At Work With Mitch Glazier, Frontman of the U.S. Recorded Music Industry
At Work is a weekly Rolling Stone series exploring how decision-makers in the fast-changing music business spend their hectic days — as well as what burgeoning ideas they’re keen to explore, what advice they’d give to industry newcomers, and more. Read earlier interviews here.
One year ago, Mitch Glazier was stepping into the role of chairman and CEO at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) amid a boom time for music companies. Now, Glazier — whose organization oversees the public policy interests of 1,600 member labels, in addition to protecting intellectual property rights for recorded music and certifying top-selling albums and singles — is helping steer the industry through unprecedented crisis. As a 20-year veteran of music advocacy who got his start working on the Hill during the rise of the internet, Glazier welcomes the challenges of change and adaptation. He spoke with Rolling Stone about the delicate politics of leading a group that represents executives from the three major labels Warner, Sony, and Universal alike, as well as the questions posed by new platforms like TikTok and the importance of writing policy for music’s future.
What’s been the most unexpected thing about the job?
I was at the RIAA for 20 years before I became CEO — which shows you that if you stay long enough, they’ll make you CEO — so I thought I knew well what it’d be like, but I underestimated. The management side is hiring and firing and reconstituting your board, constantly shaping the organization to tailor it to the evolving industry… and the second piece is being the figurehead of the industry instead of the policy wonk. How many places there are to be, how many phone calls, how many speeches! But you do get a lot more interaction with the people who run the music companies, the members of Congress, the leaders.
So do you have to change up your wardrobe for each different environment?
When I go to the Hill, I put on a tie. I am still a Washington guy who represents the music industry, and my job is to be that person who translates what the industry does into policy. But people in the industry are very fashion-forward — I can’t be walking in to meet with them in a stiff suit. So I actually get to dress much more comfortably now than before.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There’s no such thing. I take a run in the morning and I read what Apple feeds up, what Axios feeds up, and the Wall Street Journal. Our meetings don’t start until 10 a.m. but I don’t think we ever stop. Last year, the longest I was in D.C. at our headquarters was five days in a row. Otherwise I was going to conferences meeting with other CEOS, meeting with DSPs [digital service providers]. As a new CEO, I was introducing myself to the community. We also coordinate with the entire international music business, and as it becomes more global, there has to be more coordination — especially when there are policy disputes in any market around the world.
How many people do you regularly meet with?
A lot — maybe 150? It’s our company and other music groups that represent artists, indies, genre associations; performing rights organizations, mechanical rights organizations. Everybody has a stake. You find yourself giving a lot of speeches about the state of the industry. I happened to become CEO when the industry was starting to grow again, so it was a great catalyst for reevaluating where the industry is and what plans we have to make to allow it to succeed to its max.
Since you represent all three major music companies, do you feel like listening to certain new releases would bias you?
No — I encourage everybody to listen to music all the time. The RIAA is the biggest group of music lovers you would ever find in your life. We have interns in the summer blaring [music] out at their desks. We put together New Music Friday as well and we are constantly picking out who to highlight. I also have a 20-year-old son who is a musician and a music fanatic. My day is filled with music all the time.
What’s your personal music obsession?
I have no problem admitting I love pure pop. It’s catchy, great [and] makes you feel good. There’s a point in your day when you want that! But I grew up with Eighties music — when the power ballad had its own special place. I do still reminisce about rock & roll and hope it continues to have its comeback. I’m nostalgic for the music I love, but I also do think music is getting better and better all the time.
Let’s talk about the “R” in the RIAA, as the music industry nowadays is so much more than recorded music. How do you draw the line between what you oversee and what you don’t?
Yeah. You can’t limit yourself. All our companies are now global music entertainment companies; they’re not just record companies. They are all involved in merchandising, digital marketing, social media, virtual reality, movies, and every other audio-visual type of music-related products and services you can imagine. I represent three companies, but they might also distribute for indies and A2IM [The American Association of Independent Music] represents the indies, so I’ll coordinate with A2IM and say, “Hey, there’s this new proceeding at the FTC or FCC and here’s how I think it will affect you, would you take a look?” We do it with artist groups, people in the live business. You have to understand it’s important to coordinate with people who have a primary focus on that part of the business.
What about things like livestreaming and gaming and Twitch? Is that in your purview?
It’s in our purview in the anti-piracy realm because we do coordinate with everybody else in the copyright sphere — since any policy piece that affects piracy is probably going to affect all of us in different ways. We coordinate with several groups in Washington outside the music sphere about things that will affect all of us.
