Monte and Avery Lipman’s dream of breaking into the music business started at the kitchen table of their apartment with $800 and an alternative rock band called the Bloodhound Gang.
The brothers were struggling to find careers after graduating from the University at Albany before they decided to sell their baseball card collection and cash their savings to found their own independent music label. They initially got off to a good start by securing a big-label record deal for the Bloodhound Gang.
But their success was fleeting, recalled Avery Lipman, speaking during intermittent rain at UAlbany’s 169th undergraduate commencement ceremony Sunday. The brothers listened to others instead of following their own instincts and almost ended up with nothing to show for their endeavor.
“That was the turning point of our career,” he said. “We realized we didn’t know everything about the music business, but we knew at that point we would never operate at the mercy of anyone else. When mistakes were made, we would accept full responsibility and blame no one.”
Then came success. The partnership that would become Republic Records discovered an eight-member band of British anarchists called Chumbawamba, who produced a single called “Tubthumping” that sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
The company started by the Lipmans has since become the flagship label of Universal Music Group, the largest American music corporation in the world. Republic Records has landed a host of acclaimed artists, including Amy Winehouse, Florence & The Machine, Godsmack, Lil Jon and Psy.
The Lipmans’ company also produces “The Voice,” a reality television program that seeks musical talent. Following their address, the Lipmans introduced Cassadee Pope, the winner of the show’s third season and a successful vocalist who performed two songs for many of the roughly 2,250 students graduating this year.
Journey to fame
The Lipman brothers’ journey to fame started humbly at UAlbany during the mid-1980s, when Avery worked at the campus record co-op and Monte served on the university’s concert board. Even though neither brother was musically inclined, they had a knack for picking out acts that would have future success when their peers would argue otherwise.
“I remember one [argument] in particular where I was chastised for lobbying too hard for a new artist that was taking the country by storm,” Monte Lipman told the class of 2013. “It was a young girl from Michigan named Madonna. Instead, I got outvoted and we booked Kid Creole and the Coconuts for Mayfest.”
After graduating, the brothers struggled to find their way in the music business. Monte Lipman had difficulty holding down a job, while his brother Avery seemed to be locked into a position that wasn’t landing him much success.
“Though we couldn’t sing a note, write a song or play an instrument, we developed a passion to break into the music industry and see if we could make a difference in the lives and careers of recording artists,” Avery Lipman said. “Our obsession for music became our fuel for success, but it hasn’t been easy.”
The Lipmans told graduates to pursue their own passions with the same dogged determination they had after graduating. They also urged them to not settle with being simply good at something.
“Sometimes good isn’t good enough,” said Monty Lipman, who graduated with the class of 1986. “Or as we say at Republic, good is the enemy of great.”
And above all, find something to be passionate about, said Avery Lipman, a member of the class of 1988. He urged them to take time to identify what makes them happy and then pursue that interest.
“No matter what you decide do, enjoy the ride because if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life,” he told the graduates.
UAlbany’s 2013 graduates come from 19 states and 20 countries. Students earned degrees in 50 different majors, including the most popular disciplines: psychology, sociology, business, communication, economics, biology, accounting, English and political science.
The graduating class was 51 percent female and had the average age of 23. The youngest graduating student was 19 and the oldest 59.
Daniel Tomson, the former University Council chairman, received the Medallion of the University, UAlbany’s highest award for distinguished service. He served 16 years on the University Council, UAlbany’s oversight council appointed by the governor.
Emily Lipman, a Division I runner who was among 10 undergraduates receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, urged her classmates to engage themselves in the world around them. She called the UAlbany degree an “instrument for change” and asked her fellow graduates to use it to positively influence their surroundings.
“It’s easy to get lost in Facebook or your smartphone,” she said. “But look up. Engage in the world around you and invest in it.”
Student Association President Arthur Rushforth recalled being with his classmates on a similar day more than four years ago. He remember splashing around the fountain as a freshman with many of the faces he saw in the crowd.
“And now I stand before you today in moment that is so surreal,”