COVER STORY : The Top 40

This list of pop music’s Top 40--the people who will shape the $25-billion recording industry in the ‘90s and beyond--was compiled after scores of interviews with industry insiders. The alphabetical listing begins with the men, dubbed by one industry wag “the Six Suits,” who head the record divisions of the multinational corporate giants that dominate the business. The list continues over the next two pages.

MICHAEL DORNEMANN,chairman and CEO, Bertelsmann Music Group.

You know Dornemann’s got an image problem when wise guys in the business refer to his RCA subsidiary as the “Record Cemetery of America.” The label has not had a strong talent roster for years, and Dornemann, 47, hasn’t found a management team strong enough to reverse the trend. The real star in the BMG galaxy is Arista. Dornemann, a native of Frankfurt, worked with IBM and BMW before joining Bertelsmann in 1982. Reports to: Mark Woessner in Guterslow, Germany.

JIM FIFIELD,president and CEO, EMI Music.


Fifield, 50, honed his management skills at General Mills before taking over at EMI Music in 1988. He masterminded a flamboyant series of purchases (Virgin, Chrysalis and SBK Records) that gave once-stagnant EMI the third-biggest market share. The industry is still wondering if his new team will build consistent sellers. Reports to: Colin Southgate in London.

ALAIN LEVY,CEO, PolyGram International.

By pushing for the acquisition of Island and A&M; Records, Levy gave the PolyGram distribution group a potent talent pool. Though some find him aloof, insiders describe him as having a brilliant mind and a solid understanding of the new global dimensions of the record business. He’s developing a respected leadership team, including A&M;'s Al Cafaro. Levy, 45, spent 15 years at CBS in Paris before joining PolyGram in 1988. Reports to: Jan Timmer in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

ROBERT MORGADO,chairman, Warner Music Group.


Morgado, a former chief of staff to New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey, was named in 1990 to head the biggest company in the record industry. He has won applause from rival executives, but there were bruised feelings at Time Warner labels when he was installed over such proven figures as Mo Ostin and Bob Krasnow. Morgado, 49, is still viewed as an outsider by much of the company’s old guard. Reports to: Gerald Levin in New York.

MICHAEL P. SCHULHOF,chairman, Sony Music Entertainment.

Schulhof, 49, a former physicist, took over the Japanese electronic giant’s worldwide record interests after 18 years with the company, in which he helped spearhead the introduction of the compact disc. A quick study, he has learned the importance of maintaining good relations with the company’s superstars. He is so sensitive to Michael Jackson’s needs that at Sony he’s jokingly called “Michael’s product manager.” Reports to: Akio Morita and Norio Ohga in Tokyo.

AL TELLER,chairman, MCA Music Entertainment Group.


MCA still has a major problem--the inability to develop a credible rock roster--and it didn’t help things to lose Tom Petty to Warner Bros. But Teller, who came from CBS in 1989, continues to capitalize on MCA’s country and R&B; winning streaks. Teller, 48, is also credited with establishing the company’s aggressive stance in the global market. Reports to: Sid Sheinberg in L.A.; Akio Tanii in Tokyo.

IRVING AZOFF,chairman, Giant Records.

Giant Records, which is still struggling to find an identity, is only the tip of Azoff’s iceberg. Someone who loves deal-making, Azoff has a hand in management (Don Henley), merchandising (T-shirts for the “Lollapalooza” tour) and concert venues. Seemingly dispirited when he left MCA in the late ‘80s, he is fully focused once more.

LES BIDER,chairman and CEO, Warner/Chappell Music.


Head of the world’s largest music publishing company, Bider administers more than 800,000 musical copyrights, from tunes by Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin to works by Prince and Madonna. Bider negotiated the recent $39-million deal for much of the catalogue of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

JOHN BRANCA,attorney.

The 41-year-old Los Angeles attorney didn’t lose a step when his biggest client, Michael Jackson, jumped ship. Branca bounced back to cut multimillion-dollar deals for Prince, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top.

TONY BROWN,executive vice president and A&R; head, MCA Records Nashville.


This 45-year-old former piano player for Elvis Presley and Emmylou Harris is one of the reasons country music is going through a commercial and creative renaissance. Great instincts for talent (signing Lyle Lovett, Trisha Yearwood) and a strong sense of integrity in the studio (producing Wynonna Judd and Vince Gill).

JHERYL BUSBY,president and CEO, Motown Record Co.

Busby took over the reins at Motown in 1988 from Berry Gordy, after Gordy sold the legendary label to MCA and Boston Ventures. He has emerged as a shrewd, well-respected executive with a good feel for musical and business affairs.

CLIVE DAVIS,president and CEO, Arista Records.


