Question: Which artist this year has been most important/influential in the music business, and why?
Van Toffler, president of Viacom Media Networks Music & Logo Group
Led Zeppelin knighting streaming music. It could signify the potential pivot point for older demographics to embrace streaming more — and ultimately expand that platform.
Tom Corson, president/COO, RCA Records
Justin Timberlake. He defies genre and still brought R&B back to the mainstream. He made a proper (double) album; showed us what a true global superstar is capable of with breathtaking performances on the Grammy’s, Brits, SNL, Fallon and, of course the VMA’s; and made it all look effortless.
Chris Vanderhook, COO, Myspace
Pharrell Williams, hands down. We all witnessed his profound and diverse impact as a collaborator — from Daft Punk and Robin Thicke to Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake and Jay Z. 2013 showed everyone what a creative genius he’s been all along.
Salaam Remi, executive VP of A&R and production at Sony Music, and CEO of Louder Than Life
Justin Timberlake’s two LPs this year were very important. Having the top seller of the year and not following the EDM trend was a statement that true star power can lead the business creatively into the future. Too many times we’ve seen stars come back with cookie-cutter records that didn’t challenge the fans or industry to be open to something new. So to all of the other stars making comeback LPs in 2014, they should feel liberated to make their best artistic expression.
Colleen Theis, COO, the Orchard
From where I’m sitting, it’s Zach Sobiech, a teenage singer-songwriter from Stillwater, Minnesota.
Zac’s single ‘Clouds,’ about his journey with cancer, released by charity label Rock the Cause, spread virally on YouTube prior to his death in May 2013 and continues to touch thousands of people across the globe. The single charted on the Billboard Hot 100. On Dec. 6, KS95 for Kids Radiothon, a choir of 5,000 people performed Zach’s song at the Mall of America. The video of that performance is nearing 1 million views on YouTube, with all proceeds going to support the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund.
Mainstream media is now also taking notice, with CNN this week naming Zach as one of 2013’s most influential people. This is a story that continues to grow. Positive and lasting contributions like these are part of our industry we don’t applaud as loudly as we should, and which bring real meaning and a sense of purpose to what we do.
Greg Hill, president/CEO, Hill Entertainment Group
Taylor Swift continues to be a force that lifts the entire business. “Blurred Lines” (by Robin Thicke) has been everywhere. To me, an important piece of music is anything that connects with people who pay money for the music and that artist. I don’t have to like it, just as long as the masses do.
Roderick Scott, manager of publicity and lifestyle marketing, Warner Bros. Records
Kendrick Lamar, in my opinion, officially took hip-hop out of its materialization and showed that the listener still wants and craves substance over all the shiny things. Albums were revamped or scrapped entirely as hip-hop artists seem to have gotten the message and are looking for way to reconnect with their core. His team and movement are an inspiration for independent artists alike.
Matt Pincus, founder/CEO, Songs Music Publishing
On a business level, both the Weeknd and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were incredibly influential in redefining how to set up a single and an album in today’s market. Everyone says it’s now a “singles” market. But the album still exists, just in a disaggregated way. The way Abel Tesfaye (from the Weeknd) rolled out “Kiss Land” by seeding the market with singles and videos in tight succession, without a coordinated promo push, was next level on the heels of the game-changing Trilogy. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis broke “Thrift Shop” almost solely off the video, then “Same Love” at just the right political moment. The pattern is just totally different and took genuine, original thinking.
Julien Mitelberg, CEO of Bandsintown and COO/co-founder of Cellfish
Daft Punk accomplished many exciting things this year that exemplified where I think the music business is headed. From the viral marketing and teaser videos before the first single was even out, to all of the genre barriers that were expertly crossed between electronic, pop and ’70s-disco, to their recent Grammy nominations — a rarity for electronic music and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Caesic Brox, chief marketing and financial officer, Raleighwood Records
I think Baauer and his team’s ability to exploit the “Harlem Shake” phenomenon makes him the most influential artist of the year. Encouraging fans to license music by using it in their own videos is amazing and has already started a new trend. You see it with the “Wrecking Ball” parodies, the “Bound 3” parody, Kanye’s “Late” somehow appearing on the charts seven years later. It’s absolutely genius.
Tom Windish, president, The Windish Agency
Lorde. Out of the blue and into the mainstream, and 16 years old.
