Executive of the Week: Columbia Records EVP/Head of Promotion Peter Gray

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Peter Gray

This week, The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Stay” became one of just 15 songs to spend 10 weeks atop Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart, and the first since 2016. It’s another feather in the cap for Columbia Records, which has held down the top three spots on the Hot 100 — “Stay” at No. 2, with Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at No. 3 and Adele’s comeback single “Easy On Me” at No. 1 — for the second straight week, the first time a label has achieved that since Island Def Jam in 2005.

And much of that can be chalked up to the label’s success at radio, where “Stay” and “Industry Baby” are 1-2 on the Pop Airplay chart again and “Easy On Me” has climbed into the top 10 in just its second week of release, while all three have leapt into the top four of the all-format Radio Songs chart, where only Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at No. 2 has kept them from another top-three sweep. And it helps Columbia’s executive vp/head of promotion Peter Gray earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Here, Gray discusses the successes his department has had with the three Columbia smashes, explains the speed-to-market approach that helped the label maximize the longevity of “Stay” and the fierce competition at the top of the charts.

This week, The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” joined some elite company as just the 15th song ever to spend 10 weeks at No. 1 on Pop Airplay. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?

Each campaign has its own series of decisions along the way. In this case, the first key decision was about speed to market. “Stay” was essentially on every U.S. pop station within a few days of its commercial release. This positioned the song to top the airplay, audience and consumption charts at the same time — for a long time.

It’s just the fourth time in the past decade that a song has topped that chart for 10 weeks. Why is that so rare, and what makes this different?

It’s rare because there’s always fierce competition at the top of the charts. The top few songs all really deserve to be there. Occasionally, there’s one that simply out-performs all the rest and finds its own cruising altitude, which we’re seeing with The Kid LAROI. What makes this different, I suppose, is two “world’s biggest” colliding — the world’s biggest male breakthrough artist and the world’s biggest male artist together on an immediately modern smash. That’s a powerful combination.

You’ve also got three huge singles in the top 10 on Pop Airplay — all of which are in the top four on the all-format Radio Songs chart — including “Stay” and “Industry Baby” holding down the top two slots for three straight weeks. How much planning goes into making sure that each single has the attention and push it deserves when they’re all big simultaneously?

When they’re all big simultaneously, it’s more “managing” than “planning.” Managing the music, managing the math and managing the relationships. We do this in real-time as a team, all day every day.

With these three singles in particular, you have two younger, rising artists and an established, A+-tier superstar. Do you treat each song differently depending on who the artist is when approaching radio?

Yes. Each song gets its own carefully crafted course. From planning, to playbacks, to setup, to launch, to navigating and topping the charts, to aggregating billions in audience reach. It’s rarely a straight line to the top of the charts — and no two songs have ever taken an identical path.

How has radio promotions changed during your time in the industry? How have your strategies had to evolve?

The music changes. The artists change. The players change. What doesn’t change is the fact that hit songs rule the business and hit songs happen on the radio — and stay on the radio — for a very long time.

 
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