The former head of CBS Records has been written off lots of times since forming Arista in the mid-'70s. But Davis--who involves himself in the recording process much more than most company heads--keeps finding bestsellers, from Barry Manilow to Whitney Houston. And he’s on a roll with expansions into country (Alan Jackson), R&B; (the La Face Records venture with L.A. Reid and Babyface) and soundtracks (“Boomerang”).


The compact disc revitalized the industry by getting consumers to buy new copies of millions of albums they already had on vinyl and cassette. Now the industry is tempting consumers again--Philips is marketing DCCs (digital compact cassettes), and Sony is throwing big advertising bucks behind its new mini-discs.

HENRY DROZ,president and CEO, Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corp.


Distribution isn’t the most glamorous part of the record business, but it’s a huge moneymaker. Droz has steered the massive WEA operation since 1977, helping make it the envy of the industry.


Everyone’s pulling for Capitol Records’ Hale Milgrim, 44, who helped guide Bonnie Raitt’s commercial breakthrough, but he has to develop new acts. Jimmy Bowen, 54, has been a winner for years in Nashville, but he got lucky when he took over the label and Garth Brooks. Charles Koppelman, 52, made tons of money for himself by scoring big with Wilson Phillips and Vanilla Ice at his own SBK Records and then selling the label to EMI. But where are those acts now?

DON ENGEL,attorney.


Known as the “contract-buster,” Engel, 62, is the tough but highly regarded Los Angeles attorney that artists turn to when they want to break or drastically revise a contract. Despite a low profile, he has quietly done work for half of the industry’s superstars.


If you want anyone on your side in the business, Geffen’s the one. He’s widely regarded as the richest, smartest and most feared executive in the record world--which is why everyone from Michael Jackson to Madonna seeks his counsel. One reason for his key role in the industry is that no one plays the power game better. The big question: What will Geffen, 49, do when his contract with Matsushita expires in 1994?



Team may be the wrong word because A&R; hotshots Gary Gersh, John Kalodner and Tom Zutaut operate as virtual independent agents at Geffen Records--and that’s the way they like it. Gersh’s acts range from Nirvana to Peter Gabriel, Kalodner’s successes include Aerosmith, and Zutaut brought the label Guns N’ Roses. How has Geffen kept them from accepting any of the countless offers from other labels? He pays them fortunes.


Ex-client Billy Joel says this 49-year-old New York attorney is a walking conflict of interest because he frequently represents both the industry’s biggest stars and its top executives, often at the same time. Joel is suing Grubman, but clients Madonna, Michael Jackson, David Geffen, Tommy Mottola and plenty of others are ready to testify in his behalf.

ANDRE HARRELL,CEO, Uptown Entertainment.


It’s no wonder MCA gave this guy $50 million to expand his company. Black music (along with country) has been largely responsible for keeping MCA Records afloat in recent years. Harrell, 31, is the one credited with launching the careers of Guy, Jodeci and Heavy D. & the Boyz--whose collective album sales exceed 10 million units. His success was especially important in view of the split between MCA and Motown last year.


Frederick W. (Ted) Field, a Hollywood movie executive and Marshall Field heir, and Jimmy Iovine, who produced albums for U2 and Tom Petty, may be the new kids on the block, but they’re impressing everyone by shelling out big bucks to sign cutting-edge acts like Nine Inch Nails, Helmet and Primus to Interscope Records.

HOWARD KAUFMAN,president, HK management.


This Los Angeles manager isn’t flamboyant, but he’s the one you turn to if you’re an established act and want to maximize your earning potential. The platinum-plated client list ranges from Janet Jackson and Jimmy Buffett to Mick Jagger and the new David Coverdale-Jimmy Page band.

L.A. REID AND BABYFACE,songwriter-producers.

Taking over as the hot R&B; production team from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the duo of Antonio Reid and Kenny Edmonds not only helped Bobby Brown redefine dance music in the late ‘80s, but their red-hot LaFace Record label also gives them a power base in the ‘90s.

DENNIS LAVINTHAL,publisher, HITS magazine.


The Mad magazine of the record world, the lively, gossip-hungry Hits lets everybody know what records, executives and companies are going up and down. And it’s Lavinthal, with Editor Lenny Beer, who sets the pace. A former indie promoter, Lavinthal still commands lucrative amounts for advising record companies and superstars.


Power comes with success, but only a few artists choose to use it. Madonna, 33, personifies it. Her deal with Warner Bros. gives her a foothold in films, books and records. Her new “Erotica” album may be cold at the stores, but the “Sex” book sold an estimated 500,000 copies in one week--and that clout is seductive indeed.

JEFF McCLUSKY,owner, McClusky & Associates.


