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Michele Ballantyne Elevated to COO/President at RIAA

Michele Ballantyne Elevated to COO/President at RIAA

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) COO Michele Ballantyne has been promoted to president, the organization has announced. She will continue to serve as COO, running daily operations and managing RIAA’s 56-person team.

A 2024 Billboard Women in Music honoree, Ballantyne serves on the RIAA executive leadership team alongside chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier while spearheading daily operations and helping lead advocacy efforts across the industry. During her tenure, she’s played a key role in the passage of the landmark Music Modernization Act as well as the PRO-IP Act, which established the first U.S. intellectual property enforcement coordinator in the executive office; and the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which provided colleges and universities with tools to reduce the illegal downloading of copyrighted works on campuses.

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“I love my job, and I feel really lucky to have it,” Ballantyne tells Billboard in an exclusive interview (full Q&A below). “Music is something that is so important to everyone, and there are obviously lots of challenges…AI, TikTok, COVID. But one thing I’m really proud about is that at RIAA we’re nimble and we punch above our weight and I think that speaks a lot to the team we have in place. I really feel grateful to be at the helm with Mitch and see where we can take things.”

Mitch Glazier, Busta Rhymes and Michelle Ballantyne

More recently, Ballantyne has focused particular attention on the growing use of artificial intelligence in music and its ethical implications for creators. Under her leadership, the RIAA became a founding member of the Human Artistry Campaign, a coalition of music and entertainment organizations supporting ethical standards around AI that launched in August. The organization also supported the ELVIS Act, the landmark law designed to protect creators from AI deep fakes that was signed into law in March. On the federal level, the RIAA is supporting bills including the No AI FRAUD Act in the House and the NO FAKES Act in the Senate.

“Michele and I have had the privilege of guiding RIAA and supporting our member companies through amazing celebrations and challenges in the industry,” said Glazier in a statement. “I am grateful for her remarkable leadership and genuine care for people. Our playlists may not always be in sync, but our determination for a thriving and equitable community for music creators is.”

Ballantyne earned her law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and started her career in government, serving in roles including general counsel for Sen. Tom Daschle, special assistant for President Bill Clinton and special counsel for former White House chief of staff John Podesta. She joined RIAA in 2004 as senior vp of federal government and industry relations. A Black female executive, Ballantyne’s work at the organization has also focused on social justice advocacy, including mobilizing RIAA members to support police reform bills, guiding the implementation of members’ social change commitments and managing the most diverse RIAA board of directors in its history.

On the occasion of her promotion, Billboard spoke with Ballantyne about her new role, the importance of combatting AI deep fakes, Universal Music Group’s dispute with TikTok and the possible implications of the upcoming presidential election.

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You’ve been COO for several years now, but you’ve now added “president” to your title. How will your purview at the RIAA change?

It will change a little bit, but maybe not that much. It does catch up to the way we’ve been working, especially Mitch and I, who sort of approach things as a partnership. But the COO part, which is the sort of the nuts and bolts of running the organization and dealing with the internal stuff, it’s not all that I do. I do a lot of industry relations and coordinating with outside groups and coordinating with our member companies and making sure everything runs smoothly, that people are communicating. And so I think it reflects that piece of it too. I’m grateful for the recognition because I enjoy the work, and the title makes it clear to everybody.

You’ve been with the RIAA for around two decades now, and you’ve helped tackle some of the biggest issues in recorded music over that time. What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing the RIAA and its members currently?

No question it’s AI. AI has sort of supercharged everyone’s work. I am not the lead on it, but it’s everybody’s issue. We’re out talking about it and thinking about it and trying to figure out, “How are we gonna meet the challenges that it brings for artists and for labels and everyone in music?” It’s such a challenging time and everything is moving so fast. We’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to navigate all of it. And it’s an exciting time. It brings a lot of innovations to the table.

