New marketing trends sweeping the recording industry are expected to generate considerable debate at the 36th annual NARM convention in San Francisco March 18-22.

According to industry obser-vers, retailers are becoming an ever-increasing force behind breaking new music, and label marketing campaigns continue to take interesting twists and turns to stay in the game.

At the retail level, a key factor is Generation X’s tendency toward risk-aversion. That’s a topic featured speaker and futurist Watts Wacker, of Yankelovich Partners, will no doubt expound on further during his presentation to the convention Sunday morning.

While other generations took their greatest risks while in their 20s, it seems today’s twentysomethings are more cautious. Toward that end, retailers are planning more listening booths in store expansions so customers can preview their purchases. This has led to the latest case of “nothing new under the sun” for those with memories that pre-date reruns of “The Brady Bunch.”

NARM treasurer Ann Lieff of the 60-store Florida-based Spec’s Music remembers when her father started the chain 47 years ago: “When I was a kid, there were listening booths. It’s almost coming around full circle, and that’s a reflection of radio not playing new product.”

Retailers must provide an accessible environment as the threat of home delivery looms ever larger on the horizon. Those that don’t, according to Ian Duffell, president of Virgin Retail Group, are going the way of the dinosaur.

Last year’s gathering was described by observers as taking place under the dark cloud of uncertainty over retail’s place in the brave new world of electronic direct-to-consumer delivery systems. Duffell’s Virgin Megastore in Los Angeles provides such niceties as shopping baskets, an in-store DJ, specialty departments and video-watching posts.

And, to stimulate laser-disc and sell-through video sales, Virgin features in-store appearances by various directors, notably ultra-hip Hong Kong auteur John Woo (“The Killer”) and an upcoming appearance from the Hughes brothers (“Menace II Society”), which will, predicts L.A. store manager Steve Hamilton, “send sales through the roof.”

Hamilton also is seeing success with such tie-ins as discounted soundtracks with movie ticket stubs.

Benefits artists too

In addition, NARM retailers’ successful four-year partnership with MTV to promote the cable channel’s video awards program benefits not just the stores and the station, but musical artists and their labels as well.

Synergistic marketing is nothing new to children’s marketing king Disney, with “Aladdin,” currently the top-selling video in the nation as being the latest example. And that’s especially true of that famous inter-species couple, Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Christine Roberts, head of marketing at Jim Henson Records, argues that the children’s market, where licensing is the name of the game, is different.

“You can really launch an album in full force when you have a theatrical or television release backing it up; the secondary thing becomes awareness and exposure of your characters. Most of our marketing focal points are the moms — we do a lot of print advertising in all the traditional parenting publications.”

Stephen Glass, director of special projects for EMI Records Group, configured no less than six store displays and packages to better showcase hit phenom Barney. The popular dinosaur also has its own syndicated radio program, “Bedtime With Barney.”

It seems that everything is advertising these days, whether it’s a Flintstones tie-in toydrinking, or yet-to-be-released music played prior to the previews at movie theater, courtesy of Movie Tunes.

Other forays into the captive-audience arena include Frank Sinatra promos on Northwestflights, which were very successful in terms of sales, according to Lou Mann, senior VP, sales at Capitol. Sinatra’s “Duets” album has been a much-publicized smash hit.

Marketing coup

Mann also engineered this marketing coup: When a Richard Marx song was featured in the Universal pic “The Getaway,” Capitol contracted with florist SuperFlora to offer a “Now and Forever” bouquet (the name of the single) for Valentine’s Day.

Included in every order was a cassingle, as well as a discount coupon for the Marx album at Musicland and Sam Goody stores, where you could register to win a getwaway trip to Acapulco, which was promoted on VH-1.

“Trying to put all these people together and satisfy what all of their needs were was very labor-intensive,” says Mann, “but well worth the effort, because I think if you are going to be able to go forward and make that big impact, you got to be able to do it at a lot of different levels.”

Figuring his target audience was likely playing videogames when not watching MTV or listening to the radio, A&M’s director of product development Brad Pollak loaded the 3DO release of the immensely popular game “Road Rash” with such roster acts as Soundgarden, Therapy?, Monster Magnet, Hammerbox, Swervedriver and Paw (the latter two also have full-screen musicvideos in the game).

C.D. sampler

The Electronic Arts release, due in April, also will include a CD sampler and information on each recording act. Pollak also works on getting point-of-purchase items featured in key scenes of TV programs like “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.””So much of it is intangible; the amount of time spent playing videogames, how many records is that going to sell? I mean, who the hell knows?” asks Pollak.

More risk-free concessions: Restless Records is distributing 12,000 free CD roster samplers at stores in a dozen major markets with heavy advertising.

Wondering what that new Soundgarden album, “Superunknown,” sounds like? Fans could call (800) 204-ROCK to get an advance, appetite-whetting listen. The Los Angeles Times has recently added a feature the Village Voice has had for some time now: Just dial a number to listen to a snippet of the albums reviewed that week.

Of course, soundtracks remain a great cross-promotion tool, especially when MTV throws its considerable weight into the fray, as it did with “Singles, “”Wayne’s World,””Who’s the Man?” and “Reality Bites.”

Even country music, with its new, younger audience, must hustle. Ken Kragan, president of country-artist management Kragan & Co., is adept at introducing his artists to other media.

“Country’s become much like pop; i.e., you’re only as good as your last record,” says Kragen.

Exposure for Kragen’s clients include a brief appearance by Travis Tritt in the upcoming film “Cowboy Way,” starring Keifer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson, as well as Tritt and Trisha Yearwood’s contributions to last year’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” soundtrack as well as the just released “Rhythm, Country and Blues” album project.

And, isn’t that Flea and Anthony from the Red Hot Chili Peppers crashing a car in the ads for 20th Century’s “The Chase?”

Then there’s always the small screen. Soap mainstay “One Life to Live” released its own soundtrack of love songs featuring country artist Billy Dean. The possibilities, it seems, are endless.

What’s next?

With the Paramount/Viacom/Blockbuster merger, what’s next? Beavis and Butt-head films and CD-ROMS pushed on MTV, shown in Paramount theaters and sold in Blockbuster stores? All this synergistic dovetailing of media may well be laying the groundwork and thought patterns for the first test drive on the so-called info superhighway. Undoubtedly, there’ll be collisions along the way. Watch out for potholes, and don’t forget to tip the driver.

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