Universal Music Group is home to dozens of labels spanning every genre, from pop to hip-hop, rock to R&B, country to Latin and niche styles like Christian, classical and Jazz. To run one of these companies is to associate with top talent — household names like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Drake and Lady Gaga — and the pressure to perform is equally massive. Which makes a label like Verve, which launched in the 1950s with the music of Ella Fitzgerald — and whose current roster includes left-of-center signings like Tank and the Bangas, Kurt Vile and Arooj Aftab — a sort of refuge in the giant commercial enterprise that is the world’s biggest music company.
But Verve’s value to UMG is significant, and this is not lost on Sir Lucian Grainge, its chairman and CEO, who has given the label the leeway to invest in traditional artist development. What does that mean? For some familiar context: it’s letting an artist like Bruce Springsteen put out two albums achieving less-than-stellar sales so that he can reach a “Born to Run,” his third and career-launching release. Verve has its own success stories that follow this trajectory, like Jon Batiste, the former Stephen Colbert bandleader and master musician from New Orleans, whose “We Are” won album of the year at the 2022 Grammys.
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Verve artists did well at this year’s Grammy Awards, too, which took place on Feb. 5. That night, Samara Joy, a 23-year-old jazz singer from the Bronx, won best new artist, and Madison Cunningham took home best folk album.
What is the label doing right? That was one of the questions I posed to Jamie Krents, president of the Verve, Impulse! and Verve Forecast imprints and a 25-year veteran of the company. Krents was named president in 2019 after serving as an international marketing executive. He follows in the footsteps of several notable label heads in Verve’s recent past, including David Foster, the producer who saw massive soft-rock and pop hits with Chicago, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, and Danny Bennett, son of iconic singer Tony Bennett.
Jazz remains a core genre at Verve, where its catalog artists also include Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, but it’s worth remembering that the label also released seminal and groundbreaking work by the likes of Nina Simone, Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground.
Krents talked to Variety‘s Strictly Business podcast about where Verve sits in the greater music ecosystem today — and yes, that does include TikTok — as well as its cultural significance and decades-long dedication to A&R, or artists and repertoire, the “tip of the spear” when it comes to finding and developing artists both historically and today. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
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