This past week marked the announcement of a momentous change in the music business with the departure of one of Sony music’s most influential executives. Barry Weiss exited his position as the leader of the RCA Jive Label group, to join up with its largest competitor, Universal Music Group. This move is particularly important to note because the now 51 year old Weiss had always been with Jive and as a result, its current parent company, Sony Music Entertainment for his entire career in the music industry.
His significance can be traced back to when Weiss joined Sony’s then independently owned Jive Records His relationship with Jive began after impressing then owner, Clive Calder during a job interview in 1982. At the time Calder’s then London based label was setting up shop in New York City. The label began working with its first American distributor, Clive Davis’ Arista Records. Davis saw Jive Records as a way to help him push various Pop and New Wave acts. However Calder and Davis were beginning to disagree about the label’s brand direction. Weiss was brought on because of his extensive knowledge of the growing Hip Hop scene around New York City. At the time Clive Davis was opposed to having Hip Hop be a part of Arista Records. (Ironically years later Davis would provide the financing to allow Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment to have a home at Arista in 1993) In 1987 Calder broke ties with Arista. This is because Calder and Weiss turned Jive into the Hip Hop empire of the 1980s. The label became the home to such Hip Hop hits like, Too Short, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Boogie Down Productions. The label’s reputation in urban music also continued to grow in the 1990s with the addition of the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, U.G.K. and R. Kelly. With the help of Weiss, Clive Calder was able to take the risk of investing in Urban music and more specifically the very young genre of Hip Hop.
In the mid to late 90s, while Arista and Clive Davis began granting joint venture deals with various Hip Hop/R&B labels like Bad Boy, LaFace and Rowdy Records, Barry helped Clive Calder be the risk taker once again. Jive began to reinvent itself once more by looking into the developing Teen Pop scene. Barry was instrumental in the signing of the Backstreet Boys in 1994. The group first took off in Europe in 1996, then in the US in 1997. That same year Jive continued the trend in Teen Pop by signing Britney Spears. Jive’s new reputation as a power house Pop label proceeded them. *N Sync successfully signed with them in 1999, after a very public legal battle with then manager, Lou Pearlman, and the then BMG owned, RCA Records. In the early 2000s Jive had the top 3 acts in Pop music, which as a result awarded them countless accolades. Jive was then widely considered one of the most successful independently owned recording companies in music history. This then prompted Jive’s CEO to seek retirement.
In 2002 Calder sold Zomba to BMG Music Group, the parent company to other major labels of the time like RCA and Arista. At this point Jive was no longer independently owned, but still independently operated with Weiss taking over for his long time mentor. Calder stepped down as the CEO but stayed on during the transition until 2003. At that point *N Sync’s Justin Timberlake had already gone solo under Weiss, and Britney Spears was also topping the charts with, In The Zone. Calder left the reigns to Barry as the Jive and Zomba names were at the top of the music business.
Meanwhile there were important shake ups to note over at BMG label, Arista. By 2000 Arista’s founder and Jive’s original partner, Clive Davis was forced out of the company as LaFace Records’co founder, Antonio “LA” Reid became CEO of Arista. Reid’s LaFace label was originally distributed through Arista. As a result, the artists originally signed to LaFace/Arista like Pink, Usher and Outkast were moved to just Arista upon Reid’s move to the top. These artists will be an important addition to Jive’s roster only a few years later. By 2003 when Weiss took over for Calder at BMG’s Jive, Reid’s Arista was also flying high with Usher, Pink and then new comer, Avril Lavigne. However, Reid’s role at Arista would not last much longer after that.
