Jimmy Iovine's business card at Apple famously reads, simply: "Jimmy." The world's most powerful music executive does not need a job title. As leader of Apple Music, he has helped the company make the difficult transition from paid downloads to streaming — which by the start of 2017 accounted for nearly 40% of the global recorded-music business.
Iovine has more than four decades of music-industry experience at the highest level. He began in the early 1970s as a sound engineer, then as a record producer, notably working with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. He co-founded Interscope Records in 1989, and grew its roster to include 2Pac, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga and Dr. Dre, who became his friend and business partner. Together they launched the audio brand Beats Electronics, which Apple paid $3 billion to acquire in 2014, with Iovine joining the tech giant full-time to launch Apple Music.
"Jimmy is unlike anyone I've ever known," Dre told Variety magazine in February 2017. "Jimmy always had my back. We have a different kind of relationship." And it endures to this day: the two friends still speak every morning.
Italian-American Working-Class Hero
Iovine was born into an Italian-American family on March 11, 1953 and raised in the working-class Red Hook area of Brooklyn. His father worked in the docks as a longshoreman — unloading freight from cargo ships by crane — and his mother was a secretary. As a child, Iovine knew he wanted to "do something different" after he saw the Beatles perform "She Loves You" on TV.
Years later, he would work with John Lennon, and the former (by then) Beatle asked Iovine why he got into the music business. "I saw you guys on Ed Sullivan," Iovine gushed. " I bought a guitar, and I wanted to be in a band. And I realized I couldn't be in a band, so I wanted to get as close to it as I can." Iovine recounted to GQ magazine that he then asked Lennon the same question. "To get laid," came the reply.
From Janitor to Star Music Producer
Iovine changed the course of his life as a teenager when he dropped out of a criminology course at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Following his heart, he took a job sweeping floors at a Manhattan recording studio. His father gave him six months to make something out of himself or go to back to school. Fortunately for Iovine, a friend helped him to get another job at The Record Plant — the Manhattan recording studio whose living-room-style decor and decadent air made it popular with rock stars.
Iovine became a sound engineer and in 1974 worked with his idol, John Lennon, on the album Walls and Bridges; then with Bruce Springsteen in 1975 on Born to Run — the album that made the Boss a star. After that, Iovine went on to collaborate on dozens of classic rock albums through the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, first as an engineer and then as a producer for the likes of Patti Smith, Tom Petty, Meat Loaf, U2, Rod Stewart, Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks — whom he ended up dating. After their relationship crumbled, Iovine went on to marry Vicki McCarty, an attorney and Playboy model. They would remain together for 24 years and have four children: daughters Jade and Jessica, and sons Jeremy and James. The couple divorced in 2009. In February 14, 2016, Iovine married the British model-actress Liberty Ross in a star-studded ceremony at David Geffen's Beverly Hills mansion. Guests included Oprah, Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga and Pharrell Williams.
The Interscope Years
With Ted Field, the media mogul and scion of a Chicago department-store family, Iovine co-founded Interscope Records, a joint venture with Time Warner's Atlantic Records, in 1989. Thanks to both its co-founders' passion, Interscope operated differently than most other labels, handing complete creative control to the artists and producers. It also allowed the artists to market themselves. At Interscope, music people, not lawyers, held the top jobs. The laissez-faire ethos would end up paying huge dividends. Early signings included the Michael Jackson producer Teddy Riley, who was given his own production company, Life of Riley; the rock band Nine Inch Nails, whose leader, Trent Reznor, was given his own subsidiary label, Nothing Records; and the rapper 2Pac, who released his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, on Interscope in November 1991.
Deal with Death Row Records, Political Controversy
The following year, Interscope officially became the home of West Coast hip hop when it signed a deal to distribute the releases of Death Row Records. Iovine pulled off a masterstroke when he decided to market Dr. Dre's debut album, The Chronic, in the same way as the classic rock albums he had previously worked on. No singles were released, and MTV and Rolling Stone were targeted for publicity. "Jimmy treated the album like it was Guns 'n' Roses or the Rolling Stones," John McClain, the Interscope executive responsible for the Death Row deal, told the New York Times in 1995. Album sales of 5.7 million in the U.S. alone vindicated Iovine's approach.
But there was controversy. In May 1995 the US Senate majority leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole accused Interscope of releasing hip-hop music that glorified violence. "Must you debase our nation and threaten our children for the sake of corporate profits?" said Dole about Time-Warner, which had a partnership with Interscope. "Anyone who thinks this is not about racism is being very naive," Iovine told the LA Times. But by September, Time-Warner had announced that it would be dissociating itself from Interscope by selling its share in the company back to Iovine and Field, for $115 million. However, Interscope remained a lucrative proposition and in early 1996 MCA Records acquired a 50% stake for a reported $200 million.
