Once more, with feeling, from Front Line CEO Irving Azoff: "We're not a record label."
The company is, however, more well-stocked with label-executive resources, since it announced on Monday the hiring of producer/exec Ron Fair and major-label vet Richard Palmese as in-house consultants. The pair bring decades of experience in A&R/record production and marketing and promotion, respectively.
"It's a real simple message," Azoff told Billboard.biz on Tuesday. "We're providing more services to artists and managers."
Fair and Palmese, both longtime Azoff friends and associates, will work closely with the CEO of the world's largest management company, along with Front Line's 250 artists and 90 managers.
"Richard and Ron have the run of the place," said Azoff, who noted that their expertise can be put to use, "anywhere within the company with anybody that wants them -- any of our managers, any of our artists, any of our affiliated companies, or any of our friends. By friends, I include our friends at the record labels. Both [Epic chairman/CEO] L.A. Reid and [Island Records president] Steve Bartles have already reached out asking for Richard's help on things."
Fair's 30-year history as an A&R executive and record producer includes discovering and steering the career of Azoff management client Christina Aguilera, and has produced and A&R'd such acts as Black Eyed Peas, Fergie, Pussycat Dolls, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah and others. Fair most recently ended a 10-year association with Interscope as president of A&M Records and chairman of Geffen Records, and has previously been at Chrysalis, RCA, Island, and EMI.
Palmese, who began his career as a DJ in the late '60s, joined Clive Davis at Arista Records in 1975, being named senior VP of promotion in 1980 and EVP, marketing and promotion, in 1983. Palmese was president of MCA Records from 1990-1995 ("I stole him from Clive when I was at MCA," Azoff says), before returning to Arista in 1996. In 2000, Palmese was named Executive VP of Promotion for Davis' newly formed J Records, then served as Executive VP of Promotion for the RCA Music Group, including the J, RCA and Arista labels. Palmese has contributed to the success of a wide range of artists, including Aguilera.
"Richard Palmese is as instrumental in Christina Aquilera's success as anybody," Azoff said. "Christina and I couldn't fathom working her next album without Richard. To have him in-house, in addition to the great resources [RCA GM] Tom Corson and those guys have at RCA, is gonna be great."
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Azoff said Palmese has already had an impact at Front Line through working with affiliated company Roc Nation. "He basically took over the promotion of the Calvin Harris record, which is a huge hit, so he's already made a difference for our management client," he said.
Fair's first big move could be working on a Christmas record with Martina McBride, who is managed by Clint Higham at Front Line affiliate Morris Management Group.
In short, Azoff is basically bringing in A-list record men with proven track records in two of the most critical roles labels traditionally serve: A&R and promotion. Coupled with a deep pool resources in terms of capital, executive talent and artist relationships, Front Line is, at least on paper, capable of functioning at a high level as an in-house label -- if that was the plan.
However, Azoff insists it isn't. "We're in the marketing business, we're not in the distribution business in music," he said, adding that people shouldn't read too much into the "additions" as a comment on the state of the record business.
"This stuff people are writing about the further deterioration of the strength of the record companies and all that sh--, that isn't what this is about at all," Azoff said. "But, in always putting artists first, to have those services in-house to work alongside the label is really important."
"Alongside" is a term Azoff uses often in describing the relationship between Front Line and labels. In this era, "you have to check your ego, you gotta have hits -- who cares who finds them?" he said. "The label doesn't care if we find them or they find them."
As an example, Azoff cited affiliated manager Ron Laffitte, who manages Pharrell Williams and One Republic's Ryan Tedder, "so we've started to have that resource available to a lot of our artists. And our affiliated company Roc Nation, [co-founder] Jay Brown and his team are always helpful to other Front Line artists."
Azoff won't even go so far as saying he's "upping the ante" in ramping up Front Line's executive assets on the recorded music front. "We have these core services available for all our artists and managers," he said. "It includes help on touring, picking vendors, negotiating deals and routing. [Front Line head of digital services] Adam Flick runs an incredible digital department that is handling social for anybody that wants it. To add Ron in an A&R capacity and Richard in the marketing and promotion strategy process, alongside all our branding and sponsorships people … the business sort of tells you what you need to do."
Asked for a potential scenario where Fair and Palmese's talents, along with others', might come into play, Azoff again turned to Aguilera. "When this next Christina album comes out, we'll work alongside RCA -- but Adam has been working since 'The Voice' on her Facebook and Twitter presence; Palmese will work on the promotion of her record; Ron Fair and she have been friends and have worked together since the beginning of her career. I can't say he will or he won't work with her this time -- that's up to them -- but that possibility still exists."
Overall, Azoff seems unconcerned how others interpret his latest move.
"I honestly don't really give a sh-- what people read into it or don't read into it, as long as artists get what they need out of it," he said. "Tons or our managers and artists have already talked to me about it, and it's going great."