The credits on BTS’ new single, the synth-heavy dance pop track “Butter,” will be familiar to people who follow such things, with names like Rob Grimaldi, Stephen Kirk, Alex Bilowitz, Sebastian Garcia and the group’s RM as well as Jenna Andrews, who received a vocal production credit on the K-pop titans’ global breakthrough song “Dynamite.” But there will be another name that is usually seen in a very different context: that of Columbia Records chairman Ron Perry, who has worked closely with the group since he took the label’s helm at the beginning of 2018.
Speaking to Apple Music, BTS’ RM said of “Butter”: “We never actually expected that we were going to release another single, but the virus is getting longer and longer so we thought we need another summer song. We thought we needed another summer number, and Butter was perfectly fit for that. And now we’re here.”
Perry, who was named Variety‘s music executive of the year for 2020, was a cofounder of SONGS Music Publishing, which he helped build into a formidable publishing house thanks to hits by Lorde, the Weeknd and Diplo, among others — then cashed out when it was sold to Kobalt for $150 million in December 2017.
“Being in publishing, I was really involved in making records,” Perry told Variety last year of a process that involves everything from arranging songs to mixing. “That hasn’t changed. I hope I have good instincts. Sometimes I don’t. Over time, you work really hard to perfect that as much as you can.”
At Columbia, the label has taken an A&R-centric approach during Perry’s reign, which has yielded several No. 1 hits, among them Lil Nas Xs “Old Town Road” and 24kGoldn’s “Mood” (signed via Barry Weiss’ RECORDS), with The Kid Laroi’s “Without You” not far behind.
He also identified “Dynamite” as a potential hit for BTS from a demo he received. “I freaked out the first time I heard it,” says Perry of the track, written by David Stewart and Jessica Agombar. “I knew it would be the No. 1 song BTS had always wanted. With the ARMY’s help and support, it was.”
While the practice of label heads writing and producing music is hardly uncommon in the past (from legitimate producers like top Atlantic Records exec Jerry Wexler to less-legitimate creatives like Roulette Records chief Morris Levy) or in the indie-label world, it is rare for the chief executive of a 21st century major label.
However, Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman is a veteran DJ and has been getting his hands dirty in the studio since he founded the dance/hip-hop label Big Beat in the mid-1980s. He is a listed co-producer, but not songwriter, on Cardi B’s smash “I Like It,” and his co-producers credited him with finding the original sample and driving the song through a seven-month recording process. Looking at the other side of the equation, creatives who have taken the helms of major labels, like Jay-Z at Def Jam, super-producer Rick Rubin at Columbia, and songwriter Amanda Ghost at Epic, have generally not been anywhere near as successful in the boardroom as the studio.
Last year, many were surprised to see Justin Bieber/Ariana Grande manager Scooter Braun listed as one of seven songwriters on his clients’ No. 1 duet single, “Stuck With U,” although he also has a credit on a 2015 Bieber song.
Is this a new trend or an outlier? Time will tell, and we’re looking at you, Sir Lucian…