Diskeries sync old, new

Labels learn to market catalog alongside fresh releases

Traditional record company thinking dictates that catalog initiatives should not occur when an artist has a new release in the market. But from a catalog perspective, there’s probably no better time to issue old titles than when an artist is on tour, doing interviews and getting some airplay for new music.

Warner Bros. Television, Warner Bros. Records and the WB, for example, will feature the music of R.E.M. on the “Slumber” episode of “Smallville” airing Wednesday. R.E.M. hits “Imitation of Life,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Losing My Religion,” “Bad Day” and “At My Most Beautiful” will be featured in the episode and included in “In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003,” to be released Oct. 28. It’s the first time an episode of a WBTV show will feature the music of just one artist.

Catalog use gets tricky when different companies control the material.

David Bowie’s “Reality” has sold about 75,000 copies since its Sept. 16 release, which was accompanied by the announcement of a worldwide tour from October through early February. While Bowie is trying to bolster sales of his new ISO/Sony release, EMI’s Virgin will be reissuing five classic Bowie sets in SACD, the “Sound + Vision” box set that Ryko initially issued and a “Best of Bowie DVD” — all in time for holiday shopping. “Black Tie White Noise,” Bowie’s 1993 album for Virgin that involved his early electronica work and partnership with Tin Machine, will be released in January with a bonus CD and DVD.

Granted, EMI has vigorously exploited the Bowie catalog over the past three years, but the company also knows when to get out of the way of a new project. EMI had a four-CD overview of Al Green slated for release Sept. 16 that has now been moved to next summer. The decks were cleared after EMI’s Blue Note label signed Green and scheduled a new album for Nov. 18 release. Green’s disc, “I Can’t Stop,” is a secular throwback to the sound he pioneered with Willie Mitchell in the early 1970s on records such as “Let’s Stay Together” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”

In a similar vein, ZZ Top is in the final month of a worldwide tour intended to support their latest RCA disc, “Mescalero.” RCA had scheduled the album to be released April 15, before their tour, while Warner Strategic Marketing put a four-CD set, “Chrome, Smoke & BBQ,” on its docket for Oct. 14. “Mescalero” was put on hold during the merging of J and RCA in which Clive Davis examined every release. While there was some talk about tweaking the ZZ Top disc, eventually it was released in early September as recorded, less than a month before the box set and as the tour was winding down.

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