Through its executive and artist signings, DreamWorks Records has sent a message to music industry dealmakers that its mandate is to concentrate on the music and not flavor-of-the-month artists and trends.
Headed by former Warner Bros. Records chieftains Lenny Waronker, Mo Ostin and Michael Ostin, along with recently recruited A&R whiz Michael Goldstone, the label has released eight albums in a short period and has signed several key artists. And while its two-year success rate looks more like an EKG than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, its crop of upcoming releases portend a healthy run for the label.
Geffen’s active in label
DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen recruited the Warner Bros. triumvirate to run the label operation and remains active in the label. Maintaining an office in the label’s new Beverly Hills headquarters, Geffen occasionally acts as the closer on deals.
The label’s debut, “Older,” marked the first album by George Michael after severing his pact at Sony; the album did well, but admittedly below expectations. At the time the megabucks pact with Michael caused some industry head-scratching as DreamWorks held just domestic rights, where the singer’s popularity had waned. (Virgin has rights overseas, where Michael remains a popular performer.)
The bow of the cast album of “Rent,” with Geffen paying $1.5 million for the rights, has sold more than 250,000 copies of the double-disc. But DreamWorks’ attempt at Top 40 radio with a Stevie Wonder version of the play’s anthem, “Seasons of Love,” failed to catch fire.
The label has not actively marketed the disc or released other singles from the album. But the disc’s life is not finished and may get a second wind when the play bows in L.A. and an eventual film version hits screens.
Wags have suggested DreamWorks is slow to respond to bidding wars for talent and takes its time deciding whether or not to even go see an act.
But the label maintains its status as the place in town to work; as a result, it has little difficulty landing top exec talent or artists.
“An artist who meets with Mo and Lenny, and then spends time with David, has a hard time saying no, even if they are being offered less money than from another label,” observed veteran attorney Jay Cooper. “The artist knows their career — and DreamWorks will let them build a career — is in good hands.”
The Eels put forth a solid disc last year that sold 600,000 copies overseas, but a fraction of that Stateside. The album is getting a second chance following the addition in August of promotion kingpin Bruce Tenenbaum to the DreamWorks ranks.
The label, with a logo designed by Roy Lichtenstein, took nine months to decide to set up a Nashville outpost. “Some in the industry may think our pace is too slow, but to us it feels right,” Waronker said.
The hiring of Tenenbaum and promotion chief Mark Gorlick signals a beefing up of the label’s efforts supporting a release. (At MCA Records, Tenenbaum and Gorlick created an industry-envied promotion team responsible for breaking a number of artists from diverse musical genres.)
Upcoming albums from Subcircus, Kim Fox and Forest for the Trees stress music over trendy machinations and all appear to be winners with positive advance press and sales orders.
The label also recently bowed a disc from Chris Rock that will be backed by the label and the comedian’s hype-fest touting his upcoming book. The hefty number of personal appearances — such as hosting the MTV Video Music Awards and a pair of Emmy wins — has already aided promotional efforts, as more than 125,000 copies of the disc have been sold in two months of release.
DreamWorks is also slowly moving to cut the apron strings from Geffen Records, as part of a shift to eventually handle many of the back office tasks — promotion, video, publicity — inhouse.