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“When we commit to an artist, we’re all in.”
HIGH OCTONE
A&M/Octone President James Diener's Artist Development Strategy Pays Off in Percentages
A&M/Octone President James Diener likens his label to Herb and Jerry’s namesake boutique operation.

“At A&M/Octone, we try to use old-school artist development principles in a new-media world,” he says. “We concentrate our effort on a selective number of artists at a time, with a focus on touring, word-of-mouth, press and grass-roots online marketing before even introducing them to mass media like radio, TV and large retailers.”

An A&R vet who worked under Don Ienner at Columbia in the ’90s before segueing to SVP A&R/Marketing for Clive Davis at J and RCA Music Group, where Octone launched with its first signing, Maroon 5, Diener praises “a great partnership” with Jimmy Iovine’s IGA for success in breaking acts like Flyleaf, Hollywood Undead and, most recently, Somali hip-hop MC and reggae poet K’naan, whose album debuted last week in the Top 30.

“It takes longer to penetrate the market because it’s so fragmented,” he says. “You still have to connect the dots, only now you have to build them over a longer period of time. It’s like a political campaign—you have to shake hands and kiss babies.”

Following the success of Maroon 5, whose debut sold 10 million worldwide, Diener brought Octone to UMG, where it has taken on the legendary A&M name. Since then, he’s had a remarkable batting average, with aggro-rockers Flyleaf’s 2005 album selling 1.2 million, Internet alternative/rock phenoms Hollywood Undead heading towards gold and K’naan off to a great start.

“We gravitate towards ’tween artists you can’t easily pigeonhole,” Diener explains. “They’re are the kinds of acts that tend to have the most traction, and when they connect, they tend to stick. Separate from traditional airplay and videoplay, we get movie, TV and game placements; you hear our artists in restaurants, tattoo parlors and clothing outlets. We infiltrate a lifestyle.”

This year, A&M/Octone will have a new Flyleaf album, as well as releases from singer/songwriter Michael Tolcher, whose debut sold over 100k, recent signing PaperTongues, managed by Idol judge Randy Jackson, and a new Maroon 5 in the fall.

“When we commit to an artist, we’re all in,” says Diener of the label, headquartered in its Union Square New York offices, and whose senior executive team includes EVP/Head of Promotion Ben Berkman, GM David Boxenbaum and Head of Sales/Artist Development Rome Thomas. “Our roster is eclectic but selective; that’s why artists and managers come to us. If an act signs here, they know they’ll get 100% effort. We won’t cut bait until the last possibility has been explored, which is a hard strategy to execute in today’s music business.”

With his major label pedigree, Diener insists A&M/Octone offers the best of both worlds: the clout of a big company with the focus of an independent.

“We get fewer at bats, so we have to hit the ball every time,” he explains. “Some boutique labels are structured towards singles and doubles; we feel it’s about home runs. It’s just that we have to cross every base in a slightly different way.”

 

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