As I’m sure you heard last week, Garth Brooks is making his triumphant comeback and will be releasing new music and embarking on a world tour soon. His new music will be released through a partnership that will see Sony Music Entertainment as his official record label, and RCA Nashville handling the retail and radio promotion side of things. This partnership will preside over the best selling artist in the history of country music, and the 3rd best in the history of American music overall, and one that is guaranteed to sell out stadiums and dominate album sales despite his 13 year absence from the business.
During Garth’s press conference on Thursday, July 10th announcing the new partnership, Garth didn’t say that his decision to go with Sony was based around anything about the company’s capacity to serve him better than any other label. It was simply because Sony Music CEO Doug Morris personally took the time to reach out and meet with Garth on a number of occasions, showing that he really wanted to superstar on the label. Garth almost seemed to allude in his remarks that he was there for the taking of anyone who showed enough interest, and Sony Music was the only one who did so to any significant degree, or at least that is how it would appear. Garth was signed with Capitol Records Nashville for his initial run before his retirement.
So we now know who the big winner was for the Garth sweepstakes. But who was the biggest loser? Though it wouldn’t be fair to characterize every country label who could have signed the country icon as a loser, that is certainly what you could call Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records in the situation. Why? Because they had the biggest stake in the Garth sweepstakes, arguably a much bigger stake than either Sony Music Entertainment or RCA Nashville did, because of Big Machine’s joint venture with the radio world’s Cumulus Media called NASH Icons.
The idea behind NASH Icons is to take the class of country stars that launched their careers 25 years ago, and give them a new home. Garth Brooks isn’t just the spearhead of that Class of ’89, he is the centerpiece of it, and his sales match all the other artists of that era combined. If it wasn’t for Garth, a venture like NASH Icons couldn’t exist, and now they’ve lost the opportunity to sign the era’s biggest fish to the new imprint.
In late May, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey said that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine were aggressively looking to sign artists from the NASH Icons’ 25-year “classic” era, and named Garth specifically as one of their hopeful signees. Lew Dickey said to expect an announcement “in the next 30 days.” It has now been over six weeks, and the only NASH Icons announcement that has been made was for the imprint’s General Manager Jim Weatherson. Garth had worked with Big Machine in the past, though briefly.
Meanwhile questions linger of which artists from the 25-year targeted era are even available to sign to the NASH Icons label. The three other names floated by Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey as potential NASH Icons signess were Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill. Alan Jackson appears to still be signed with EMI Nashville, hypothetically making him untouchable by NASH Icons. Jackson also just announced a big 25 Year anniversary tour, with no mention of NASH Icons being in the picture. Shania Twain has been telling media outlets that she is working on a new album, but it appears she is still signed with Mercury Nashville. Shania would be the other big fish to land, right below Garth. Faith Hill likely still owes Warner Nashville an album as well, and though Dwight Yoakam wasn’t rumored as a NASH Icons artist, he certainly comes from that era, an it was announced on Monday he had re-signed with Warner Brothers. Though contracts can always be bought out and other deals can transpire, it appears that the vast majority of the NASH Icons era artists are currently locked up.
Big Machine, Cumulus Media, and NASH Icons are no doubt taking the long-term approach to this endeavor, and even though they may not sign any big fish right out of the chute, they may be taking the “If you build it, they will come” attitude. The venture isn’t set to officially launch until 2015, and the label is just one part of the partnership, with a “classic” radio format as the other.
Missing out on Garth in no way spells doom for NASH Icons, but signing Garth would have undoubtedly established the venture as a major force in the country music landscape, and may have stimulated the flocking of artists to the imprint, and the format split of country into two radio formats that is expected to transpire by some when NASH Icons launches. One of the very first radio stations to adopt the new format started off by stunting as GARTH-FM, playing only Garth songs, emphasizing the sway the star will have on any new “classic” radio format.
NASH Icons could still turn out to be very successful, but as it stands at the moment, they have no dance partners, at least when it comes to artists.
Anyone heard from Clint Black recently?