Inside track

In year of MP3, Columbia sets records

This article was corrected on April 13, 2000.

Columbia Records broke records for the fiscal year ended March 31, posting gross revenues of more than $730 million in a year that was defined by MP3 and alternative means of delivery for music.

The record-setting year was a significant leap from fiscal 1998’s $600 million-plus tally. Columbia Records Group chairman Don Ienner, who celebrated his 11th year with the company last week, took over the company when it was doing less than $300 million a year.

The $730 million represents sales of Columbia Records products as well as Sony Legacy discs for which Columbia owns the master recordings.

A Columbia Records spokesman would not confirm the figure, noting that Sony Music does not break out revenues for individual labels. Sony Music will issue its revenue report later this month.

The gross comes as something of a surprise as the label had no single monster hit driving the label. The label boasted multimillion sellers from Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Marc Anthony, Maxwell, Will Smith and Savage Garden. In the last quarter, Columbia has seen significant sales from Jessica Simpson and Blaque; top 10 R&B act Destiny’s Child is currently the imprint’s hottest act with 3 million units sold.

Columbia’s release schedule through July is heavy on established acts. Slated for release is a live Pink Floyd recording of “The Wall” from 1981-82, live albums by Billy Joel and the late Jeff Buckley; new discs from Cypress Hill, Wyclef Jean, Jermaine Dupree and Da Brat. Label also has high hopes for newcomer Laura Fabian, whose album hits stores May 30.

— Phil Gallo

Pavarotti to play host on Superstar dot-com

Luciano Pavarotti as Ed McMahon? Only on the Internet.

Tibor Rudas, who produces Three Tenors concerts worldwide, is launching a Web site — superstartheater.com — with Pavarotti introducingthe operatic presentations available on Superstar Theater. Like Tonos.com, the talent-hunting dot-com run by Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster and Babyface Edmonds, Superstar will run talent contests. Difference here is that frequent users (Superstar judges) will vote on who should win. Winners are being offered the promise of “global exposure.”

To celebrate the premiere of Superstar Theater, the Rudas Organization has teamed up with Intervu.net to Webcast the Three Tenors’ concert at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on April 22. Those who register with Superstar Theater will be able to view, for free, the Vegas debut of Pavarotti, Jose Careras and Placido Domingo on Superstartheater.com.

— Phil Gallo

Ross, Supremes launch ‘Return to Love’ tour

You can’t have a reunion when you’ve never been together, which probably explains why the forthcoming Diana Ross & the Supremes reunion shows are being billed as the “Return to Love” tour.

Set to kick off June 14 in Philadelphia, the scheduled 30 dates will spotlight the undeniable talents of Diana Ross and… Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne.

While Laurence and Payne are indeed former members of the Supremes — from 1972-73 and 1975-77, respectively — neither ever sang onstage with the Ross-led edition of the group (Ross went solo in 1969). In fact, neither of them sang on any of the post-Diana lineup’s hits: “Stoned Love,” “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” “Nathan Jones” and “Floy Joy.”

As for the original Supremes, founding member Flo Ballard, who exited in 1967, died in 1976 at age 32. Her replacement, Cindy Birdsong, left the fold in 1972, then rejoined and re-exited in 1975. Neither she nor Mary Wilson — the group’s sole constant member throughout — will be joining Ross for the “reunion.”

Wilson claims she was offered $3 million and a slice of the merchandising to participate, which wasn’t enough. Ross reportedly stands to make a $15 million-$20 million from the eTrade-sponsored, TNA/SFX-promoted tour.

— Don Waller

Trio of film soundtracks to be issued on CD format

The soundtracks to a trio of music-related films — “Easy Rider,” “Nashville” and “FM” — will finally be issued on CD in the U.S.

Owing to the problems associated with obtaining clearance rights from the myriad participants on the films as well as the music side of the business, all three albums have been unavailable domestically since their vinyl versions went out of print nearly a decade or more ago, Universal Music Group senior veep Andy McKaie told Daily Variety. One upshot of unwrangling these tangled legal issues is that each album will be a straight reissue: no extra tracks, no enhanced content.

The “Nashville” soundtrack, which spawned Keith Carradine’s 1978 hit and Oscar winner for best song, “I’m Easy,” is set for release on May 2.

Paramount will release “Nashville” on DVD later this year.

Along with classic tracks by Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, the Byrds and the Fraternity of Man (“Don’t Bogart Me”), the “Easy Rider” soundtrack is notorious for its inclusion of rock group Smith’s version of “The Weight” rather than the Band’s original, which was heard in the film.

Aside from the title track by Steely Dan, “FM” features contributions from Tom Petty, Billy Joel, the Eagles, Queen, Boston, Bob Seger, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt and Foreigner. The “FM” and “Easy Rider” soundtracks are set for June 6 release.

— Don Waller

Marley named official spokesman for Hemp Bar

Ziggy Marley — three-time Grammy winner, son of reggae icon Bob Marley and current Elektra recording artist — has become the official spokesman for the Hemp Bar.

The latest creation from San Diego-based Govinda’s Fitness Foods, the Hemp Bar is an energy bar that spotlights the various nutritional properties of hemp seed. The other ingredients are chia seeds, honey, organic puffed amaranth, candied ginger and sea salt.

Marley will be lending his name and likeness to point-of-purchase campaigns, ads, publicity, merchandising, contests and promotional campaigns. The Hemp Bars will be displayed at Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers concerts as well. Proceeds will go to Marley’s nonprofit org Unlimited Resources Generating Enlightenment (URGE), which benefits underprivileged people around the world.

— Don Waller

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