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In an unexpected move, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart has exited his post as Epic Records’ president of A&R to concentrate on producing. The Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer joined the label in that role in October 2011. There was no word at press time as to whether a successor will be named to fill Stewart’s A&R post.
“It’s real simple,” Stewart tells Billboard.biz. “I really want to get back into the studio; I miss making records too much. At the end of the day, that’s my No. 1 passion. I want to always give 100 percent to everything I do. To do both these jobs, I would need to give 200 percent. To be the best record person I can be is for me to be working in the studio.”
Stewart adds that his RedZone Records (whose roster includes singer Bryan J and trio Watch the Duck) remains affiliated with Epic and that he will continue to produce Epic artists.
“There’s no difference in the working relationship between myself and [Epic Records chairman] L.A. [Reid],” says Stewart, who also heads the publishing/label/studio enclave RedZone Entertainment, through which he has discovered and developed such talents as singer/songwriters Ester Dean, The-Dream and Frank Ocean.
“Nothing has changed beyond the fact that I will be in the studio making records hands-on,” Stewart says. “I’ll still be working significantly with the Epic family.”
During his Epic A&R watch, Stewart oversaw the Think Like a Man soundtrack (the set has sold 146,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan), upcoming albums by Ciara and Wallpaper, as well as Quadron’s “Avalanche,” recently released through Sylvia Rhone’s Epic-distributed Vested In Culture.
In a statement given to Billboard, Reid said, “Tricky Stewart is and always will be a very special friend and one of the most talented people in our industry. I completely support his decision to return to the studio full time.”
Stewart’s departure is the latest in a series of executive changes at Epic. Both COO Mark Shimmel and senior VP promotion Erik Olesen left the label in January following Reid’s decision last December to not return as a judge on X Factor. Former exec. vice president marketing, Angelica Cob-Baehler, exited in August of 2012 after less than a year in the post. Most recently, Michael “Sha Money XL” Clervoix was named exec. VP urban A&R for Epic. He’d previously served as senior VP A&R for Island Def Jam.
Stewart, whose career credits include such hits as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” exits his A&R post as Epic works to build its market share. Among current album sales, the label’s market share stands at 0.90 percent through June 23, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A year ago at this point (June 24, 2012), Epic’s share was 1.81 percent. To compare, its sister Sony labels, Columbia and Sony Music Nashville, stand at 6.43 percent and 2.69 percent, respectively, year to date.
Epic finished 2012 with 1.53 percent market share of current album sales — a growth over the previous year of 1.29 percent, though down from 2010 (2.18 percent). (Reid arrived at Epic in July of 2011, nine months after former president Amanda Ghost exited.)
Epic’s top selling album of 2012 was Future’s Pluto (245,000), followed by the Fray’s Scars & Stories (217,000), Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel … (205,000) and Michael Jackson’s Number Ones (165,000). This year, Epic’s biggest seller isn’t a new release; it’s Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller, with 84,000.
So far in 2013, Epic has debuted three new single-artist driven albums on the Billboard 200 chart: Marcus Canty’s debut EP, This is Marcus Canty, Joe Satriani’s Unstoppable Momentum, and the Quadron set. Other albums on deck for the label: Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest (July 16), Karmin’s upcoming full-length Epic debut, singer/songwriter Bonnie McKee’s debut album and X Factor girl group Fifth Harmony’s debut.
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