The man behind Kanye West, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber takes us through a marathon day at the office
There are countless backstage wizards in music-industry Oz, but very few with the track record — and the roster — of 54-year-old Antonio ”L.A.” Reid. As a producer, songwriter, and executive (first at LaFace, then Arista, and now as chairman and CEO at Island Def Jam), he has nurtured two decades of top-level talent, including Kanye West, Rihanna, Pink, OutKast, Justin Bieber, TLC, Whitney Houston, Usher, Avril Lavigne, the Killers, and Toni Braxton. He’s also earned a reputation for engineering the comebacks of established stars: Under his tutelage, a Glitter-tarnished Mariah Carey achieved one of the most spectacular turnarounds in pop history. Follow along as EW spends the day of Nov. 17 with Reid: a 16-hour marathon that takes him from the executive boardroom to TV soundstages, tour-bus powwows, and beyond.
6:30 am Wake up. ”I live on the Upper East Side — squaresville, where nothing’s hip.”
7:45 am Take 7-year-old son, Addison, to school.
8:30 am Arrive at Good Morning America set in Times Square, where Rihanna performs two songs from her new album, LOUD. Backstage, she and Reid huddle in private discussion. ”Rihanna has had my full and undivided attention forever, and as far as I’m concerned she will always have it,” he says. ”I spend a lot of time with Kanye West and I love him, but he is more self-contained. He’s such an iconic genius that I’m almost intimidated to have an opinion about [his work], so I let him do his thing and I support him.”
10:00 am Breakfast meeting with staff to discuss upcoming American Music Award performances by Bon Jovi, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Ne-Yo. ”There’s no difference between what I did when I was in a band [’80s R&B outfit the Deele, with future LaFace cofounder Babyface] and what I do running a record company; it’s the same job. It is always about identifying talent, identifying material, and marketing it, managing the personalities.”
11:30 am Meet with staff regarding Jay-Z’s The Hits Collection, Volume One, out the following week. ”I basically challenged my team, because I felt the book [Decoded, Jay’s new memoir] was being marketed better than the record. It’s unacceptable. So we had that conversation. [Pause] That’s as much as I should say about that.”
12:30 pm Interview with EW. Reid discusses his philosophy: ”We don’t sign an artist to fill a void, ever. I’ll never find a Taylor Swift. You can’t find a new Madonna, you cannot find a Prince, a Bob Marley, a John Lennon. You won’t find another Kanye West. We simply deal with people as they walk in, and we say we either love them or we don’t.”
1:30 pm Strategy confab with executives regarding Rihanna’s single ”Only Girl (In the World)” and the plan to temporarily lower its cost on iTunes to help drive it to No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart — a spot that her ”What’s My Name?” currently holds. Reid’s stance is firm: ”These customers don’t buy songs because they’re less money, they buy because they want the song, because they f—ing love it, and that’s the only thing that’s gonna sell it.”
2:00 pm Photo shoot with EW.
2:30 pm Working lunch and phone call with Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size Me, regarding an interview for upcoming documentary on the importance of branding in the music industry.
3:30 pm Meeting regarding Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. ”He and I were going back and forth most of the afternoon on what the next single should be…. I know what I want, and he knows what he wants, and [later tonight] we’ll talk privately about it.”
5:00 pm Discuss and approve new TV spots and billboards for the upcoming Justin Bieber docu-film Never Say Never, which Reid is producing. ”Justin’s mother, Pattie, has so much footage of him, it’s incredible. She must have filmed him every day growing up. She just gets it, man.”
6:30 pm Backstage at New Jersey’s Izod Center visiting Burnham, a pop-rock trio featuring three Vermont-bred teen brothers. The band is opening for Justin Bieber. ”I love those kids. All they need is one hit.”
8:30 pm Meet up with Bieber backstage, and join preshow prayer circle. ”I swear, all he wants to do is go out and run around with those girls out there. But he won’t. He’s in there with his vocal coach, and he’ll be in there until showtime.”
9:45 pm Back to Manhattan for Ne-Yo’s album-release party and performance. ”He’s my boy.”
11:00 pm Dinner at the Breslin with label staff, discussing why music videos still matter: ”Listen, we’re still selling stardom. That doesn’t go away because MTV decides they can’t play videos or they want to program themselves more as a traditional TV station. Vevo and YouTube are like MTV online, and on demand.”
12:30 am Back at the office to listen to new music and approve mixes.
2:00 am Leave the office.
3:00 am Lights out.