Jay Boberg, the president of MCA Records, knew he was on to something in 1981 when the seminal New Wave rock band The Go-Go’s first album, “Beauty and the Beat,” broke the million-sales mark.
The 38-year-old Boberg had dropped out of UCLA in his final quarter in 1979 to start IRS Records with Miles Copeland, manager of The Police. But until then he was struggling with the company to make ends meet. “Starving and bouncing checks left and right,” is how he describes it.
With the sudden success of The Go-Go’s, an all-female Los Angeles band IRS had signed not long before, “we suddenly realized, ‘oh my God, this is a real company,'” he says. The album went on to sell 2.5 million copies, and IRS went on to sign Oingo Boingo, The English Beat and REM.
In 1991, Boberg and Copeland sold 50 percent of IRS to Thorn EMI, and the remainder to that British company in 1993. “I was absorbed,” Boberg says. “I went from being the total entrepreneur in charge of everything to being enveloped into a corporate structure.”
The new owners sent him to a three-month management training program at Harvard University, where he rubbed shoulders and swapped tales with CEOs from such companies as Hong Kong Power and Light and pharmaceutical giant Ciba-Geigy.
“These were people all in charge of $100 million-or-more (annual sales) companies,” Boberg says. The experience rounded him out as a professional, he says, and prepared him for success beyond artists and repetoire, or A & R;, the industry term for searching for unknown talent with blockbuster potential.
Upon his return from Harvard, Boberg accepted the job as president of MCA’s music publishing division, which signs and manages songwriters, and manages all of the parent company’s music copyrights.
In December 1995, after an 80 percent interest in MCA was sold to Canada’s Seagram Co. Ltd., controlled by Edgar Bronfman Jr., Boberg was promoted to president of MCA Records, where he is now looking to strengthen the company’s arsenal of musical talent.
“We’re trying to become more creatively driven and to be on the front end of the creative curve musically,” he says.
Boberg has mellowed with time he now goes to music shows just twice a week, down from five to six times at IRS. “But I still consider myself an A & R; person at heart,” he says.