Four years after parting ways with Atlantic Records, Vice Music is re-teaming with Warner Bros. Records for a three-year global partnership, encompassing distribution, marketing, touring support and other components. Vice Music, the in-house record label at Vice Media, has helped launch acts like Justice, Chromeo, Bloc Party, the Streets and Death From Above 1979 over the years, but has struggled to maintain the day-to-day operations of the label since going indie in 2007.
"When we left Atlantic, they were handling all the business affairs, the royalties, accounting, all these things we'd taken for granted," says Vice Media co-founder Suroosh Alvi. "We realized that our strengths are with A&R and marketing. Signing, marketing and building artist brands, that's what we should be focusing on."
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Alvi says he had discussions with all the major labels, but ultimately came back to Warner through its relationship with Livia Tortella, chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic's former exec VP of marketing. Vice was looking to tout its newfound clout as a multimedia entertainment brand, having introduced its successful Creators Project events series in 2009, an MTV series ("The Vice Guide to Everything") in 2010 and a new music site (Noisey.com) at this year's South By Southwest.
"Vice is a fantastic brand that artists want to be associated with," Todd Moscowitz, co-president and CEO of Warner Bros. Records, tells Billboard.Biz. "Suroosh and the team have great taste and an incredible marketing vehicle. Our job is to work with them to identify great artists and enhance the marketing opportunities that they have."
The deal semi-officially kicked off in October, when Warner helped Vice distribute Justice's second album "Audio, Video, Disco" on its Elektra imprint. "We were the label that broke that artist in America, when we were with Atlantic," Alvi says. "I was really impressed in working with the Warner Music Group in that whole process to get Justice back onto Vice and how easy it actually was compared to how Warner used to be in terms of the levels of bureaucracy and systems in place."
So far in the U.S., "Audio, Video, Disco" has sold about 13,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A rep for Justice's French label, Ed Banger, says sales are nearing 130,000 worldwide, and Alvi is hopeful that the album will gain more traction in 2012 once the band kicks off its tour. That will include more dates in Vice's The Creators Project event series, which the band played in New York last month.
"The thing about Justice is that last time it was a slow build. Their success didn't happen before [the album was released in the U.S.], it came from all the commercial synchs and their touring," Alvi says. "I think the record's amazing, and they took some risks they're gonna be awarded for artistically. They didn't just rehash 'Cross' and make 'Cross 2.' They developed as artists, and probably surprised some of their core people out there."
Up next, a December release from Gucci Mane, a Warner artist that Vice will help distribute and promote. If the rapper seems like an odd choice for the label known primarily for electronic and punk rock, Alvi says it helps the label come full circle. "The first three records we released were the Streets, Chromeo and the Panthers. I feel like we're doing that again with Justice, Gucci and a new punk band we've signed like Off! or a band like Black Lips. I think it's our job, and the audience expects it as well, to take some risks and work with all the folks that are out there."