A Rare Flight

How does a label market the first release from a revered artist in a dozen years when her promotional participation is at an absolute minimum?

How does a label market the first release from a revered artist in a dozen years when her promotional participation is at an absolute minimum? That is the question before EMI and Columbia as they eye "Aerial," a double album from British singer/songwriter Kate Bush. The set comes out worldwide this week on EMI except for North America, where it will come out on Columbia.

The challenge before the two labels is not only to push an album by an artist absent for more years than many active music consumers have been alive but to do so without many traditional tools, since Bush does not tour, is rarely seen in public and is involved with little promotion. "It's incredibly challenging as a record label, in this day and age when most artists will do most things to get their records across," says Columbia Records Group chairman Will Botwin.

The album was introduced by the distinctively atmospheric "King of the Mountain," which recently debuted at No. 4 on the U.K. singles chart.

Bush is one of EMI's most enduring signings, having first entered discussions with the company and its publishing division in 1975, while still attending St. Joseph's Convent Grammar School. But since Bush completed work on a studio in her house, effectively becoming a self-contained production unit, only three new albums have emerged since 1982.

In the end, executives agree that Bush has to remain true to her code. "I sort of think the mystery can work in our favor," Botwin says. "You got to respect an artist who's really an artist, who's not prepared to just hock her wares."