Virgin to rock with Walters

Venture valued at $70 mil

In a significant move designed to make Virgin Records a major player in the rock music marketplace, the label has inked a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal with Happy Walters and his Immortal Film and Music banner.

The five-year joint venture, which insiders said could be worth as much as $70 million to Walters if certain criteria and sales thresholds are met, segues Walters — who brought the highly successful band Korn to prominence — to British conglom EMI (Virgin’s parent) from a hefty deal with Epic inked in 1997.

By bringing Walters into the Virgin fold, the label gets a key A&R source with far-reaching contacts in the rock universe.

Rocking sales

The genre recently has been paying huge dividends through such sale successes as Flip Records’ Limp Bizkit, Lava’s Kid Rock and Korn, among others. Walters owns the Immortal name.

EMI’s fortunes have been hamstrung by its lack of potent A&R sources and the Walters deal is the latest move by Virgin execs to secure a well-connected exec.

Save for Lenny Kravitz’s latest “5” sales, which have been revived through the popularity of the cut “American Woman” and its link to the “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” sequel, a Virgin act hasn’t landed near the top of the domestic sales charts since the Spice Girls.

The label, which also is paying the bills through the “Now!” compilation album of acts from EMI, Universal and Zomba, has been aggressively pursuing deals with the town’s dealmakers in effort to shore up its access to repertoire.

Virgin’s current album market share, a barometer of a label’s ability to break acts, hovers around 3%. By contrast red-hot Jive, home of the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, owns nearly 7%.

Walters’ deal was shepherded by EMI Recorded Music chief Ken Berry, along with Virgin co-presidents Ray Cooper and Ashley Newton.

Insiders said Immortal/Virgin will bow six or seven albums annually, plus soundtracks, and initially will have Urge, Bear Jr. and U.S. Crush on its roster, with an eye on having a list of around 10 artists.

Bigscreen interests

Walters also will be able to continue developing his film interests, which the label anticipates could lead to soundtrack discs.

He is co-producing several pics including Warner Bros./Bel Air’s “Shiny New Enemies,” starring Jeff Goldblum, Salma Hayek and Steve Zahn, and New Line’s “Ghetto Superstar,” with its soundtrack on Def Jam. Immortal also has two other greenlit films.

Walters — who could not be reached for comment — and staff will remain closely involved with the marketing of future Korn and Incubus discs through the Immortal/Epic pact, though the deal was scaled down July 12 from the sizable one formed in 1997.

Virgin execs recently pacted with manager Barry Hankerson, who reps R. Kelly among others, to join the label in a senior level post to help land urban-R&B talent.

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