Stephen F. Goffreda, program director, 92.3 FM WYRC-LP in Spencer, WV
One Direction, proving that clean pop rock’n’roll is still alive and well, even with a new generation. The fact that One Direction has set or matched records with debut No. 1 albums with chart accomplishments not seen by a band since 1967 (the Monkees) most certainly is a feat worthy of taking notice of. This is not just another boy band fad. It’s great to see pop rock and excellent alternative rock (i.e., Imagine Dragons) on the same radio playlists. One Direction has proved that there is a large audience for mainstream pop music again.
Dwight Lazarus, manager of brand partnerships, Island Def Jam & Republic Records
Pharrell Williams has proved over and over that he can do no wrong, and in 2013 he’s done it again. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his clothing line BBC, producing several Grammy-nominated songs and album, and facing countless magazines for his success, he is the most influential artists in the music business in 2013.
Marcee Rondan, senior VP, MSO
Jay Z continues to evolve both as an artist and an entrepreneur. His affiliations with companies like Samsung and Barney’s, along with his work with everyone from Rick Rubin to Pharrell Williams, show the diversity of his reach. His social, political views and work reiterate he’s a leader in a business severely lacking role models.
Wendy Washington, executive VP of artist and media development, RED/Sony Music
As an independent artist, Macklemore’s debut album created a blueprint for a viable DIY model outside of the major-label system. At the height of his early buzz he signed a distribution deal instead of signing to a label and he and his team successfully accessed label services (radio promotions, PR, etc.) independently to orchestrate a mainstream commercially successful, critically acclaimed breakthrough. Additionally, in going against the traditional major label arrangement, he also musically brought attention to a big progressive social issue with “Same Sex” being true to his music and without being self-aggrandizing.
Jim Donio, president, Music Business Association
This year was all about Justin Timberlake. He scored the biggest sales week of 2013, selling nearly 1 million copies of “The 20/20 Experience,” which also appears set to be the best-selling album of the year. He also landed a second No. 1 album with “The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2” and could be seen or heard just about anywhere you looked throughout the year. It’s that ubiquitous marketing campaign that will be his most influential move, with a week-long residency on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” a hosting and performance gig on “Saturday Night Live,” a performance at the Grammy Awards and a huge co-headlining tour with Jay Z combining to ingrain his music into viewers’ minds.
Will Mills, VP of music and Content, Shazam
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis built upon their 2012 success to become one of the world’s most successful acts (indeed most Shazamed – 34 million). Important because they came from the DIY route and own their own masters.
Andy Cohn, president/publisher, The Fader
Beyonce, as of about midnight on Friday the 13th.
Robb McDaniels, founder/CEO, INgrooves
Lorde has had the most influence on the music industry this year because of where she is from, how she wrote and recorded her own music, how she was discovered and how damn good she sounds, no matter how old or young you think she is.
Ben Stauffer, finance director, Centricity Music
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Yes, they had major promotional help, but an indie having multiple hits with such left-of-center content is encouraging to independent artists and labels.
Sarah Cunningham, senior director of media relations, The Chamber Group
Daft Punk. I thought the rollout was very brilliant: the tease on SNL of “Get Lucky,” the assemble your own mask kits that were mailed out, the appearances they made, the timing of the release. “Get Lucky” was inescapable and for good reason.
Tom Gimbel, GM, Austin City Limits
The worldwide breakthrough of Lorde — a 16-year-old from Devonport, New Zealand — demonstrated that success is not based on geography. The Internet does not only increase consumer awareness for established stars, it now accelerates discovery of new talent.
Joe Riccitelli, executive VP/GM, RCA Records
Miley Cyrus. She changed the game and how far the envelope could be pushed. Her viral success has really helped with radio, digital single and LP sales.
Eliot Van Buskirk, editor, Evolver.fm
Kanye West’s “Yeezus” pushed music forward this year. Daft Punk’s album feels like it could have been around forever, and most of the other popular stuff didn’t really push the envelope sonically. But “Yeezus” is a masterpiece and it takes risks. It’s also the first Kanye record I have ever listened to intentionally.
Miles Anthony Williams, CEO, Righteous Music Media
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as independent artists making the impact on the music industry as independents… Appearing on SNL and being nominated in several Grammy categories, including song of the year.
Dmitri Vietze, founder/CEO, StoryAmp.com
The average Joe-lene. The means of production are in the hands of the masses and that is going to continue to tax the old music business in ways we cannot predict, manage or change. There are thousands more of them releasing thousands more records than record labels ever did. Some blockbuster stars will always rise to the top. But the sheer quantity of producers is the biggest game changer.
