What's in a name? Ask the common consumer which artists are -- or, rather, were -- on Arista, Jive or J records recently and you might get just a couple answers, if any. Those names may not carry much weight or the weight that they used to with music fans.
RCA Records CEO Peter Edge and COO Tom Corson agree, at least in part. Sony Music is retaining the artists under those three labels and putting them under the larger RCA umbrella. So now acts like Usher, Britney Spears, Pink, Foo Fighters, previous "American Idol" stars like Jennifer Hudson and more will all be officially RCA artists. This, after months of blood-letting on a staffer level and dropping acts like "AI's" Lee DeWyze and Britain's "X Factor" contestant Diana Vickers.
Arista was established in 1974 by Clive Davis; he also started J in 2000. Barry Weiss' Jive was perhaps best know for its pop signings around the turn of the millennium with entertainers like Spears and Justin Timberlake (and his former band N*Sync).
"The path we've taken is to refresh RCA, so we're going to retire those brands," Corson told The Hollywood Reporter. "There may be a reason down the line to bring them back, but it's a clean slate here."
Where I get a little confused is Corson's insistence that RCA will be defined by its artists... and by itself simultaneously.
"The concept is that there is value in branding RCA and not having it confused or diluted by other labels," he said. But then, "The artists have all been supportive. We didn't make this move without consulting our artists, and we haven't had any push-back. Frankly, they're the brand. We're defined by our artists."
So Jive, J and Arista diluted the RCA brand, but what is the RCA brand anyway except a roster of names?
Consumers don't buy based on what an RCA artist is, or what a Jive artist was, because those label groups put out a variety of genres and big-name artists. Certainly, there are independent labels or genre-focused labels that fans trust to lead them to new artists (think Sub Pop, or Def Jam) but giant labels like Columbia (also owned by Sony) host artists from Kreayshawn to Tony Bennett. How can one "brand" a giant umbrella group like RCA, other than make it bigger?
This move just looks like another way to trim the fat in a still-slender music economy, even with album sales up 3%. Remember when Sony still had BMG in its name? Is this like Clear Channel trying to align itself with why you "heart" radio? Talk about dillution.