When Jay Boberg was named president of MCA Records in 1996, he was given a single, monumental task reinvent the place.
Although the label boasted a back catalog of some of popular music's most legendary performers Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, The Who it hadn't broken a new artist in some time and was widely dismissed as creatively moribund, unable either to attract or develop new talent.
Boberg, 40, couldn't have been more different. While still in college, he co-founded IRS Records, launching the careers of such off-kilter artists as R.E.M., the Go-Gos and the English Beat bands that eventually created the foundation for the modern rock radio format. In 1994, he sold the label to EMI and took over MCA Music Publishing, where his big coup was signing Alanis Morissette.
Still, the question remained: Could Boberg bring the adventurous ethos of IRS to a label with a reputation as the industry's most conservative?
Two-and-a-half years later, he must be doing something right. MCA has scored success with such acts as Sublime, whose record has sold more then 4 million copies, and more recently with Semisonic and Mary J. Blige.
"Musically, we changed the culture by taking risks and investing in bands that could lead the market as opposed to follow," Boberg says.
Still, heading MCA, a division of the sprawling Universal Studios Inc. media empire, is far different from running a scrappy indie. This time, there are directors and shareholders to worry about, as well as quarterly income statements to cope with.
"It's more challenging," Boberg says. "But it gets down to the whole issue of finding artists and music that is vital, that people want to own."
And his efforts are meeting with approval from Universal's top music executives.
"It's not an overnight process, but (MCA Records) is perceived differently today," says Zach Horowitz, president of Universal Music Group. "Jay is creating a culture that is artist-friendly and a company where artists know that once they are signed, the label will support them, regardless of whether they have an immediate hit."
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