Columbia Records co-chairman/COO Steve Barnett is potentially days away from taking the helm of a new Capitol Label Group at Universal Music, a source close to the situation told Billboard.biz Friday afternoon (October 5). The source stressed that the talks are ongoing and nothing has been signed yet. The news was first reported in Hits.
The move would be a coup, breaking up Columbia's winning team of Barnett and co-chairman/CEO Rob Stringer, which leads the industry in U.S. album market share with total share of 9.17% current at 10.79%; and album plus TEA share of 8.64%, making it the No. 1 label in each of those categories.
The news gives a glimpse of a new structure for the labels acquired by Universal in its acquisition of EMI's recorded-music division, although which other labels might be part of the Group - presumably Virgin would be one - was unclear at press time.
When asked about his plans for the EMI labels, UMG CEO Lucian Grainge told Billboard.biz on September 24 -- the day the acquisition was cleared by the European Union and the Federal Trade Commission -- "To have a healthy, strong Capitol Records and Virgin Music is a good thing for the music industry. We will bring more investments by entrepreneurs and musicians than there have been for a long time. We will be doubling the A&R investment these labels have been making in recent years, and that will work its way through the industry ecosystem.
He added that in "growing the Virgin and Capitol labels ... I don't see this as reducing the number of majors but rather strengthening two of industry's best-known labels with investment. … We are going to create more choice for artists and more entrepreneurial opportunities with the investment we're going to be making. I believe in working in with a wide variety of popular music and entrepreneurs as we've done with Cash Money and Scooter Braun's Schoolboy Records, for example."
As for musical-genre focus, he said, "I think in terms of urban and rock music, these are areas that will receive a boost."
What Barnett's departure from Columbia might mean for the label's leadership - and who might replace him -- was unclear at press time.
At press time, reps for Universal and Sony either had not responded to Billboard.biz's requests for comment or declined to comment. Billboard.biz will have more on the situation as it develops.