- NEWS: correction to the interview with Chris Anokute -
In the introduction to our interview with Chris Anokute, published on October 18, 2010, HitQuarters mistakenly asserted that the former Virgin/Capitol A&R was primarily responsible for discovering Katy Perry on behalf of the label and for playing a pivotal role in facilitating her subsequent rise to international chart success at EMI Music Group.
Jan 21, 2011
Since publication we have received further input from several sources on the subject, and have concluded that it is appropriate to correct misimpressions that may have resulted from our October 18 story. Among the sources was Jeff Kempler – the executive vice president of Virgin Records at the time of Perry’s signing - who corroborated other sources in recalling that the chief participants in Perry’s discovery and breakthrough were in fact then Virgin chairman and CEO Jason Flom and head of publicity Angelica Cob-Baehler.
According to Kempler, at the time Anokute was a junior A&R and “energetic cheerleader for the project and vocal proponent for Katy” whose involvement was in being “helpful to Jason in pulling together mixes and other important late-stage A&R support” and, although definitely part of a wide-ranging team who all played a valuable parts in Perry’s breakthrough, he was the not the primary driver of Katy being signed to Virgin, nor the lead A&R executive on the debut album, as implied by the interview intro.
Here follows Jeff Kempler’s full account of the circumstances surrounding the signing of Katy Perry to Virgin/Capitol in 2007:
“Jason and I started at Virgin together in October, 2005, as Chairman and EVP, respectively. At that time, Virgin had not broken an act or had success with domestic repertoire for several years. Job #1 was to trim the roster of everything that didn't appear to have a shot, and to focus resources on delivering profitable hits from the few retained artists, making selected EMI UK repertoire succeed in the US and, most critically, signing and supporting great new acts with big upside in the US and in key international markets. Achieving this would be the foundation for changing the culture and position of the company after several discouraging years.
Through focus and Jason's ears and leadership (with due credit to Lee Trink, who joined us as GM in early 2006), Virgin was completely renovated in 2006 - breaking numerous new acts and delivering platinum albums on heritage Virgin acts that had otherwise not been on an upward path. Successes on albums released by Virgin that year included gold or platinum albums (and/or singles) from Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, 30 Seconds to Mars, Dem Franchize Boys, KT Tunstall, Fat Joe, Bubba Sparxx and Korn, followed by breakthroughs from A Fine Frenzy and Saving Abel.
On the back of this turnaround, Jason remained driven to break a global pop act. In the summer or fall of 2006, while Jason, Lee, and I and a few other senior Virgin executives were en route to an iTunes visit in Cupertino, Jason started hyping us on a girl that he believed could be that act - Katy Perry. He said she was still signed to Columbia, but heard she was being dropped and proceeded to risk all of our hearing by playing us the records Katy had made for Columbia at top volume while he sang along to pretty much every line, especially ‘Thinking of You’ and ‘Waking up in Vegas’.
Frankly, despite Jason's enthusiasm, reactions in the car were mixed, and Jason's only concession to the peanut gallery was that he felt Katy needed at least one, if not two, more obvious radio smashes. We discussed that Katy had been dropped by Island before Columbia, and he reminded us that he had signed Kid Rock after Rock was dropped by Jive "and that worked out pretty well."
Towards the end of 2006, we had picked up that Katy's exit from Columbia (and the Glenn Ballard JV through which she was signed) was not going smoothly. However, Angelica Cob-Baehler, our head of publicity (who would later become and still is a key leader at EMI on all things Katy Perry), just would not let it go. She had worked with Katy at Columbia and was constantly in Jason's and my ear that we absolutely had to sign this girl, which Jason wanted to do - assuming deals could be worked out with Ballard and Columbia.
So Katy was a regular topic of conversation over the 2006/07 winter holidays and into early 2007. At some point in or around January, Jason told me he was dead set that we sign Katy. So in tandem with our head of business affairs, Phil Wild, we re-opened direct conversations with Ballard and Katy's representatives and created a business structure that would facilitate Katy signing to Virgin, and bringing along her existing masters, with Columbia and Ballard's blessing.
This was not a slam-dunk. I will never forget the night in February when I was in the maternity ward with my wife and newborn son juggling calls with Jason, Katy and Ballard's representatives, and our business affairs guys to close down the moving parts so we could sign Katy, which we did shortly thereafter.
Jason had Katy come into a company-wide meeting to announce her signing, which Katy celebrated by blowing everyone away with an acoustic version of ‘Thinking of You’.
Around the time of the signing, Jason was very focused on supporting a collaboration between Katy and Dr. Luke in order to add to Katy's existing material, which Jason had felt from the start to be very strong but lacking an undeniable smash or two that would work both at U.S. pop radio and internationally. So we were again wheeling and dealing to make that happen. The results are now well known: ‘Hot & Cold’ and ‘I Kissed a Girl’, co-written by Katy and Luke, were two of the biggest global hits of the decade.
From my point of view, there certainly are other people at EMI besides Jason who share the credit for Katy's success. Angelica Cob was a constant and vocal advocate from before day one, and has brilliantly led the video and press campaigns ever since; Chris Anokute, whom Jason had recently hired to fill a junior A&R spot, was an energetic cheerleader and a vocal proponent for Katy, and was helpful to Jason in pulling together mixes and other important late-stage A&R support (he went on to successfully A&R Katy's current album); Greg Thompson's promo staff delivered at every turn; and Bob Semanovic and Matthew Tilley ran terrific marketing efforts domestically and internationally.
I think in a lot of ways signing Katy Perry and delivering that smash debut is among the crowning achievements of the pre-Terra Firma EMI under Jason's leadership at Virgin and Capitol. The labels were really struggling when we got there and less than 18 months later, here's Katy Perry on top of the others mentioned above.
Jason obviously has an insane track record to be proud of (Skid Row, The Corrs, Matchbox 20, Kid Rock, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, OAR, Click-5, etc., etc.), and now has Jessie J (who just won the prestigious Brit Award for best new UK artist, and already has a top #10 debut UK single), but I think that Katy will always occupy a special place for Jason. She’s an immense talent, and a very determined, hard-working artist who has earned all the success she’s accomplished.”
Read On ...
* Interview with Chris Anokute regarding his involvement with Katy Perry
* Andreas Carlsson on writing 'Waking Up In Vegas' with Perry
* busbee, songwriter for Katy Perry and Timbaland, on getting signed
* Katy Perry songwriter Greg Wells on the key to great pop star