In the words of Steve Barnett, Chairman and CEO, Capitol Music Group, “The two most exciting countries in the world for new music right now are Toronto and the UK.” He can be forgiven the geographical error given that he made this statement recently in front of a Toronto crowd at his CMW keynote interview, but the audience knew what he meant.
Barnett is a highly-respected major record label head who turned the fortunes of Columbia Records around in his seven years as Chair there. He was a big player in the success of Adele, Beyonce and One Direction at Columbia, and in three plus years at Capitol he has enjoyed impressive success with the likes of Sam Smith, Beck and Arcade Fire.
As a transplanted Brit, he clearly takes pride in the international rise to the top of Smith and Adele.
“It’s hard to get that opportunity twice,” he says of the dynamic Brit stars. “I saw Sam live early on, at The Troubadour, and there was an incredible 12 months from then. That led to 11 million adjusted album sales, four Grammys, an Oscar, a Golden Globe and four Brits. Just extraordinary. That is why I’m excited about this new period we’re going into. There’s an opportunity now, where the gatekeepers can’t stop you.”
Barnett’s label philosophy is that “to be taken seriously you have to break acts. That is our lifeblood.”
He’s decidedly bullish about the music industry, declaring that “this is the most exciting time ever. Music has never been as important culturally. It is more pervasive now than it ever has been in history."
There is tremendous optimism for what is going to happen. Look at how Canada has changed in the last three years as a repertoire centre. It has completely changed, and that is good for the industry."
He views this as a democratic era too, noting that “It’s the public who tells us who’s great. Things start with the fan."
Another important achievement of Barnett at Capitol has been the renovation of the Capitol Records Tower, the iconic LA HQ of the label. “We wanted it to feel like Don Draper had just walked in,” he says.