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CBS Pioneers New Business Model

CBS is showing a unique ability to adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities:

Television has
proven to be a powerful marketing tool for young artists — most
famously Death Cab for Cutie, an indie band with a cult-size following
until featured placement in Fox’s "The O.C." catapulted the group to
mainstream stardom.

Now CBS is parlaying the powerfully symbiotic
relationship between television and music into a new record company. In
January the CBS corporation relaunched the long-dormant CBS Records
label, which will break artists by integrating their songs into the CBS
and CW television lineup and release music, at least initially,
exclusively as digital downloads on iTunes. If digital sales and other
online indicators (like blog activity and MySpace page hits) warrant
it, CBS Records will issue its artists’ music as physical CDs.

From
a business standpoint, CBS’s new label model makes all kinds of sense.
Music licensing costs are on the rise; digital downloads are cheap and
easy. The label is keeping overhead low, with a skeletal staff on-site
and tasks such as publicity, online marketing, and website design being
outsourced. Without the pressing demand to see a quick return on a
significant investment (major labels typically spend more than $1
million on an album project), CBS Records can function more like an
independent label — but with the clout of a large corporation behind
it.

"We wanted to be revolutionary, not just in how we break and
sell artists but also in being artist-friendly," says Larry Jenkins, a
23-year industry veteran who was brought on by CBS last August as a
consultant and has been operating as the label’s de facto head. "We’re
not investing millions. We’ve removed ourselves from the game of having
to have a first big week. We’re not beholden to the same restraints the
majors are held to. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The types of
artists we’re signing could take years to break and I don’t want to
rush it."

Thanks to a well-placed fan — former Bostonian Jeff
Sellinger is head of CBS Mobile — two of CBS Records’ first four
signings are Boston artists: singer-songwriter Will Dailey, who
performs tomorrow night at the Paradise, and power-popsters Señor
Happy, who play April 21 at the Abbey Lounge. Alt-rock auteur P.J.
Olsson and husband-and-wife duo Wilshire have also inked deals with CBS.

Dailey
was apprehensive at first. Contributing to the soundtrack of "The Young
and the Restless" was not, to say the least, high among the Malden
native’s planned career moves. (Two of Dailey’s songs, "Boom Boom" and
"Rise," have been used on the daytime soap.) Neither did Dailey, who
waxes poetic about the lost art of the album, envision releasing his
songs as digital tracks. But he’s changed his tune — in part because a
bout of appendicitis left Dailey $50,000 in debt. But he’s also
adjusted his attitude to accommodate the reality of a rapidly changing
music business.

"I’ve embraced the challenge of the new paradigm,"
says Dailey, whose "Grand Opening" was a jukebox selection in the Nov.
29 episode of "Jericho." The song is from Dailey’s 2006 indie album
"Backflipping Forward," which CBS is re-releasing. "If someone
downloads one song and they blast it in their car and come to my show,
then I have the chance to show them everything. Also, if I have a new
song I don’t have to wait 10 months to put it out." Dailey’s also come
to terms with the idea of his lovingly crafted folk-pop songs being
pared down to snippets and used as background music.

"Bob Dylan," he points out, "works for Victoria’s Secret."

CBS
bought Señor Happy’s last album, 2004’s "I’m Sorry," from Boston’s Q
Division Records and is re-releasing it with one additional track: "How
Many Ways," the theme from the new David Spade sitcom "Rules of
Engagement," which the network commissioned from the band after it was
signed to the fledgling label last year. Tired of toughing it out in
the local trenches, Señor Happy was actually on hiatus when the call
came from Jenkins. But the band’s guitarist, singer, and songwriter,
Derek Schanche, felt no ambivalence about abandoning the new batch of
songs he was working on and diving headlong into a new opportunity.

"We
were ecstatic," he says. "Once this interest started on a record we
loved, it was time to regroup and start doing shows. It’s like winning
the lottery."

Señor Happy’s "Get Up and Go Out" has been in heavy
rotation on "Survivor: Fiji," and "Love If You’re Real" was featured in
December on "The Ghost Whisperer." The band’s drummer and coproducer,
Tom Polce (who also produced Dailey’s album), is impressed not just
with how aggressively CBS is pushing their music, but how thoughtfully.

"They
used a minute or so of the song and dropped the lyric in at perfect
spots, really married the lyrics to the emotions," Polce says of "The
Ghost Whisperer." "Then they put our name up and our MySpace hits went
up astronomically."

While no one wants to talk dollars and cents,
Polce describes Señor Happy’s contract as "very, very fair, better than
a standard major label deal." He says that the profit split is more on
a par with what a band would get at an indie label, and without a lot
of the strings attached to a major-label contract. "Nobody knows how
this will go down, but they’re creative and they want to give it a real
try."

Jenkins is equally pumped, and just as circumspect, about trying to forge a new path in the music industry’s shifting landscape.

"Look,
we know that no matter how well we’ve thought this out, it won’t always
work," says Jenkins. "But if things don’t work out, I think our artists
will still walk away feeling like they had a shot, which is something
that hasn’t been happening much lately."

From Joan Anderman – Boston Globe

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  1. Morris Music Management says:

    CBS Records

    In January the CBS corporation relaunched the long-dormant CBS Records label, which will break artists by integrating their songs into the CBS and CW television lineup and release music, at least initially, exclusively as digital downloads on iT…

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