I think that the music industry in general is usually, in the time that I’ve been at RIAA, in the front. We’re the — I’m not fond of the saying — but the canary in the coal mine. All of these issues are ones that we confront first, the same as with file-sharing or any of those other issues that happened way back when. And the policymakers are grappling with how to handle these changes confronting society with AI, so it’s so multifaceted and very challenging.

We’ve been working on the deep fakes issue. That is one thing that pretty much everyone can come together around. We had that bill pass in Tennessee last week [the ELVIS Act] and we’re working on some federal bills as well. So, this is, I think, where all the focus is going to be. But in general, I think things are good, the industry is moving in a positive direction. You probably saw our revenue numbers came out earlier this week. One of the things that we’re so excited about, and I think that music companies have really embraced, is offering so much choice to fans. And I think that’s really positive.

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I was curious about the year-end report. One interesting takeaway is that the record labels may have become almost too reliant on paid subscriptions for revenue and revenue growth. Do you think that revenue mix needs to be more dynamic? And if so, how do you feel labels can get there?

That’s a very tricky question. I’m not sure I can really answer that one. There are a lot of different components that go into it. And a lot of the pieces that are business issues, we aren’t at RIAA going to be able to see into those. It is a concern, for sure, and something that our folks are paying attention to.

I will say that one of the things that I have noticed that has changed most over the time that I’ve been at RIAA is this willingness to innovate and pivot. When I first came to RIAA in 2004, the focus was on how do we address file sharing? It was the Grokster case, and I think that within the companies, the old guard has sort of shifted out and the folks who are there now and have come in have very successfully navigated those challenges to the place we are today.

Today, everyone streams and anybody can get the music they want, whenever they want it. And it is not something that even occurs to young folks. I have a 16-year-old. He doesn’t even think about like, “I can just go on Spotify and listen.” To me, watching that change has been really impactful. And I’m just trying to think about it, like, something exciting will happen next. I’m not sure what it is. But I think it will happen.

One of the other big stories in the last few months was UMG pulling its catalog from TikTok and the ripple effect that that’s had on the industry. What do you think needs to happen to resolve that dispute?

I don’t know. TikTok has has grown so fast, and even among our companies and among policymakers, there’s differing opinions on how to handle that. Universal certainly put their marker down, and we haven’t commented because our companies aren’t all in the same place about it. So I don’t know how that’s going to resolve and I also don’t know what’s going to happen with the federal bill that policymakers are pursuing to say that they’re going to ban TikTok. I mean, it passed the House. It’s very tricky.

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We have a big election coming up. What should RIAA members be on the lookout for when either candidate wins, whether it’s Trump or Biden?

We used to go, Mitch and myself, to our companies and board meetings and we would talk to them about what’s happening in D.C. and how it’s all gonna shake out and what we think will happen based on what we know and our experiences working both in the House and the Senate. It’s really hard to tell now. We gave up some years ago on doing our own punditry. The polling doesn’t seem to be as reliable and, as a D.C. person, even some of my colleagues from prior administrations or from the Hill, they’re like, “It’s really hard to tell.”

The good news for everyone in the music industry, not just RIAA, is that largely music issues are bipartisan, and on the committees that handle intellectual property, policy and copyright issues, the Judiciary Committee, they are dealing with many more complex issues such as guns and immigration and reproductive rights and so on. So a lot of times they are more willing to come to the table to talk about music issues, for a variety of reasons. One is that they can get to an agreement, there can be some bipartisan action, and, you know, music touches everyone. And policymakers are no different.

I think that hopefully we can get some action on making sure that we continue to protect the rights of artists and labels and songwriters and others in the music community, and not roll back any rights. We’ll be paying particular attention to AI and deep fakes and making sure that their rights are protected there. But it’s not clear how things will go, either from the standpoint of the election, but also getting bills passed is really hard nowadays. But can we get some engagement? Yes, we’ll get engagement. A lot of times what we try to do too, is if members feel like bills won’t pass, there are other ways to get them to engage, to help bring parties, stakeholders to the table to talk through issues and see if we can get some resolutions and things like that. I expect that to continue. But, you know, D.C. is…it’s tricky.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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