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THE ENVELOPE | THE CORNER OFFICE

Emphasis On The Upbeat

February 07, 2007|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

THERE has been so much talk in this age of digital downloads about music fans wanting only individual songs, not full albums, that even a proven bestseller like the Red Hot Chili Peppers thought twice about the wisdom of releasing a double album.

But Tom Whalley, who has helped revitalize Warner Bros. Records since becoming chairman and chief executive in 2001, had no hesitancy when the group asked for his opinion last year, and his optimism was justified. The "Stadium Arcadium" CD has sold nearly $100 million worldwide and contributed to the veteran quartet's six Grammy nominations, including one for album of the year. That means Warner Bros.' bands have been nominated in the most prestigious Grammy category for two of the last three years.

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Is Grammy acknowledgment good for the record company as well as the artist?

Sure, we have 31 nominations as a company this year, which makes you feel great. But we don't start the beginning of the year by saying, "How many Grammy nominations are we going to win this year?" When it happens, however, it's something to be very proud of.

What's more important about a Grammy for an artist -- sales or prestige?

If there is any additional sales, I'm happy to have it; and simply performing on the Grammy TV show can encourage people to buy your album. But I don't look at nominations or wins as, "Wow, how is this going to affect sales?" I look at it much more in terms of career achievement and as a recognition of great art.

In an industry that is often described as failing, you seem to be awfully upbeat. Why is that?

I'm incredibly upbeat for two reasons. First, the amount of people who want music in their lives is greater than ever. For years, as an industry, we looked at, say, 15- to 25-year-olds as the target of what we do. Now the audience for music has dropped down -- for various reasons, including Disney Radio -- to where you have 5-year-olds who love popular music. At the same time, people in their 60s are still passionate about music. When you have that breadth of people, it's a very exciting time to me. Then, there's the artistry, which I feel is going through a period of remarkable creativity today.

robert.hilburn@latimes.com

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