TORONTO (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Randy Lennox is a work in progress: a fast runner just now rounding second base in his career; always a step or two ahead of the others in the game.
Under his decade-long stewardship as president/CEO, Universal Music Canada has continually been Canada’s music leader with a recent market share just under 40 percent.
Universal Music Group president/COO Zach Horowitz praises his induction to the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame. “I've watched Randy develop into one of the world’s preeminent music executives, growing Universal Music Canada into the country’s number one label by building a market share that rivals any of our market-leading companies around the world.
“Randy gets the big picture of being part of a global organization without losing his regional focus. He not only is a champion of Canadian acts, but his astute marketing, and sales expertise have resulted again and again in international artists over indexing in Canada.”
Universal’s Canadian operation was among the first to break such international acts as Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Snow Patrol, the Killers, Wolfmother, Tokio Hotel, Live, Keane, No Doubt, and Bush.
Canada holds top global territory status for No Doubt and Bush as well as U2, Lady Gaga, and Keane; and Canadians Diana Krall, Nelly Furtado, Shania Twain, Justin Bieber and Bryan Adams.
As well, the popularity of Hedley, Sam Roberts, Jully Black, Fefe Dobson, and Remy Shand in the decade period reflects the energy, enterprise and investment that Lennox has committed to Canadian music creators.
“Randy is a strategist,” says Vancouver-based Sam Feldman who manages Diana Krall, Joni Mitchell and others. “He really does care about developing artists even though the environment is getting tougher and tougher. He’s one of the Canadian (label) guys who really thinks internationally.”
Adds Rush's longtime manager, Ray Danniels. “I wish Randy was running one of the bigger American music companies.”
Lennox has also played a towering role in developing new Canadian music companies— through creating strategic alliances with MapleCore, DEP Distribution, Vega Musique and others—and giving by his support to enhance the competitiveness of the independent sector.
His groundbreaking 2002 investment in MapleCore, which operates MapleMusic Recordings (Chantal Kreviazuk, Colin James); and Open Road Recordings (Doc Walker, the Road Hammers, and Taylor Swift), as well as the Fontana North partnership, underscores his belief in Canadian independent sector.
Among the Canadian independent imprints distributed by Universal Music Canada are: Anthem Records, Quinlan Road Music, Last Gang, True North/Linus, The Orange Record Label, Alert, Alma, and Curve.
It was Lennox who spearheaded the release and the marketing of the 1996 four-CD box set “Oh What A Feeling,” and its follow-up “Oh What A Feeling 2” in 2001. The two comprehensive retrospectives of Canadian music raised $5.2 million for Canadian charities. “It was about putting all of the best music together,” recalls Lennox. “The morning that I woke up and realized that not only did we accomplish that, but we raised over $5 million doing it, was a true (life) moment.”
Lennox heads Universal Music Canada in an overwhelmingly threatening world; a time when much of the music industry is racked with anguish as physical music sales steadily drop. While many of his contemporaries have grasped to feel a pulse, Lennox understood a full decade ago that the business had to be far different than in the past.
As the popularity of music on the Internet grew, Lennox pressed into the vanguard of the emerging phenomenon. And it was there, as most others waited, Lennox studied, and figured things out. In 2004, he oversaw the launch of Puretracks, Canada’s first commercial online music business.
“Randy was a pioneer in utilizing the internet to find new ways for our artists to connect with their fans,” notes Horowitz.
“We learned about the digital business almost by the seat of our pants” Lennox recalls. “By inventing a business in a new digital space, our learning grew exponentially.”
Under his direction, Universal Music Canada expanded and diversified into new areas such as visual entertainment, opening Vivendi Entertainment Canada to handle DVDs for film, television and other non-music products.
Lennox also realized that to maintain or increase revenue his job would entail finding more innovative ways to sell music, as well as making partnership deals with artists–sharing merchandising, and live performance revenues.
In effect, Universal Canada evolved from being a record company based primarily on unit sales of music into a diversified music entertainment company monetizing access to music across a multitude of channels and platforms; from being a vendor to being an active partner with artists and with businesses seeking to use music as the foundation of their products and services.
