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"We want to stay humble and passionate about the music we put out, but market them as aggressively and creatively as possible."
FLIGHT OF THE CONCORD
An exclusive HITS dialogue with Concord Music Group GM Gene Rumsey
Veteran record exec Gene Rumsey has Concord Music Group working on all cylinders as he discusses the importance of catalog, the mix of new and established artists, the company's relationship with Starbucks' Hear Music, the future of stand-alone music retailers and Norman Lear to HITS' own decaffeineted Roy Trakin.

Are you having a good time?
I really am. I love working at this label. I love being at a privately owned company where you can be fast, flexible and creative and not afraid to take chances for fear of a regime change occurring momentarily that would cause you to be unemployed. There are plenty of challenges in being a huge catalog company. We have to be a little more innovative and flexible with our pricing going forward to continue to maintain the amount of square footage that’s required to properly merchandise slower moving titles to the right consumer.

Does the digital marketplace represent an opportunity for a catalog-based company like Concord?
The convenience and the ability to have everything available is certainly a wonderful opportunity. However, there is no website which can replicate the excitement of browsing through a retail store. If a site were created that allowed a 360-degree view of standing in a store and seeing dozens of titles on end-caps and product walls that would be pretty impactful. 63% of purchases are still made on impulse, and that doesn’t necessarily happen when you’re only looking at one screen shot at a time.

How are you positioning Concord Music Group in terms of new artists, established artists and reissues?
We want to continue to exploit all the tremendous rights we own, including the classic R&B of Stax and the timeless jazz recordings on Fantasy, Prestige, Riverside and Telarc. We will continue to invest in new recordings. We have a portfolio strategy approach, with a certain percentage of new releases that involve different levels of risk. Some are heritage artists with predictable fan bases and sales levels; others are newer artists that we believe have a greater upside than they’ve experienced to date while others are brand new.

Concord has obviously become a home for veteran artists like Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, John Fogerty and Kenny G.
We’re a home for any artist who records timeless music of high quality, many of which have been disenfranchised from the labels they’ve been signed to for a long period of time as well as from the market.

How would you characterize your relationship with Starbucks’ Hear Music?
They feel the same way we do about music and its importance in people’s lives. They also provide thousands of distribution points with a natural amount of traffic flow that occurs every day. Being a traditional retail guy, I will never abandon physical distribution or give anyone an unfair advantage over anybody else. In marketing, one of the earliest concepts you learn is that you want to put the right product in the right place at the right price where that consumer is, not where you want it and then make them come to you. Starbucks provides us with this opportunity.

Does Starbucks take away business from the traditional retailer, or does it promote it?
There are retailers who would disagree, but I firmly believe that the value of having a CD on the counter in 7,000 coffee shops is another marketing impression. The consumer can then decide, where they choose to buy that CD. They know the pricing strategies of the other retailers. As for those traditional retailers who complain, I say, “Are you really afraid your relationship is so fragile with your consumer that they lack the loyalty to go to a place where they can save a few bucks and know it will also be available?”

Do you believe the music-only standalone retail store is a thing of the past?
Who doesn’t enjoy spending a couple of hours at Amoeba? It’s a great record store. Anybody that provides the consumer with a great experience is worth supporting.

With music being so ubiquitous these days, there must be other places to sell albums.
Sure there are. We’re always looking for alternative channels of distribution, while continuing to support our existing partners. Two holiday seasons ago, the U.S. Postal Service wanted to try their hands at music. We sold 200,000 units of Charlie Brown Christmas through the post office. We’re always looking for customers. And we’ll do everything in our power to keep the playing field level.

What are some of the releases Concord has on tap for 2008?
We had a good first quarter with acts like Sia and Tift Merritt, which we will continue working throughout the year, as we will with John Fogerty’s Revival. Carly Simon will be the next record through Hear Music on April 29. There are also new albums from Sergio Mendes and Joe Cocker; and a new Hear Music artist from Florida named Hilary McCrae. We’re going to continue to re-brand our Stax catalog by telling the story of its historical importance while signing new artists to that label like Angie Stone and Lalah Hathaway.  Right now we are very committed to breaking the Randy Jackson release, a compilation called Music Club Vol. 1.

In terms of remarketing your vast catalog, is there still life in physical formats?
Absolutely. When we bought Fantasy studios, we got their vaults, where we discovered Creedence Clearwater and Fogerty videos that have never been seen, alternate takes, etc. The archival aspect of what we do is very important to us.

Are you bullish on the record business?
We’re very happy in our niche and doing extremely well. As long as we don’t get carried away with costs and go off in areas we don’t belong, we’ll be OK. We have to truly believe in our artists and the people we have at our label. We want to stay humble and passionate about the music we put out, but market them as aggressively and creatively as possible.

Do you still play the radio promotion game?
Radio is still a key piece of the puzzle, but television is even more important to us. PBS and CBS Sunday Morning are our Top 40 radio.

Do you have much interaction with Norman Lear?
Sure. He’s here every day. He’s an amazing man. He has the energy and ideas of a 30-year-old.

Concord Music Group is now part of Village Roadshow Pictures.
It’s an entertainment company based in Australia that’s into radio, theme parks, film production and movie theatres. We continue to operate independently, as they do, but we will look for the oft-sought-after, rarely achieved synergies that occur between entertainment divisions. Norman and Hal Gaba owned a part of Village Roadshow Pictures before and are now principles in the merged company.

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