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SHOES TO TUNES: STEVE MADDEN STEPS INTO THE RECORD BIZ

Shoe guru Steve Madden is starting a record company, so let the puns begin. Will they release sole music? Rhythm & Boots? Clog rock? Obviously, it’s none of the above; Madden’s label, 5Towns Records, is looking to go the indie route, take advantage of the current music/branding landscape and release, as he puts it, “good songs.”

“There’s a synergy between music and shoes and fashion and labels are coming to us with artists,” says Madden, whose shoe company reported sales of $1.4b in 2015. “We want to sign and develop artists, release music and, if it works, they’ll be part of Steve Madden the brand. I could break an artist in my 300 stores. It’s a tremendous combination.”

Madden (in backwards baseball cap above) is forming 5Towns—named for the area in Long Island where he grew up—with Steve Feinberg, former manager of Good Charlotte and partner in the management company A Fein Martini. Feinberg, who will head up the A&R effort, has been with the Madden company for five years, runs its Madden Music, a marketing operation that connects artists with the brand; among its successes are Grimes, Halsey and Charli xcx, all of whom had the Madden association prior to breaking.

The label has yet to sign an artist, though Feinberg says he is deep into negotiations with two acts. One’s a 21-year-old New York-based singer/songwriter, the other’s a teenage singer from the U.K. As Madden says, the largest portion of the customer base is young and female, so the music should target that demo as well.

“We have the ability to take an artist, put them through an indie label with the aid and assistance of a major brand to the extent we want,” Feinberg said. “Indie used to mean organic and slow. We have a combination of organic growth and, thanks to the brand, speed.”

They intend to deal with distribution of each record individually rather than signing with a single label—they say labels have started to bring them acts to sign or work together through JVs. “It’s about being closer to young artists coming up,” Feinberg said. “We plan to work with managers and lawyers (to strike deals) that make the most sense” for the artist.

Madden, who says rock & roll was his inspiration when he started the shoe company in 1990, has long desired to be involved in music and he has connection—label heavyweights Walter Yetnikoff and Charles Koppelman, for example,were on his board of directors at different times. And he’s definitely a fan: Throughout the interview he professed a love for the music for the music of Pam Tillis, Leon Russell and Glen Campbell, wondered why Harry Nilsson and the Guess Who aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and whether we’ll see a female-fronted rock band break through in the near future. “One thing’s for sure,” he adds, “we’re not signing acts based on my taste.”

For now, 5Towns is a three-person operation separate from Steve Madden, a publicly held company in which Madden is the largest shareholder. Madden Music, for which Feinberg handles the A&R, will continue to operate on the branding/marketing side of the shoe company.

“I can see a time when they would merge, not yet,” he says. “I’m able to do this having done so well with shoes. I want to make hits but that really only happens when the girl buys (a pair). That’s what I want to impart—it’s about the song. That’s the way the shoe business works.

“There’s a big idea here and maybe somebody smarter than me will figure it out. The monetizing formula is different. But a good song is a good song and a good shoe is a good shoe. That’s going to be our philosophy.”

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