“Five years from now, 50% of Universal Music Canada’s business should not be coming from either physical CDs or digital sales,” says Lennox. “If we are to be successful in evolving our business, we should have at least 50% of income coming from other sources.”
Hard-driving, awesomely persuasive, Lennox can act and speak like a backroom wheeler dealer. But beneath the showmanship, he is a tenacious, focused, and creative entrepreneur who has enormous personal rapport with his artists, colleagues, and friends.
They may talk of his business acumen, but almost all say that the qualities that strike them most about him are his genuine love of music and respect for artists.
Says Lennox, “Other than being a parent, there’s nothing greater than finding an artist and going, ‘We have to sign this artist now.’ FeFe Dobson, was that for me. Hedley and Remy Shand both had that effect on me as well.”
In 2003, Lennox saw Dobson perform at a tiny Burlington restaurant, and he immediately phoned then Island/Def Jam president Lyor Cohen, and insisted that he fly from New York to Toronto to see her. A showcase at the Toronto club the Reverb two days later began at 11 a.m., and halfway through Dobson’s first song, Cohen agreed to co-sign her.
in 2002, Lennox signed Shand who has released only one album, “The Way I Feel.” “He may only make one record, but we did get four Grammy nominations, and we sold a million records,” says Lennox. “And, he won a Juno (for Best R&B/Soul Recording).”
A running gag at Universal is asking Lennox to take home new music to his “A&R team”: daughters Hayley and Katie, and step son Robert.
“They were the first to hear Lady Gaga, and Black Eyed Peas,” beams Lennox. “When the Peas’ ‘Monkey Business’ album was coming out. Katie, eight at the time, kept playing ‘My Humps.’ You’ll recall it was the fifth single; the track that took the album to the moon. She called that song before anyone.
“I went after Hedley because I walked into Hayley’s room when she was 11, and she had downloaded, and hard printed a dozen pictures of Jacob (Hoggard). Hayley told me that, “He’s the best singer on ‘Canadian Idol.’”
In 2006, Nelly Furtado’s 2006 album "Loose,” with worldwide sales of more than 10 million units, made her a global superstar. Lennox warmly remembers her first Toronto show. “I was telling her parents how wonderful she was, and they just looked and me in puzzlement.”
“Randy is a great motivator,” says Furtado’s manager Chris Smith who heads the Island/Def Jam joint venture 21 Music with a roster that includes FeFe Dobson and Jenna Andrews. “He makes me feel like I should be in business with him. He gets me with saying, ‘Buddy, we’re going to win.’ That talk is constant. He wants to talk about the music, and he cares about everything.”
“Down deep Randy is a sales guy, but he’s a sales guy willing to take chances,” says Bruce Allen, manager of Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé and Jann Arden. “I come to him with the most odd ball things, and he’ll say, ‘Yeah. Let’s give it a shot!’ You get a decision fast, and he’s really enthusiastic. That’s a great thing to have in a down period like we’re in. It’s great seeing his passion.”
Lennox’s support of singer Sam Roberts has been unabated since his EP, “The Inhuman Condition” was released in 2002. “Sam is one of Canada’s true and integral superstars,” he declares.
“Randy is one of a kind,” says Roberts. “I first realized this when he showed up to our record signing ceremony wearing flip-flops. It sent a strong message, though, that this was to be a relationship through which we would prosper creatively, and yet, benefit from the guidance of a man who brings the beach everywhere he goes.”
Lennox began his career with MCA Records of Canada in 1978, working in the mailroom—for free. He soon became a customer service representative. By 1981, he had been promoted to Ontario branch manager.
This was a period, the joke goes, when MCA only had a Who record every five years, and an Elton John record that would stiff every three years.
MCA Records Canada was soon a major player, however.
In 1983, Island Records opened up in Canada with MCA as its distributor. “The minute Island hit the ground, U2 released ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ followed by “The Joshua Tree” of which we sold two million (units) in Canada,” recalls Lennox. “They also had Trevor Horn’s ZTT Records, and we also broke ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.”