Radio’s impact on pop music may be on the decline, but it still matters--especially for adult, mainstream audiences. So record companies still shell out big bucks to get songs added to radio playlists. Much of this goes to McClusky, owner of a Chicago-based independent promotion and marketing firm. He works with all six conglomerates.


No surprise here. MTV has not only replaced radio as the most important medium for new acts, but it has also largely replaced Rolling Stone magazine as the place for the young rock audience to keep up with music and--increasingly--political news. Lots of talented people--and a credo of constant change--keeps things moving, and CEO Tom Freston, is pushing that spirit around the world. MTV is now in 210 million households in 72 countries.

DON MULLER,contemporary music head, William Morris Agency.


Part of the team behind “Lollapalooza,” the most heralded alternative rock touring concept in years, Muller is the agent who specializes in young, cutting edge bands. You call him if you want to book Nirvana, Pearl Jam or the Pixies.

MO OSTIN,chairman and CEO, Warner Bros. Records.

“Chairman Mo” is everyone’s choice as most-admired executive. A master at business matters and personnel, his greatest contribution may have been instilling an artist-oriented philosophy that helped attract and nurture talent. He’s considered the mentor of everyone from David Geffen to Joe Smith and Bob Krasnow. The big questions: How long will Ostin, 65, stay, and who will fill his shoes?

DON PASSMAN ,attorney.


A former guitarist whose detailed, dollars-and-sense book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” is considered an industry bible, Passman is credited with negotiating what many consider to be the best all-around superstar deal to date: Janet Jackson’s $40-million pact with Virgin Records. He also represents Quincy Jones and Tina Turner.


Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch have had hotter years but they are still the undisputed champions in the world of hard-rock management. They have an abiding faith in hard rock and picked up Metallica long before anyone else in the industry thought the band had any chance of breaking out of the metal ghetto.

AXL ROSE,artist.


Last summer’s unprecedented Guns N’ Roses-Metallica stadium tour was just the latest example of Rose’s knack for getting what he wants. Like Prince or Michael Jackson in the late ‘80s, Rose, 30, has become the star everyone wants a piece of. Despite the temperamental edges, when the pressure’s on, Rose can deliver.

TOM ROSS,music head, Creative Artists Agency.

Power is measured by the company you keep and no agency can approach CAA’s roster. Consider: Bon Jovi, Clint Black, Harry Connick Jr., Janet Jackson, Madonna, KISS, Michael Bolton, Prince, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner.

RICK RUBIN,president-owner, Def American Records.


Rubin, 29, built a $3,000 loan from his folks into a Time Warner partnership worth between $75 million and $100 million by signing rap and metal acts that most other companies considered too radical--plus an occasional mainstream band like the Black Crowes. He produced the hit Red Hot Chili Peppers album and the upcoming Mick Jagger solo album.

RUSSELL SIMMONS,founder and CEO, Rush Communications.

Years before the record industry took rap seriously, this fast-talking, ambitious New Yorker, 35, was making millions out of it with such acts as Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy. He’s a manager, record company owner and budding TV and movie power player, who delights in telling others when he thinks they are missing the next new wave. His “Def Jam Comedy Hour” is a hit on cable.



The keyword here is aggressive. Eyebrows were raised in 1988 when Sony tapped Tommy Mottola, a talent manager with scant record company experience, to succeed kingpin Walter Yetnikoff. But Mottola brought in a strong pair of executives in Don Ienner and David Glew to assist him. Ienner is the stronger personality and the one to watch. Mottola’s flashy style--his very public divorce, and current romance with Mariah Carey--could spell trouble with Tokyo.


New York marketing analysts Mike Shalett and Mike Fine turned the music industry on its ear last year by introducing a new concept to the nation’s pop music charts: accuracy. SoundScan’s weekly tallies of record sales have become to the recording business what Nielsen ratings are to TV. While some observers still question the system’s methodology, the six conglomerates track the chart to decide which albums to push abroad.



The Irish band’s strength in the industry isn’t just based on album and ticket sales. The Grammy-winning group has won respect for the quality of its music and integrity in its business affairs. The band (lead singer Bono pictured), makes the music; manager Paul McGuinness oversees the business.


Lenny Waronker (Warner Bros. Records), Bob Krasnow (Elektra Records) and Seymour Stein ( Sire Records) have strong instincts for discovering and working with talent. Doug Morris at Atlantic is still in the massive shadow of label founder Ahmet Ertegun, but he is expanding the company, going into partnership with Interscope and bringing in Sylvia Rhone to head Atco/EastWest.



Today’s 12- to 14-year-olds ultimately hold as much power over the record business as any star or boardroom titan. The music these young fans embrace over the next few years will, yet again, reshuffle the Top 40 power deck. It happened with Elvis, the Beatles, the Bee Gees and Michael Jackson. And who had heard of Seattle two years ago?