Madelyn Scarpulla, GM, Loud & Proud Records
Justin Timberlake is a complete artist. He is a triple-threat in an age where that is almost an extinct breed. His double-album release strategy, the tremendous nod at the VMAs (20 minutes of pure riveting performance), numerous television appearances and performances, a big year of touring, etc.
Peter Jesperson, VP of production and catalog, New West Records
David Bowie, because of the dramatic way his new album, “The Next day,” was released. Recorded in secret over a two-year period. Without any notice or fanfare they released the first video, “Where Are We Now” on Jan 8 (his birthday!). Followed by a second single/video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and the album in March. And a slow roll-out of additional singles/videos and the deluxe box in November. All done with no live appearances, not even a TV performance! A brilliant, often dark artistic statement and unquestionably one of the five or six best records David Bowie has ever made.
Laura Swanson, executive VP of media and artist relations, Island Def Jam
Kanye West. He never veers far from our social consciousness and he continues to impact the global culture and water cooler conversation. From his genius opus “Yeezus” to his romantic partnership with the love of his life Kim Kardashian, he reminded us why he has over 50 Grammy nominations — because he is the greatest artist on the Planet! (And it certainly didn’t hurt that he created arguably the cutest celebrity baby since Justin Bieber’s YouTube debut.)
Neda Azarfar, VP of communications, Myspace
Kanye. Even though his messaging and delivery is 100% off-putting, confusing and just plain awful, the core of what he’s trying to communicate is accurate. Artists are marginalized in that they’re used as props, drained of their creativity and then dismissed. Black artists get it worse because they’re often confined by our imagination of what they can be, create and do. “Yeezus” isn’t a hip-hop album, but it’s categorized that way. Why? Because Kanye raps? But artists who sing aren’t relegated to a specific genre; they can be country, pop, R&B, etc. “Yeezus’” sound is totally different. It doesn’t fit the label it’s been ascribed. But even in this, what Kanye can do and is doing is redefining what that label means. He’s expanding our consciousness of what hip-hop means and what it means to be a hip-hop artist (from the look, to the message to the sound). I think “Yeezus” will be a pivotal moment for Kanye and for hip-hop.
Rell Lafargue, COO, Reservoir
Nile Rodgers. His involvement in Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” bridged two gaps at once. It brought a prominent guitar riff into what would have been a standard EDM song, adding dimension and variation to our perception of the genre. It also connected two generations of dance music fans — the funk fans from the ’70s and ’80s, and the electronic music junkies of the millennial generation.
Grace Jones, founder, REQUIEM media
This year belongs Kanye. Good, bad, controversial, eyebrow raising and often simply annoying, but always present and always dominating the headlines.
Ros Earls, founder/owner, 140db Management
M.I.A. for bringing a credible edge to commercial pop music and hanging onto being the uncompromising artist she is — how pop should be — gives us all faith in this industry.
Mary Jurey, GM, Playing In Traffic Records
I would probably say Lorde. Hopefully because it shows that the power of a good song is still the most important thing — that you don’t need to take your clothes off, or be extremely geeky or hipster, or wear crazy stuff or act out. You just need to be able to have a really good song and then sing it well.
Inge Colsen, publicist, Girlie Action
Kanye — unfortunately can’t go around him and his ways. Plus, Giorgio Moroder for giving hope for the electronica and dance future.
Rey Roldan, president, Another Reybee Production
Calvin Harris and many of the DJ/producers who have taken dance music out of the clubs and made it even more mainstream.
Lauretta Charlton, publicist, Joe’s Pub
Lou Reed has been the most influential artist in the business this year. When he died there was a collective feeling of grief that I have never felt before. He reminded me why I got into the business in the first place — people like him change lives. (I mean, after he died, even the Vatican had to acknowledge his genius with a now-deleted tweet about heroin. Talk about influential)
Mercedes Davis, CEO, Freshboy Productions
Diddy. In creating his own network Revolt TV, he not only paved a way for hip-hop artists but brought together artists, no matter indie or major to provide and express their art masterpieces on a nation platform available to millions.
Brenda Bottomley, manager/owner, Tulpa Records
In my opinion, the artist that has been the most important/influential in the music business is Lorde. Her exceptional talent encourages other youths and gives the listeners an idea of the wealth that truly lies in the coming generation.
George Littlejohn, co-CEO, Purpose Music Group
Pharrell, because of his diversity, producer, songwriter and vocalists. Because he can impact several genres and has broken down barriers.