The same year, Irving Azoff, then VP at MCA in the U.S., added Canada to a Chrysalis distribution deal that took effect as Spandau Ballet’s “True” was climbing into the Top 10 on the Canadian chart. “We took the album over, and we soon had hits with Pat Benatar’s ‘Love is a Battlefield,’ Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ and Huey Lewis’ ‘Sports’ album.”
While Chrysalis left in 1988 when EMI purchased a 50% interest in the label; and Island left in 1989 after being purchased by PolyGram; MCA's buyout of the Geffen label in 1990 resulted in an enormous boost in business
“We opened the ‘90s with Geffen, and with Aerosmith’s “Get A Grip” which was massive,” recalls Lennox. “We broke Nelson and Tesla. I took Geffen on as a personal project.” This included overseeing the roll-out of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind.”
"It is great working with Randy," says Paul McGuiness, manager of U2 "He is a great record company executive and friend. I have known Randy all the way back to the 80’s when Chris Blackwell licensed Island to MCA in Canada but to Warners in the US. As I now know, this was to take advantage of the low statutory mechanical royalty then payable in Canada. It was something cleverly cooked up between Irving Azoff and Chris Blackwell. It made the dealer price of a Canadian pressing lower. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that they started to show up all over the world causing great distress to Island’s other licensees world-wide. Oh how we laughed when I tried to explain this to our German licensees. Anyway we were breaking world-wide at the same time, but we just weren’t quite as big in Canada as we thought we were. We were pretty big though!"
Lennox was quick to embrace alternative-styled music. “The music lover in me was not being stimulated by MCA’s signing of artists that had left other labels. I had Nirvana tastes selling Night Ranger records.”
This, in large measure, was the reason why he forged a tie In 1990 with Montreal’s Cargo Imports and Distribution, then Canada's foremost independent distributor. The company distributed more than 50 independent alternative-styled international labels including Caroline Exports, Sub Pop, and Dischord. It also handled releases by such Canadian alternative acts as Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Asexuals, Change Of Heart, and NoMeansNo.
Growth of the company's fortunes resulted in Lennox becoming senior VP/GM in 1993, handling the company's day-to-day domestic business. Two years later, The Seagram Company bought an 80% interest in MCA Inc.
The overall effect of Seagram’s 1998 purchase of PolyGram (creating Universal Music Group), followed by French utilities firm Vivendi's acquisition of Seagram in 2000, will continue to be evaluated for years.
In Canada, however, Universal Music Canada bounced back strongly with the smooth integration and restructuring of the company that followed in 1998.
In researching mergers, Lennox—boosted to president/CEO with the buyout of PolyGram–discovered that following a merger it was common to aggregate market shares of the two combined companies, and then subtract 15 percent to predict performance of the new entity.
“I remember the specific moment that we decided to take this company a certain direction,” recalls Lennox. “The competitor in me swore to take that (combined share) upward instead of downward. We spent 1998 and 1999 figuring out how not to let the combined share implode. It was clear to me that the independent sector was beginning to flourish, and it was worth embracing.”
Lennox took an aggressive role in developing new-media and E-commerce businesses; and Universal became the dominant player in distributing independent music in Canada.
From 1998 to 2008, Universal had an 11 percent market share increase, in part, because of “strategically evolving our distribution,” says Lennox proudly.
For all its size and diversity, Universal Music Canada—with 200 employees– remains very much an intimate enterprise, run by a close-knit group of scrappy entrepreneurs.
“We set out very specifically to have this company feel intimate,” Lennox explains. “We all came from small companies. We wanted to keep that environment, and that culture.”
“My friend Randy is an old-fashioned record man,” says producer Bob Ezrin “I use that term with reverence for a time when the music was the focus; the deal was an art form; the artist was anointed; and the head of every successful label was a character–passionate, crafty and highly competitive with an unique sense of the market, and the way things worked; single-minded and iron-fisted but typically with a velvet glove with which they stroked and comforted their key people, and most importantly their artists, making them all feel like the most valued people in the world.
“Randy is one of those label heads; a throw back in a way, but he’s also a guy keenly aware of the changing marketplace and new technologies, and he’s highly creative about the ways he positions the old values and the new opportunities. And, for this reason, he is one of the most successful record men in the entire world.” – by Larry LeBlanc