Jazz label Concord uses Starbucks alliance to build a hit

The adage that a whole can be more than the sum of its parts has been illustrated vividly in the left-field success of the posthumous Ray Charles duets album “Genius Loves Company.”

The disc, which has garnered 10 Grammy noms, including album of the year, for its participants, recently passed the 2 million mark in sales, making it the biggest seller of Charles’ six-decade career. It also launched the comparatively obscure Concord label into the upper reaches of the pop charts, giving the 31-year-old imprint (best known for its extensive jazz catalog) its biggest success.

While some of that success can be attributed to the release of the biopic “Ray” and the press surrounding Charles’ death, Concord president-CEO Glen Barros says it is difficult to overestimate the impact of a marketing deal the label signed with Starbucks prior to the release of “Genius Loves Company.”

“We’d been talking to Starbucks for a while about taking the next step from simply selling compilations to actively taking part in the creative process of a new album targeted toward an adult audience,” Barros says. “They’d committed to work with us before the deal to actually make the album was even completely finalized.”

While Starbucks had some grounding in music retail — dating back to the chain’s 1999 purchase of Hear Music — it had never been fully involved in producing a release.

“We let them know who the guests were and how the recording was going,” says Barros. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say they had a say in the music, but they did take point on artwork and a fair number of the marketing decisions.”

As part of the deal, the latte purveyors not only agreed to provide extensive in-store play and advertising, but also to leverage its relationship with other partners, bringing, for instance, a co-sponsored in-flight program to United Airlines. To date, Starbucks has been responsible for nearly 30% of “Genius Loves Company’s” sales — which Barros says bodes well for future projects with the chain.

Several projects are on the drawing board, Barros says. “We’re also talking to some other potential partners who can work with adult-oriented releases. It’s obvious that alternative access channels are increasingly important in reaching the consumer and getting the music to where he or she is in their daily lives. I’m confident that with partners like these, we can bring the artistic excellence we’ve achieved in the jazz world to other genres.”

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