Every time Rob Thomas has a couple of beers with someone in the music industry, he says the conversation inevitably turns to artist development at labels today -- namely, the perceived lack of it.

Every time Rob Thomas has a couple of beers with someone in the music industry, he says the conversation inevitably turns to artist development at labels today -- namely, the perceived lack of it.

But instead of just talking, Thomas and his longtime publishing pal Evan Lamberg are trying to do something about it. In an exclusive interview with Billboard, the duo reveal that they have formed R Tel Records to develop, and make long-term commitments to, new songwriter/artists. And they've garnered the support of a major-league network to help break those artists.

Under a deal with Sony BMG's Epic Records, Thomas and Lamberg will consult with Epic president Charlie Walk and others at the major label. If R Tel and Epic agree they love an act, then the major will fund the project, releasing the record through RED or Epic.

The first act funded under this deal is British songwriter/artist Garfield Mayor, whose release is expected this fall. Mayor's music landed on Lamberg's desk at EMI Music Publishing, where he is senior creative of A&R and music innovations for North America. The two have worked closely since Thomas' early matchbox twenty days.

"I'm doing a lot of writing with these artists and helping them produce, but it's not about me being a producer and having a writing credit on the record," Thomas says. "I don't have to have any creative input whatsoever, but I'm definitely here if they want it. I'm like an in-house musician who's been through the last decade with really great success."

While Thomas says he hopes to have two to three releases each year, R Tel isn't under any delivery or time constraints to keep that benchmark. "If you sell 30,000 records, we don't blink," Lamberg says. "We're making a second record. That's where patience factors in. We're not under the rule that we've got to ship a bunch of records in the next 90 days or our cash flow won't be right --there's no economic pressure."