Loretta Lynn, Billy Swan Picked Up By New Record Label

Other dropped artists given 'second chance' by Audium Records.

NASHVILLE — As music-industry consolidations and mergers increasingly effect artist rosters, many worthy performers are caught in the crunch and dropped for no longer selling platinum.

Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw is addressing that problem with Audium, his new Nashville record company, which has thus far picked up the Tractors, "Coal Miner's Daughter (RealAudio excerpt) singer Loretta Lynn, Billy Swan, Ricky Van Shelton, Kentucky Headhunters and Daryle Singletary.

"We haven't sold a single record yet, but we have signed and are signing a whole bunch of what we believe to be very, very viable artists," Renshaw, Audium's CEO, said. "We view the consolidation of the major labels and what they're having to deal with in terms of trimming their rosters as an opportunity to go in and sign existing artists who have a known name and reputation, who are known at radio

and with the media and at retail and who are maintaining a solid touring career."

Audium's president, veteran Nashville label executive Nick Hunter, said the current fixation in Nashville with young artists at the expense of career country performers is actually on Audium's side.

"I've had people in Nashville tell me that we're crazy because our first signings were a 65-year-old woman artist and a 59-year-old man," Hunter said. "But that 65-year-old woman is Loretta Lynn and that 59-year-old man is Billy Swan. And they're both stars and their fans will stick with them forever. We can sell records with them."

'Discarded' Artists In Demand

And, as the effects of major label consolidations reach Nashville, both Hunter and Renshaw see a bright future for such niche labels. Indeed, other new labels are pursuing such "discarded" artists. Cleveland based FreeFalls Entertainment (which released Willie Nelson's recent Grammy-nominated Night and Day album), had a long line of applicants waiting when label executives came to Nashville recently for a couple of days of talent searching

— of veteran artists.

Platinum Nashville has such artists as Suzy Bogguss, the Oak Ridge Boys and Billy Joe Royal.

COLOR="#003163">Pat Boone's Gold Records — whose criterion is that signed artists must be at least 45 years old and have sold at least gold in the past — just released a new album by

COLOR="#003163">Glen Campbell, whose hits include "Gentle on My Mind" (RealAudio excerpt).

Obviously a record company derives many financial and logistic benefits by signing only fairly established artists. As Renshaw pointed out, it is incredibly less expensive to run a record company that is not paying huge sums to develop and launch new artists. Whereas a major Nashville label will spend at least $1 million to get a new act to the point of

releasing a first single — a risky venture, given the wave of radio consolidation and mergers — a niche label can record and promote a new album by an established artist for less than a tenth of that.

"The problem with the majors, right now in this town," Renshaw said, "is that if you can't sell half a million records-plus as an artist, you're in real trouble. They have to do that, with the overhead they have. We don't have to do that."

Lean, Not Mean

The Audium label staff is small — fewer than 10 employees — and housed in modest offices. In contrast to some labels, there are no company-monogrammed leather jackets on the backs of a phalanx of field promo workers.

Besides operating economically, Renshow noted, the key to small-label success is distribution. He and Hunter settled on New York-based Koch, which as Renshaw pointed out, had a top-five album hit last year with a World Wrestling Federation album.

"Something that sets us apart," Renshaw said, "is that we trust our artists. Our A&R department is our artists. They have a better understanding of their music and of their audience and potential audience and what that audience is looking for than anyone in our building does. We won't second-guess them.

"I still have a couple of rules when it comes to, like, music and artwork and things like that," Renshaw said. "That is: Whose name is biggest on the album? Right. Whoever's name is in the biggest type gets the biggest say. These are artists who work on the road. Every night they see their audience and how their audience reacts to the music. So,

who's the best judge?"

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