Retailer aims to break new artists.

In its latest move into the music business, Starbucks is launching the "Hear Music Debut" CD series, a program to help labels break new artists. Lava Records' Antigone Rising is the first act to take part in the endeavor, which Starbucks is announcing today (April 5).

Starbucks will sell a 14-track live, acoustic concert by the female quintet starting May 11. The CD will be available exclusively through Starbucks and was recorded specifically for the coffee retailer. Starbucks will sell the disc for $12.95 in more than 4,400 Starbucks outlets in the United States.

As with its deal with Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company," Starbucks is an equity partner with Lava in the album and will benefit financially in any album sales outside of Starbucks. The exclusivity period is indefinite.

Starbucks Entertainment president Ken Lombard tells Billboard.biz that his company is in discussions with labels about future participants. "We focus on what do our customers want and that we can find that next new artist," Lombard says. "There is no set schedule but we want to do as many of these as we can."

In addition to placement in stores and in-store play, Starbucks will also push the title through its XM Satellite Radio station, as well as through partnerships with United Airlines T-Mobile's wi-fi network, Lombard says.

The Firm's Simon Renshaw, who manages Antigone Rising with Gayle Boulware, says Starbucks plays a vital role in the group's development. "At this point in time, one is always trying to find a new way to expose new talent. We've all seen how hard it is getting at radio and at video outlets," he says. "Here, we're going to be able to put the girls' music front and center out of the box. It was an opportunity that we couldn't overlook."

Starbucks has raised the ire of traditional retailers through its forthcoming deal with Alanis Morissette: it will exclusively sell her acoustic version of "Jagged Little Pill" for six weeks before the album goes to other retailers. It also came under fire when a number of Starbucks stores jumped street date with Beck's new album, "Guero."

Renshaw says he is "amazed" by retailers' reaction. "I've never had anyone else call me and say, 'We've heard you have this incredible new artist. We'd like to have a situation where you partner with this artist and put it front and center across out chain.' If someone wanted to call me from whatever retail chain is out there, we'd be open to discussing that as we were with Starbucks."

Lava executives could not comment on the deal. As part of Warner Music Group, the label is in a quiet period pending WMG's IPO.


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