Harrell Sony’s crony

Exec's $25 mil deal targets black music

Ending weeks of speculation over the future of Andre Harrell, the former Motown Records prexy/CEO has inked a joint-venture deal with Sony Music worth north of $25 million.

Harrell will be one of the black-music cornerstones as part of the conglomerate’s plan to beef up its presence in the genre.

Sources said the multiyear deal gives Harrell wide latitude to sign acts and to advise and consult with conglom execs on developing other black-music holdings, such as Ruthless Records (with which Sony recently expanded its distribution and marketing relationship).

Sources said Harrell also met with Universal Music Group and BMG Entertainment chieftains over the past month before pacting with Sony, whose offer was also the largest. The exec had been exploring options allowing a return to the music business after being ousted from Motown this year (Daily Variety, Aug. 11).

Industry insiders note that a small boutique label gives the high-profile exec a fresh start, allowing him to expand the label into a respected powerhouse much in the same way he advanced Uptown Records at MCA before departing for Motown more than two years ago.

The pact, which is expected to close early next week — though Sony Music prexy/COO Thomas Mottola told colleagues on Tuesday that it’s done — will also provide a chance for Harrell to reestablish his reputation as a hit-finder, which many suggest was hurt by the troubles at Motown.

Sources said other potential suitors shied away from courting Harrell during this era of industry austerity and cutbacks, believing his reputation for lavish spending at times overshadowed his substantial creative talents.

Sony is looking to Harrell to succeed much in the way LaFace Records, the highly successful label run by Antonio L.A. Reid and Kenneth Babyface Edmonds, has made Arista Records and parent BMG a major player in the urban and R&B genres.

The conglom also is in search of a way to shore up market share, because Sony has hovered for most of the year in fifth place among the six major music companies.

None of the parties involved would comment. Sony is expected to announce the pact later this month.

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