Record Company or 'Entertainment Company'? Labels Grapple With the Future at Billboard Country Summit
Record Company or 'Entertainment Company'? Labels Grapple With the Future at Billboard Country Summit

Label Heads: Michael Powers, Partner, Bigger Picture Group; Tom Baldrica, President, Average Joe's Entertainment; John Allen, Vice President, Bug Music; John Esposito, President, Warner Music Nashville; Glenn Peoples, Senior Editorial Analyst, Billboard. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)

What is a hit? And what is a record label?

As the old ways of operating in the music business adapt to the digital age, the very definitions of the central pieces of the puzzle-the most popular music and the companies that distribute it-are ripe for re-examination.

The idea was among numerous topics at the "Making and Selling Recorded Music" panel, moderated by Billboard senior editorial analyst Glenn Peoples, June 7 at the second annual Billboard Country Music Summit on Tuesday.

"We don't call ourselves a record company," Warner Music Nashville president John Esposito said.

"It's entertainment companies more than it is record companies," Average Joe's Entertainment President Tom Baldrica suggested.

The label-related panelists-also including Bigger Picture Group partner Michael Powers-noted that with videos, online content, streaming revenues and 360 deals, the original concept of a record company recording music and selling it are simply outmoded.

In another era, country labels were known to keep 30 or more artists on the roster, all of them essentially competing to rise through the same marketing and distribution pipeline. Now, there are multiple pipelines to reach the consumer, and the efforts of a label-or "music-based entertainment company," as Esposito prefers to brand WMN-are streamlined around a smaller roster. Esposito said he aims to work no more than three singles at any given time through either of the company's production teams, focusing on quality product instead of volume.

"You can't shine sh--," he said twice.

At the same time, while radio remains the primary means of exposure for country music, activity in other areas begs for a redefinition of the phrase "hit." Aaron Lewis' "Country Boy" sold more than 450,000 downloads without even approaching the top 10 on the radio-based Country Songs chart, CMT senior VP of music strategy Jay Frank said.

"We're stuck on what gets into Walmart," Frank added, suggesting that traditional sales are just a "piece of the puzzle."

Check out all of our coverage from the 2011 Billboard Country Music Summit right here!