For Sony’s Mottola, Music Is the World


Sony Music Entertainment on Monday rewarded Thomas D. Mottola, head of its domestic music operation, with a promotion to president and chief operating officer, a move that gives him added responsibility for the company’s international music operations.

The promotion is a vindication of sorts for Mottola, 43, who had to convince industry skeptics that he was capable of running the huge company after working as an artist manager.

Mottola moved into the senior executive ranks after Sony bought the record company--then named CBS Records--for $2 billion in 1988. Since then the company has flourished, expanding its roster to include groups such as Soul Asylum and Pearl Jam.

Successful new acts are often the most profitable for music companies, in part because established acts usually command much higher royalty rates and advances.


“He’s made the critics all quiet,” said music industry lawyer Jay Cooper.

Under Mottola, the profits of Sony’s domestic music operation--which includes Epic and Columbia labels--have doubled, with the company’s market share rising to its highest level in a decade.

In the year ended March 31, Sony’s overall music operation posted a 12% rise in revenue to $3.85 billion, company figures show. Analysts say that Sony’s acquisition of the CBS music operation, initially questioned by some observers as too expensive, has instead proved a gold mine.

In an interview, Mottola said his management team’s push in developing sales for new artists will now continue overseas. “The global market can be twice this market,” he said.


Among the top names on Sony’s roster--some of whom became stars under Mottola’s regime--include Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand and Michael Bolton. Another important artist for Sony is singer Mariah Carey, whom Mottola married in June. Her album “Music Box” is one of the top-ranked nationally, as is her single “Dream Lover.”

Sony also has hit with the soundtrack to “Sleepless in Seattle,” a film distributed by Sony’s Tristar Pictures.

Still another important Sony artist is Michael Jackson. Some observers have wondered what impact if any Jackson’s recent troubles--in which the pop star has been accused of molesting a 13-year old boy--will have on Sony Music.

Mottola said Jackson’s worldwide sales remain strong both for his “Dangerous” album and the single “Will You Be There” from the film “Free Willy.” He added that publicity surrounding the pop star’s troubles has had “absolutely no effect” on sales.


In his new post, Mottola will continue reporting to Sony of America President Michael P. Schulhof. One executive said Mottola has benefited from having ample “street smarts” from his days as a manager, which has helped him lure acts.

“He knows what it means to get an advance. He knows what artists need in order to break records, because he’s been there,” the executive said.