CBS is getting back into the music business after a nearly two-decade absence. One of their last projects before selling their Columbia label to Sony in the late 80s was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" -- one of the highest-selling records in history. Given that huge hit, it was a bit of a shock at the time to see them get out of the game, but maybe someone there knew what they were doing. Since that time, the music industry has struggled a bit, and for the most part, it's still trying to find its way in the digital and Internet era. Don't expect CBS to jump right back into the old way of doing business.
Apparently learning from watching the remaining dinosaur labels lumber through lawsuits over downloads and shrinking CD sales, CBS is reinventing its label with a new model. Initially, CBS will focus on digital sales for new acts and forgo major budget releases, which can be risky ventures. A key to the new venture's success will be CBS' use of their own newly-signed and future acts as featured music in their television programming. Not even counting daytime television, CBS has over 2,000 unique song placement opportunities. There will also be synergy opportunities with its Showtime network's stable of original programming, including the critically acclaimed "Weeds." CBS has also been a leader in the new media market with its "innertube," which will likely serve as a platform to showcase its new artists.
Despite its history and large corporate backing, the CBS label smartly intends to act very much like an indie imprint. Will Dailey (who along with pop troubadour P.J. Olsson and indie rock band Senor Happy are the initial signings to the new label) says the approach is "totally exciting." Dailey likes the idea of being on a major label without feeling like a cog in the major label system that runs down so many artists. Will is already benefiting from CBS's synergy strategy, as he was featured in a recent episode of "Jericho," their primetime post-apocalyptic drama series starring Skeet Ulrich.
The label will hit the ground running and expects to sign another handful of acts in 2007. Their scaled down and nimble approach of focusing on digital sales first may be just what the doctor ordered for an ailing industry. Of course, having a slate of popular television shows in which to place your songs is a nice place to start.