Tom Whalley out at Warner Bros. Records
Rob Cavallo in; insiders point to tension with Lyor CohenRead Tom Whalley's and Lyor Cohen's memos to staff
Tom Whalley is out as chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records after nearly a decade. Chief creative officer Rob Cavallo, a 23-year Warner veteran, is the new chairman.
The news came down Tuesday when a goodbye e-mail from Whalley, a biz veteran and longtime A&R man, was sent to staffers. The missive touted many of the label's successes during the past decade -- 54 to be exact, listed in alphabetical order, from Green Day to Linkin Park, Michael Buble to Josh Groban, R.E.M. to the White Stripes, Neil Young to Tom Petty.
Conspicuously missing, however, were details about his exit.
"I want to sincerely thank Lyor [Cohen, Warner Music Group vice chairman and chairman/CEO of recorded music] and Edgar [Bronfman Jr., WMG chairman and CEO] for their leadership and their willingness to support my decision," Whalley wrote, as if to emphasize the voluntary nature of his departure. "Change is inevitable, and more of it is certain to come, but your commitment and your passion will see you through whatever comes your way."
Indeed, what's coming Warner's way is a new executive team led by longtime rock producer Cavallo, who started at the label in 1987 and has worked extensively with such top-tier acts as Green Day, Fleetwood Mac and My Chemical Romance.
Meanwhile, Todd Moscowitz, who held three titles as of Monday -- executive vp of Warner Bros., CEO of Warner Music's Independent Label Group and president of Asylum Records -- becomes co-president and CEO, and current Atlantic Records executive vp/GM Livia Tortella gets a bump up to co-president and COO.
The move came as a shock to some who hailed Whalley's commitment to Warner's acts. "He's an artist-friendly guy," one former staffer said. "A lot of the artists love him, and he loves them."
Indeed, Warner artist Stevie Nicks told THR on Tuesday: "I love Tom Whalley. He has always been there for me and has been a huge support to artists during his tenure at Warner Bros. I'll miss him."
Others contended that the writing was on the wall for several years and that Whalley and Cohen were butting heads constantly.
"There was tremendous chaos and disharmony from Day 1," one insider said. "Tom Whalley was basically grandfathered in, and there was nothing Lyor could do about it. There's no doubt Whalley was pushed out, and this is Lyor's team coming in." (A Warner Bros. spokesman said Tuesday that "we don't comment on rumor or speculation.")
Whalley began at WBR in 2001 as the music business was thriving, and his salary was estimated to be in the justifiable $40 million range for five years. Now at the tail end of a second contract, times have changed.
Although Warner has managed to maintain its top-three ranking since 2003 and achieve "No. 1 status in the U.S. in total album share twice in the last five years" (as Cohen pointed out in a memo announcing the new chain of command), most acts are selling a fraction of what they moved even three years ago.
The loss of Madonna to Live Nation couldn't be blamed on Whalley, either; Cohen and Bronfman took the lead on negotiations with the label's biggest act.
But in an increasingly fickle market, the risk of a major flop is too great, which is one reason why many labels look to seasoned producers for leadership. But those hires have yielded mixed results during past years; look no further than Steve Lillywhite's short-lived executive A&R gig at Sony, Matt Serletic's run as president of Virgin and, some might suggest, Rick Rubin's current gig as co-president of Columbia Records.
More personnel changes are expected as the new team takes hold of the well-oiled A&R machine, leaving some to wonder whether the eccentric corporate culture for which Warner has been known is a thing of the past.
As one worried staffer said, "It's the end of an era, but it's been a long time coming."