In 2004 major shake ups at BMG would help give Weiss an even bigger role beyond just Jive Records. By that point BMG and one of its other major competitors, Sony Music Entertainment would merge together with a 50% split between Sony and BMG, forming the Sony BMG Music Group. Sony’s major contributions were its power house labels Columbia and Epic Records, while BMG’s was of course Weiss’s Jive, and the rosters of Reid’s Arista Records, as well as RCA Records. It is important to note that at this point Arista under Reid was losing money. As a result, during the Sony BMG merger, Reid was let go. Arista folded into the newly formed RCA Music Group (RMG). (which consisted of J. Records, Arista and RCA Records rosters) The Arista roster was divided between the RCA Music Group, headed up by Clive Davis, and the newly formed Zomba Label Group, (ZLG) headed up by Barry Weiss. (named after Clive Calder’s original Zomba Recording Corp, Jive’s original parent company) Such blockbuster artists who moved from LaFace/Arista to Arista with Antonio “LA” Reid, were moved to the ZLG under the resurrected brand of LaFace, operated by Jive Records’ staff. As a result LaFace artists like Pink, Usher and Outkast were all under Barry at this point. It is important to note that those artists would release some of their most acclaimed music under Weiss, including Usher’s Confessions and Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Other artists signed to Arista were moved back to Clive Davis under the RCA Music Group. Once again Davis had control of the Arista label he founded, and the name was kept as a vanity label, distributed by RCA Records. Barry Weiss found himself working under Clive Davis once again, as he was the CEO of the BMG half of Sony BMG.
In 2008 however Clive Davis was promoted to CEO the entire Sony BMG, moving Barry Weiss to the CEO of Sony BMG’s BMG Music Group. This is most likely because of Davis’ history at both Sony’s Columbia and BMG’s Arista and J. Records. (J. Records was founded by Clive Davis after Antonio “LA” Reid replaced him at Arista. J. Records was eventually completely owned by BMG before the creation of Sony BMG) Later that year things would change once more, as Sony would acquire BMG’s half of the group and restructure once more as an even bigger version of Sony Music Entertainment.
After BMG was absorbed by Sony, Barry Weiss continued to head up the former BMG division that became the RCA Jive Label Group. The name was obviously changed after BMG’s ownership no longer existed. Also the name “Zomba” was removed from Jive’s labels and was renamed simply, Jive Label Group. This is because the original Zomba labels and name was sold to BMG in 2002 by Clive Calder.
However, it wasn’t long until Weiss’ superior Schmidt-Holtz, who succeeded Clive Davis, decided to retire. The reigns of Sony Music’s top spot once again became available. Weiss and Rob Stringer, who heads the company’s other half, the Columbia Epic Records Group, began competing for the top position at Sony. A power struggle for advancement was born between the two executives. It is likely to believe that this is what prompted Weiss’ calculated jump to Sony’s largest competitor, Universal Music Group.
Across town, Universal Music Group, (UMG) began their own shift in leadership of a slightly different tone. Industry vet Doug Morris promoted UMG International head, Lucian Grainge to share the top spot with him, as co CEO of UMG. This would help him prepare to succeed Morris in the near future. With Lucian Grainge being based out of London, and Morris planning to reduce his role in the company, UMG was becoming in need of another American executive. That person had to be experienced enough to handle the riggers such a large music institution. Through the experience he gained growing the RCA Jive Label Group, Weiss was the perfect man for that job. This is exactly the role he played at Clive Calder’s Jive Records many years earlier. This opening at UMG could also be providing him the desired promotion he wanted at Sony.
UMG is the biggest music conglomerate in today’s industry, and his move there puts Weiss in great company. With that said, what does this exec shift project for the future of those that play in this music game? With long time Sony Music notables like American Idol’s 19 Entertainment, (Moving All American Idol related music from Sony’s RCA/Jive to UMG’s Interscope) Usher (Justin Bieber signed with Antonio “LA” Reid’s Island Def Jam Music Group), and Justin Timberlake (Founded His own Record label Tennman in 2007 distributed by UMG’s Interscope Records) already making their own business deals with UMG, it will be interesting to see what will happen to the company they all came from, now that the man who ran it will be joining them. Sony Music is entering a new era!