Meet EDM's Power Trio: Atlantic's Craig Kallman, Astralwerks' Glenn Mendlinger, Interscope's Dave Rene

4:26 PM PST 05/15/2012 by Kerri Mason, Billboard
From left: Glenn Mendlinger, David Rene, Craig Kallman

Since the decline of "electronica" in the late 1990s, EDM has been an indie label's business. Now that it's big again, the majors are back -- but infiltrating a scene that prides itself on its independence can be tricky business. Meet the three major players who've pulled it off.

For more than a decade, electronic dance music has been an indie label's business. In the mid- to late '90s, when acts like Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy surged, the majors launched or acquired imprints: Warner had F-111, Reprise had Kinetic, Atlantic teamed up with then-college graduate Craig Kallman's Big Beat. But they all shuttered or changed direction when the craze faded, leaving the genre to the network of tiny, singles-based indies dotting the globe. Now that EDM is back, so are the majors -- but infiltrating a scene that prides itself on its independence and is marked by its insularity can be tricky business. Meet the three major players who've pulled it off.

CRAIG KALLMAN, 47, Chairman/CEO Atlantic Records Group; founder, Big Beat Imprint

EDM roster: Skrillex, Martin Solveig, Duck Sauce, DJ Chuckle, Flux Pavilion, Doctor P, Chromeo, Teddybears, Justice, Metronomy.

Biggest success of the past 12 months: "Skrillex has been a glorious story."

Biggest success of the past 12 days: "The launch of B.o.B's Strange Clouds album; it just came out and it looks like it's going to be a tremendous showing. And an act that continues to explode, fun., with "We Are Young."

How I describe my business philosophy: "Finding the best talent in the world and helping them shape the most significant and important music."

How my boss describes my business performance: "Ahmet [Ertegun] would be proud. Enough said."
-- Lyor Cohen, chairman/CEO of recorded music, Warner Music Group.

Must-see summer tour: Electric Daisy Carnival.

First exposure to EDM: "Falling in love with Kraftwerk at age 13."

Why is EDM Having a moment?: "Because, truly, the newest wave of innovation in music production is coming from the electronic dance music producers. We're in the midst of a new sonic revolution that in my mind very much mirrors-in a good way -the ushering in of the disco era; an avalanche of sound that moves a dancefloor and creates an important musical movement."

How has your label supported you or shifted its thinking about the space? "One hundred percent support. When I asked Lyor and my partner Julie Greenwald about investing in staffing up my Big Beat imprint a few years ago, because I really believed it was time to activate Atlantic Records into the EDM business, I got a resounding "yes." I told them there was a wealth of opportunity for first movers to sign some great stuff. Fortunately it was a year before any of this sensation happened, and because we got a [year-long head start] we were able to sign guys like Skrillex, Solveig and Chuckie, and really build an important roster."

In 2015, EDM will be… "Bigger than ever. It's going to continue to grow and blossom because there are too many talented people coming into the space. We'll continue to see a run of tremendous musical innovation there."

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GLENN MENDLINGER, 43, GM/Senior VP, Astralwerks (EMI)

EDM roster: David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Eric Prydz, Nervo.

Biggest success of the past 12 months: "David Guetta, 7 million singles and counting."

Biggest success of the past 12 days: "Swedish House Mafia on the Coachella main stage. Not 100% Astralwerks' doing, but we were involved in creating a winning campaign for SHM that helped them conquer the world."

How I describe my business philosophy: "Artist first, trust your gut, work collaboratively with your team, know the numbers, and be decisive."

How my boss describes my business performance: "Glenn's performance has an exceptionally high BPM." -- Greg Thompson, executive VP of marketing and promotion, EMI Music North America.

Must-see summer tour: Identity Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Zoo .

First exposure to EDM: "Purchasing the Telex album Neurovision in 1980 and Warm Leatherette by the Normal in 1978; immersing myself into New York and Staten Island rave culture in the late '80s. Thank you, Frankie Bones."

Why is EDM Having a moment? "Pop music is dance music now. David Guetta was a major catalyst in making this happen. The success of festivals like EDC, and club culture, quietly became absolutely massive . . . Mainstream media has now embraced it in a much more credible and serious way. It's very different from the electronica movement of the late '90s, and the genre has now infiltrated pop culture."

How has your label supported you or shifted its thinking about the space? "Over the past few years Astralwerks and EMI have evolved significantly in order to support our artists. Depending on the artist, our deals may be structured differently: We are more deeply involved in planning and integrating into touring activity, and we offer a suite of new and enhanced services that include merch and more robust grass-roots marketing. Additionally we have just formed the EMI Dance Network, which reflects our goal to have the best in class in the EDM space globally, and for that team to be as agile and fast-reacting as the genre dictates."

In 2015, EDM will be… "A firmly established genre. The music has finally crossed over and is now well-entrenched in popular culture. We've seen the coming and going of electronica three times.

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DAVID RENE, 35, A&R Representative, Interscope

EDM roster: Nero, Zedd, Eva Simons, Sebastian Ingrosso & Alesso.

Biggest success of the past 12 months: "Getting my own office; signing Nero."

Biggest success of the past 12 days: "Zedd opening for Lady Gaga on the first date of her Born This Way Ball tour in Seoul's Olympic Stadium."

How I describe my business philosophy: "Always remain teachable, and surround yourself with good people, good times."

How my boss describes my business performance: "I love record producers. I built a company on them, and Dave has an affinity for young record producers; a feel for finding them. It's rare. He's really helping me in this whole EDM world." -- Jimmy Iovine, chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M.

Must-see summer tour: Squarepusher.

First exposure to EDM: "When my best friend Rich Bologna played me the Permutation album by Amon Tobin in 1998."

Why is EDM Having a moment? "Because the guitar is dead."

How has your label supported you or shifted its thinking about the space? "Slowly but surely. In addition to letting me sign acts I believe in, we're launching the Shaving Kit, a blog that will position me as the personality of the label; a tastemaker for all things electronic music. I'm free to do with it what I will, reflecting the opinions of Interscope, or not."

In 2015, EDM will be… "No longer called 'EDM.' As people's ears become more and more open, it won't have to be partitioned off like that."

This excerpt is from Billboard magazine's May 19, 2012 issue's "EDM In The USA" cover story package.

Twitter: @billboard

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