BMG, Hot in '04, Rebuilding Arista
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By Brian Garrity
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Reports of the demise of Arista Records have been
The label -- which has lost many of its superstar acts to other BMG labels
in recent months as part of its integration into the RCA Music Group -- is
re-emerging with a familiar collection of core artists and fresh A&R
leadership, Billboard has learned.
The current Arista roster comprises Dido, Sarah McLachlan , Santana, Whitney
Houston, Aretha Franklin, Kenny G and Babyface.
Meanwhile, BMG North America is hoping to breathe new creative life into the
label with the hire of Island Def Jam veteran Jeff Fenster as senior VP of
A&R for Arista Records.
"Arista will continue to be one of the great labels of our industry," says
Clive Davis, chairman/CEO of BMG North America and founder of Arista.
Arista's revival comes as BMG and Sony move closer to the proposed merger of
their recorded music operations. The companies are awaiting approval from
European and U.S. regulators.
Even with a merger looming, BMG is hustling to push its operations forward.
Since Davis and president/COO Charles Goldstuck took the reins of BMG North
America in February, the company has been on a roll. Market share is up, and
the company says that expenses are down.
In last week's Billboard, BMG owned the top three slots on the Billboard 200
(with RCA's Velvet Revolver, LaFace's Usher and RCA's Avril Lavigne). BMG
also had six of the top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
For the year-to-date, BMG has jumped a slot to No. 2 among the major labels
in overall U.S. album market share (at 16.5%) and has expanded its lead as
the No. 2 label group in current album share (19.9%), according to Nielsen
Goldstuck credits the North American division's success to a host of
operational cost-saving moves -- including layoffs of more than 100 staffers
-- and an improved focus, thanks to a leaner-and-meaner artist roster. BMG
North America now has 150 acts -- a reduction of 35% from 18 months ago.
The company is being selective in signing new acts and is trying to
prudently manage the marketing expenses on all releases.
Sources inside the company look to the example of Zomba, which spends an
estimated 15% of an album's total sales on marketing. That is five
percentage points below the industry average.
The company also says it is enjoying improved catalog sales thanks to price
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Arista's new direction is the most recent sign of the evolution of BMG North
It has been a turbulent six months for Arista, which Davis established in
the mid-1970s, signing artists including Barry Manilow , Patti Smith and,
later, Whitney Houston.
Former president/CEO Antonio "L.A." Reid left in January. Much of the staff
subsequently was let go, and Arista was moved under the RCA Music Group
umbrella. In the process, acts formerly under the Arista/LaFace banner --
such as Usher, OutKast and Pink -- were moved to the Zomba Label Group under
president/CEO Barry Weiss; Avril Lavigne, another major former Arista
artist, shifted to RCA.
The new Arista lineup primarily features acts whose histories with the label
date back to when Davis was running it on a day-to-day basis.
Looking ahead, Davis and Goldstuck hope to duplicate BMG North America's
first-half success with fall releases from Santana; Rod Stewart (J);
"American Idol" finalists Fantasia (J) and Diana DeGarmo (RCA); Tyrese (J);
Heather Headley (news) (RCA); Mario (J); and R. Kelly (Jive), among others.
A live album from Dave Matthews (RCA), a holiday record from Clay Aiken
(RCA) and a gospel album from Ruben Studdard (J) are also due by year's end.
25 JUNE 2004