HOLLYWOOD — When Bob Jamieson was named prexy of RCA Records three years ago, the guffaws could be heard throughout the industry. But thanks to a string of recent successes and a newfound competitive spirit at the label, wags are no longer laughing.
Prior to joining RCA, Jamieson was an unknown Canadian record exec, and RCA was a dysfunctional label, often considered by dealmakers only after other major record labels passed. (RCA was best known as the home of Elvis Presley, for making an embarrassingly expensive deal with ZZ Top and for bringing to the U.S. Los Del Rio’s dance phenom “Macarena.”)
Now, the debut of “Before These Crowded Streets” by the Dave Matthews Band two weeks ago not only toppled the 16-week grip the “Titanic” soundtrack held on the top spot of the album sales chart, it also highlighted the strides made by Jamieson’s regime in orchestrating a turnaround at RCA.
The label has made stars and chart-toppers out of Swedish songstress Robyn, Aussie TV star Natalie Imbruglia, ‘N Sync, rockers the Verve Pipe and the Dave Matthews Band. Although the latter was signed to the label before Jamieson’s arrival, it has been made a priority by the new regime.
The mild-mannered Jamieson, along with exec VP/G.M. Jack Rovner, has succeeded in shedding RCA’s image as a label coasting on the income of Presley reissues and gimmick discs. The pop division is also no longer overshadowed by RCA’s Nashville arm, which has been successful for more than a decade.
“For years its pop operation couldn’t find a hit to save its life,” says a rival label captain. “But Bob and his team have worked hard and have done a good job. The label is no longer laughed at.”
Wags assert that RCA has yet to grow a top-selling artist of its own, as Robyn was handed to RCA from BMG’s Swedish outpost, and Imbruglia was imported from BMG U.K.
“What Bob and Jack deserve to be complimented on is the way Natalie was imaged, positioned and marketed in the U.S.,” said Strauss Zelnick, CEO of BMG Entertainment, North America, and the man who hired Jamieson for the RCA prexy post. “I think it’s a good story, not a bad one, when a company cross-pollinates international and domestic (artists) as well as BMG does across all of its labels.”
RCA closed last week with a 9% current album market share, and three artists — Matthews, Imbruglia and Big Punisher — holding impressive chart berths. The label’s share typically hovers around 2%.
RCA is on its way to topping $70 million in annual revenues, according to sources, and has logged its best annual sales numbers each year under Jamieson.
The label also has benefited from its deal with Steve Rifkin’s Loud Records, which is home to such big-gun hip-hop acts as Big Punisher, Wu Tang Clan and Mobb Depp.
And while the jury is still out on RCA’s long-term prospects — many of its acts are still feeling the afterglow of debuts — its immediate future appears bright with such buzz band newcomers as Republica, Eve 6 and Olive, among others.
“The plan continues to work and the company continues to grow,” said Zelnick. “What’s going on now is a breadth of success. There is great music in all formats. The recovery is now real.”