Did you ever envision at the start of your career that you’d be in this position?
Originally I thought I was going to be a public international lawyer. I wanted to negotiate treaties. That’s where I focused in law school. It was a bit of a fluke — I did a bit of intellectual property work at a law firm in Chicago and then came to Washington to work for the House Judiciary Committee, where I was drawn to the IP world. I ended up cutting my teeth there and happened to be there in 1995 when the World Wide Web came into being. All the copyright laws had to be rewritten for this brand-new tool. They were like, “You’re the young kid. You probably understand computer stuff. You do that.”
So I happened to be the guy in the chair when all these changes came about. Eventually I ended up at the intersection between politics and entertainment, which are probably the two things people talk about most at the dinner table, so what more fascinating job could you have?
What do you talk about at your dinner table?
Oh, it always ends up, “Dad, have you listened to this?” Then we spend the rest of the dinner listening to my kid’s iPhone, or talking about music events, or talking about who I’m meeting on my next trip.
So your job is not the kind that one can switch off in the evenings.
Life and work have sort of become seamless. You have to always be available. On Saturdays I do make a very concerted effort to check email only once when I get up, once during the day to make sure there are no emergencies, and once before I go to bed.
How often are there emergencies?
“Every 20 minutes there will be another ping from the label: ‘Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?’ Because the artist is saying to the label: ‘Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?'”
Is there a usual culprit?
It’s especially with pre-release leaks. If an artist has an album coming out and it goes up on a site before that, our job is to work with the other groups around the world — 24/7, 365 days a year — to get that down so the artist can receive the benefit of the release of their product. There are many times you get that little red flag on your email and it says “We are going to go after this from these time zones, then it will switch over to London, then to New Zealand, and it’s going to come back to us and we’ll keep you updated!” Then every 20 minutes there will be another ping from the label: “Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?” Because the artist is saying to the label: “Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?”
And leaks happen usually around New Music Friday.
Right. It’s always emergencies at the weekend. It’s just Murphy’s Law.
Since you joined the RIAA, how many of its priorities have shifted? We’re in a totally different era of the industry now.
It has shifted so much. The way people choose to receive music changes the way you have to enforce your rights. We have had some huge significant victories along the way: going to the Supreme Court to show that music is protected online; winning that case against Kim Dotcom and the cyberlocker world to deter future Kim Dotcoms from doing the same thing. Now in the stream-ripping world, we are trying to figure out from an anti-circumvention point of view how to stop somebody hacking into YouTube’s system; the resources required to stop that create tension between us and our licensing partners, so we have to see if we can address the issue through search or some other means. The brainstorm has been ever-changing.
We also need to understand what’s happening in the tech space. TikTok is coming onto the scene now, for example. They now have a policy person in Washington and are looking out for their particular set of issues for short-form audio-video recordings. We need to talk to every licensed partner and say, “If we all have a stake in music succeeding and are all in this together, what are we going to be doing five years from now? And do we have the laws in place for five, 10 years ahead?”
In the mid-Nineties, the RIAA asked: “What if, in the future, the user didn’t keep a copy of music — and everything was in a celestial jukebox? Are we protected?” The answer was no. The law didn’t protect performances in a digital environment. So we got a law in 1995 to protect streams. Our job is to develop the legal base for the industry to be able to go out and do whatever it wants to do.
What are some issues you think are currently simmering under the surface that will be big in the year ahead?
The Department of Justice, I assume in the near future, will come out with a determination about whether the consent decrees of the performing rights organizations should be modified. That could have ripple effects on all parts of the industry. The Copyright Office will soon come out with its report that it’s been studying for five years on whether the DMCA [the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act] is broken. Spoiler alert — it’s broken. But the question is how do you get stakeholders to the table and fix it? You have to find incentives.
Does the fact that it’s an election year have an impact on your work?
It does to the extent that there’s a much shortened session in Congress — but it’s less about who the president is or what the election is and more about the policy timeline. The Trade Office can also speed up negotiations, like if another country needs to finish up a negotiation with us by the end of the year. But the substance does not change depending on an election.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
When I was a law clerk for a federal judge in Chicago, I would be there at nine o’clock at night typing away. And he said to me, “One day, you’re going to have a family, and they will need to be your number one priority. I know work is everything right now, but you’ve got to find that balance.” The judge said he wished he’d taken that advice when he was younger. I was like, 23, saying, “Okay, yeah.” But years later when I got married and had kids, I remembered that and I constantly try to make sure I’m spending enough time with my family. If I have to be on the phone at a baseball game, then I will be on the phone at a baseball game.