should be calling any music that streams in volume, “pop” music.”
I knew that if we were going to make significant inroads with hip-hop and R&B company-wide, we needed experts in those areas and fresh perspective on our executive team. [EVP of Capitol Music Group] Orlando Wharton relaunched Priority Records and signed Kodak Black; [Motown SVP of A&R] Kenoe Jordan has been working closely with YoungBoy NBA; and Gordan Dillard brought management and artist development experience from his role at SALXCO.
We also promoted Black executives from within, particularly in the areas of A&R and marketing. We’re still searching for the right leader for Motown, and won’t stop until we find one befitting the stature and legacy of such an important label.
Ultimately, we don’t separate music based on genre at CMG, but we do have a number of labels – Blue Note, Motown, Priority, Astralwerks, Capitol Christian and Tamla – so artists have real options here.
Music is music, and genres shouldn’t be defined by color. In fact, this business really needs to change its definition of “pop” music. There seems to be real confusion there; we should be calling any music that streams in volume, “pop” music.
Our philosophy is that great ideas transcend genre. We have experts in every “genre” but we all share, collaborate and respectfully challenge each other. In fact, I don’t even like the word, “genre.” Let’s change it!
Be honest: When you first heard “Unholy” – from that well-known smooth soul singer Sam Smith – what was your reaction? Did you know it was a smash hit?
Sam drove this record, from its creation through the decision for it to be the first single. I felt it was a huge leap forward; it was bold and brash – so distinctive from the first listen – and I thought it was one of the strongest songs and records Sam had ever created.
My role was to marshal everyone in the company to come up with creative and strategic ideas to help lead the global effort behind it, and to make sure our team – led by Arjun – worked closely with Jo Charrington and her team at Capitol UK, and with Sam’s managers, Jack Street and Sam Evitt.
As Arjun can tell you, digital marketing was key to the effort; the song is in the Top 3 of all-time creations and shares for a pre-release campaign, and the global teams worked together brilliantly to connect that pre-release momentum to the biggest looks at the DSPs, in the media and at radio.
The fact that Unholy broke records at the streaming services was extremely gratifying, and the Grammy that they won with Kim Petras was so well-deserved. Not only is Sam a brilliant and unique artist, they were the first new artist to break big at our company after we launched, and we consider them to be family.
I want Sam to be with us forever and as much a part of our legacy as the great superstars who came before them.
Talking of firsts: What about your first meeting with Ice Spice? And tell us about that fateful dinner with her and Elliot – a dinner about which you politely reminded him, in a NOW-INFAMOUS ARTICLE, that you also attended!
I will forever tease Elliot about his “selective” memory on what transpired that evening! For the record, at that dinner – which led to the co-signing of Ice Spice by Capitol and 10K – were me, Elliot, Jeremy Vuernick, [10K co-presidents] Zach Friedman and Tony Talamo. All of us attended and won her heart as a team. Equally, she won my heart.
But it’s far more important to focus on the extraordinary artist we were there to see. I’ve been working with artists for decades, and it is a rare occasion when you sit with an artist and just know that you’re in the presence of a future global superstar. That was, and is, Ice Spice.
“Ice Spice is a strong woman, and you’ll notice that she has aligned herself with other strong women.”
Her early music was exciting and her explosive growth as an artist and cultural figure has already transcended the world of music. In short, she’s becoming a household name. All of this is a testament to her talent and drive, and the effort to help develop and break her has been a real team effort between Capitol, 10K and her manager, James Rosemond Jr.
I also want to point out that Ice Spice is a strong woman, and you’ll notice that she has aligned herself with other strong women. [Ice Spice also signed to Universal Music Publishing Group via UMPG’s Chairman and CEO, and close Jubelirer colleague, Jody Gerson.]
As you noted, Ice Spice is well on her way to becoming a household name, especially in the US; what have been the key ingredients in widening her audience from Munch to now?
Here’s the thing about Ice Spice – her look, her flow, her lyrics, and the collaboration choices she’s made: Taylor Swift, Nikki Minaj, PinkPantheress — are all of paramount importance in her success. She knows precisely who she is and what is right for her to do – and not do. That’s such a rare quality to possess at such a young age, and it serves her well. A plethora of opportunities are coming toward her at warp speed, and she has the instinct to make the right choices at the right time.
“A plethora of opportunities are coming toward her at warp speed, and she has the instinct to make the right choices at the right time.”
Our EVP of Media, Ambrosia Healey, scored a major coup by getting Ice the season opener of Saturday Night Live, which is just one of her many big media appearances. Every department has played an integral role in the launch and development of Ice Spice, but as I said before, it’s only the beginning. Stay tuned.
It’s kind of weird how The Beatles Now And Then has somehow slipped into the band’s canon – while enjoying modern chart success at the same time. How involved were you in that project and what was your experience of it?
Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be involved in releasing a brand-new single from The Beatles. Arjun and I got a preview of the song from Jeff Jones at Apple Corp earlier this year, and began planning and strategizing on a global level with him, along with UMG UK and [Universal Music Enterprises President and CEO] Bruce Resnikoff and his team.
The whole experience has been a “pinch me” moment. The Beatles mean the world to me — I’m a massive lifelong fan and they are such an important part of our company’s DNA. I was thrilled to sign Paul [McCartney] directly to Capitol in 2016, and he is such an important frontline artist for us. He continues to make amazing music and has achieved some of his biggest solo success in recent years, including back-to-back #1 albums.
“The whole experience has been a “pinch me” moment. The Beatles mean the world to me… I was thrilled to sign Paul [McCartney] directly to Capitol in 2016, and he is such an important frontline artist for us.”
For Now And Then our goal was to highlight the storytelling around the creation of the song, while also ensuring that it was treated like a brand-new record (albeit 50 years in the making) that should become an important part of the cultural conversation.
It’s surreal when you see a new Beatles song, in 2023, as the cover of New Music Friday on Spotify, trending creations on short-form platforms, being played across all current formats of radio, synced across network TV, and topping single charts. I’m really proud that Capitol was able to help present Now And Then to the world, and that our team — led by Arjun — was integral to creating a global campaign worthy of the historic nature of this release. It’s certainly what The Beatles deserved.
How great that It’s been such a global success, and that, once again, The Beatles managed to bring even a moment of unity to the world through the beauty and power of their music. Being involved in this has been a real career highlight for me, without a doubt.
If I could give you our patented MBW magic wand to change something about today’s business right here and now, what would it be and why?
We could be talking for hours about this, Tim, and there are a few things out there I’d like to change with that wand! But I’ll spare you an exhaustive rant and focus on one issue.
We need more diversity at all levels and within all facets of the music industry, particularly on the label side.
“along with doing what I can to increase the number of women at our company. There just aren’t enough of us, particularly within the most senior ranks at the labels.”
Diversity is a superpower. It’s an ongoing process that I’ve put a lot of focus on, along with doing what I can to increase the number of women at our company. There just aren’t enough of us, particularly within the most senior ranks at the labels.
I will continue to do what I can to increase representation at Capitol Music Group and within the music business at large.Music Business Worldwide