Dialogue With LA...

The Hollywood Reporter: Dialogue with Antonio 'L.A.' Reid
July 17, 2002

It's been two years since LaFace Records founder Antonio "L.A." Reid took over the reins as president and CEO of Arista Records. Reid's ascension to Arista, the label founded and successfully run by veteran Clive Davis for 25 years, was mired in controversy. After a rocky first year, Reid is coming into his own. He has successfully broken newcomer Avril Lavigne and turned Pink into a multiplatinum-selling star. The party is just getting started: Arista has a slate of high-profile releases due out before year's end, including albums from Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, TLC, Santana, Kenny G and Blu Cantrell. Reid recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's music editor Tamara Conniff.

The Hollywood Reporter: What have you learned about the business since taking over Arista?

Antonio "L.A." Reid: I think coming into Arista taught me a huge lesson: Yesterday's hits are truly yesterday's hits. It's all about the next day. What are we going to do tomorrow? What do we have going on today? Yesterday is yesterday.

THR: With two years under your belt, do you feel Arista is finally yours?

Reid: Yes, I do. I don't know what the perception is; I guess I can't know. But I definitely feel like we've turned a corner and that the roster clearly reflects my musical tastes and artists that I've signed.

THR: Seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne's debut, "Let Go," entered the Billboard 200 at No. 8 and quickly moved up to No. 4. Her sales continue to increase week after week. Isn't that an anomaly in today's music world?

Reid: That doesn't happen anymore. Nowadays you come in big, and then you die. What we really did (with Lavigne) was identify a really special artist with a gift and a relevancy that was needed. We didn't do any tricks at retail like giving huge discounts. It was regular new-artist pricing for the first two weeks, and then we went to regular pricing. The success of "Let Go" caught everybody by surprise -- not that we didn't think we had something special. I was convinced the day I heard her sing that she was a very special artist, and I believed that she'd do well. But when we released the album, I expected it to perform the way a new artist in her genre would perform. I didn't think it would be a top 10. Honestly, I thought it would (sell) 15,000 units the first week, and then maybe 20,000 the next weekend, and then over a six-month period, we'd find ourselves near the top 10. That was the plan. We wanted it to be a career based on credibility and respectability, not a hype campaign. So her explosion is really organic. I'm really proud to say we didn't hype it. It's a real hit.

THR: Pink has also proved quite a phenomenon. She's reinvented herself from an R&B act into a rock star. Her second album, "Missundaztood," has been hovering around the top 10 since its December release.

Reid: This is the best transition of an artist's career I've ever seen. Her first (single) record, "There You Go" (off the 2000 album, "Can't Take Me Home"), was in the pocket with other releases at that time from TLC and Destiny's Child. Pink was kind of like the black white girl. With the second album, she starts out with (the single) "Get the Party Started," which is a great segue into her more rock-leaning world. I think the true gem of the album is the current single, "Just Like a Pill." We noticed when we put that single out, the album sales turned around again, and she went back into the top 10. The "Just Like a Pill" video, unlike her others, which are more lighthearted, is very dark and moody; it shows a deeper side of her. It seems to be the one that's connected to her fans the best.

THR: "Missundaztood" has sold more than 3 million copies in the United States. What are your thoughts on the effects of piracy and bootlegging on CD sales?

Reid: CD burning is a fact of life. Bootlegging has always been a fact of life. File sharing is a fact of life. All things considered, when I see Eminem and Nelly sell a ton of records and Pink and Usher continue to sell and I see Avril come into the top 10 like this, it tells me that there is still a fan for music out there. If you give them great music, they will buy it. If you think because you spent a lot of money on marketing and promotion that people are going to buy your records, you're sadly mistaken. I do believe that the current business model that exists in the record industry is an antiquated model and that we really have to redefine how we do business all the way from inception. We're going to be forced to.

THR: Many executives have talked about different pricing strategies for albums and restructuring artist deals as part of a new business model. How long do you think it will take the music industry to implement any changes?

Reid: I think if people don't move quickly, they will quickly find themselves out of work. I don't know if I can put a time on it, but I will say there's a need to move really quickly and really redefine how we do business. I don't think we can wait. I don't think anybody can wait for anybody. I think the guys with the ideas need to set up and do what they do. There's going to be some bumps and bruises, and it won't in any way solidify itself overnight, but I think if we are all ballsy enough to dive in and redefine it, the sooner we can save our business.

THR: Whitney Houston's new album is already getting positive radio buzz. In the current business climate, there is a lot of pressure to hit high first-week sales numbers. How will that affect an artist like Houston?

Reid: Because now we judge the business on the first week of sales for an artist, Whitney has never been a first-week artist -- she's always been more of a marathon runner than a sprint runner. So she can come in and sell 150,000-200,000 records, and people will consider that not successful. She's sell 10 million at the end of the day, but because of the first week, they still won't recognize it as a success.

THR: The tragic death of TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes stunned the music community. I understand that bandmates Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas are committed to finishing the album. Are they considering replacing Lopes?

Reid: Although Left Eye passed on, the girls kept working. They are just about finished with it. The album will feature Left Eye as well as T-Boz and Chilli. And no, they aren't going to replace Left Eye -- none of that stuff. They were very far along on the record. Now we're mixing. We're all really proud of it.

THR: Arista and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Records decided to go separate ways last month after almost a decade of being in business together.

Reid: We have a huge hit right now with (Combs') remix album. We went out on a high note. He and I can both look at each other and say that we had major successes together. I think we both feel really good about it. I don't feel awkward or weird about it at all. He's a talented man, and he will continue to have success. But we all at times need change. As much as I needed change, he also needed change. I think he'll do well.



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