Partnership with Dr. Dre
By mid-1996, Dr. Dre had departed from Death Row Records and launched his own imprint, Aftermath Entertainment, via Interscope. On Iovine's recommendation, Dre signed a white rapper from Detroit — Eminem. His debut album, The Slim Shady LP, released in 1999, became Aftermath's first big hit, topping the Billboard chart and going on to be certified four-times platinum. A star was born, although that same year Eminem would be eclipsed sales-wise by his mentor, when Dre released 2001, his follow up to The Chronic, which would be certified six times platinum. With that, Aftermath's position at the forefront of hip hop was cemented — as was Iovine and Dre's friendship and business relationship. The hits continued — notably 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003, a joint venture with Shady Records that went six times platinum; and the debut album by The Game, The Documentary, certified two times platinum. Today Aftermath's roster includes Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and Jon Connor.
Meanwhile Interscope continued to prosper. It generated an estimated $40 million in profit in the last six months of 1999 alone, with releases from artists such as Eminem, Dr. Dre, Limp Bizkit, Eve and Enrique Iglesias. That proved to be a mere warm-up for the new millennium. In May 2000, Eminem's third album, The Marshall Mathers LP, became the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history, shifting 1.76 million copies in its first week. In 2005, four of the top 10 best-selling albums in the U.S. were on Interscope — 50 Cent's The Massacre, Eminem's Encore, Gwen Stefani's Love.Music.Angel.Baby and U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
But Iovine could sense trouble ahead from the digitization of music. The file-sharing website Napster accumulated tens of millions of users before it was shut down in July 2001 — but the writing was on the wall. In 2002 Iovine met Apple's Steve Jobs and Eddy Cue, shortly before Jobs launched iTunes. Jobs and Iovine hit it off immediately. "We absolutely shared the same taste in music — Bob Dylan and John Lennon," Iovine told The Sunday Times Magazine in November 2014. "The biggest difference between us? Steve was much smarter than me." But it was Iovine who thought that the future of music lay in subscription services; Jobs was unconvinced.
Beats was originally inspired not by Dr. Dre — after whom its headphones are famously named — but by Apple. Specifically, the free white earbuds that came with iPods, whose poor sound quality both Iovine and Dre detested. They resolved to make a better product, and founded an audio company, Beats Electronics, in 2006. It launched the iconic, colorful Beats By Dr. Dre headphones in 2008. Priced at $350 a pair, they were sold in Apple's online and retail stores. To skeptics who wondered why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars when Apple's headphones cost nothing, Iovine had the perfect riposte: "Bad audio is free." The link with Apple was a huge factor in Beats success — but there was also the cultural cachet of Dre's name, plus an aggressive campaign of product placement in music videos, and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and LeBron James. By fall 2013, Beats Electronics was valued at more than $1 billion.
But Iovine remained convinced that the future of music was in streaming. So Beats acquired a streaming service, MOG, which became the foundation for its subscription-based Beats Music, which launched in January 2014. This was all part of a long-term plan to join forces with Apple, as Iovine revealed to Variety in February 2017: "We were never going to be able to scale it [on our own], because the business model was very difficult, and still is... We knew exactly what we were doing, meaning that [joining Apple] is the outcome we wanted."
On May 28, 2014, Apple announced the $3 billion dollar purchase of Beats Electronics. The tech giant also landed Jimmy Iovine, who left his position as CEO of Interscope Records to mastermind Apple's transition into the world of streaming. He had his work cut out. At the time of the purchase, Beats Music had 250,000 paid subscribers. Spotify, the market leader, had 10 million.
But there was nobody better equipped than Iovine to meet the challenge. Doug Morris, the chairman of Sony Music Entertainment, told Variety magazine in 2017 that, on first meeting Iovine back in 1979, it was clear even then that he had "a very unique quality to be able to see around corners."
Wired magazine describes Iovine, with his shaved head and immaculate personal style, as "a trimmer version of Pablo Picasso," noting his charming and effusive personality, which had enabled him through the course of his career to "deal profitably with difficult personalities," a list that includes John Lennon, Suge Knight, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and Steve Jobs. But Iovine does not mince his words when he has a point to make, as U.S. TV audiences saw for themselves when he served as a straight-talking mentor on American Idol for three seasons from 2011 to 2013.
Launching Apple Music
Iovine launched the streaming service Apple Music in 100 countries on June 30, 2015. It was free to join for the first three months, then $9.99 a month thereafter. It has roughly the same number of songs as Spotify — 30 million — but what it also has, which Spotify does not, is a live radio station, Beats 1, with shows curated by some of the biggest names in music, among them Dr. Dre, Drake, Q-Tip, Pharrell Williams, Elton John and Frank Ocean. By January 2016, Apple Music had reached 10 million paying subscribers. By the end of 2016, the number had doubled to 20 million. However Spotify remained the market leader, with 40 million subscribers.
Iovine's next move, according to an interview he gave to Variety magazine in February 2017, is to expand Apple Music's video content. "We're trying to make the music service a cultural point of reference, and that's why we're making video... for our Apple Music customers and our future customers," he explained.
Both Dre and Iovine have been investing in the future in other ways. In 2013 they donated $70 million to create the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation. The institution is based at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and offers a special four-year program to undergraduates, which spans three areas: art and design, engineering and computer science, and business and venture management. "If the next start-up that becomes Facebook happens to be one of our kids, that's what we're looking for," Iovine told the New York Times.
It was a typical quote from a man who has aimed high all his life — and hit the target repeatedly.
(Profile photo of Jimmy Iovine by Kevin Mazur/WireImage).
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