CBS Records: What’s old is new

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It’s been widely reported that CBS is getting back in the music biz.

What I think might be being missed – though the Wall Street Journal sort of got it (can’t post the link to the WSJ story b/c it’s subscription only) – is that this new “label” is really more of way to cut costs for licensing music in TV shows. As quoted in the WSJ piece, Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group (ah, that rolls off the old tongue), states, “Saving music costs alone is a success. Whatever additional revenue we generate is an added bonus.” Hmmm. Now, if you’re an artist, I suppose you get used to having your music considered “product,” but how do you feel about being a “cost saving device with limited upside potential?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for any type of innovative push, and I like the fact that they’re doing internet distribution (deal with iTunes), and not clogging up the channels any further, but it really does strike me as the height of commoditization at this point.

The good news is that, even being as commoditized as it is, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of some great new music getting exposure. Certainly we’ve seen the impact that some TV/ad exposure can have (Nick Drake, Shins, etc.), but I also sort of feel that there’s a very dangerous risk of this particular brand of marketing reaching a real saturation point. By that I mean that given the bombardment of music in ads/TV shows, we necessarily sort of tune them out. They’re no longer novel enough to be sticky. Instead, they’re de rigeuer, and thus lose the benefit of stickiness that occurs when things are presented in new contexts.

So, all and all, CBS back in the record biz…kind of cool just from a historical perspective (more so even, b/c the announcement occured a day after the very sad passing of Ahmet Ertegun), but the bold-faced intention of leveraging a record label as a cost-cutting device with potential upsides sort of makes me queasy.


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