Corporate brands including Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Hard Rock International and even Tag Body Spray created record labels in recent years to make their products more credible among music fans. Now a brand with a more direct link to music, instrument manufacturer Yamaha Corp. of America, is entering the fray with its new in-house label, Yamaha Entertainment Group.
British rock act Leogun is the label's first signing, and a five-song EP will be released Oct. 16, with the debut single, "Let's Be Friends," out Sept. 11. (A full-length LP is tentatively due in February 2013.) Warner's Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) is handling marketing, promotion and releasing. 
The idea for the label, as well as the signing of Leogun, came in part through Yamaha's two-decade relationship with Elton John, who has been close to the company ever since it started making signature pianos in his name. Leogun had been affiliated with John's management company, Rocket Entertainment Group, and Yamaha's production arm will help with John's Las Vegas show, "The Million Dollar Piano," and its forthcoming documentary DVD.
"We started with artist endorsements using Elton 18 years ago, and our relationships with artists have continued to evolve," says Chris Gero, Yamaha head of artist relations and founder of Yamaha Entertainment Group. "We liked this act because it's exceptional and served as a good way to represent an exceptional product."
Similar to Converse's Rubber Tracks studio and Hard Rock Records, Yamaha Entertainment Group was borne out of the idea of giving back to independent artists. "A lot of people say to me, 'Why would you get involved in the record business at the worst time for the record business?'" Gero says. "But it's actually the best time to be seen or heard. It's very natural for us to step in as a global music company and say, 'This is why this artist is important.'"
British rock trio Leogun (above) are Yamaha Entertainment Group's first signing.
Since Yamaha spends very little on traditional advertising, the label offers its own marketing opportunities that could potentially reach more people than any 30-second TV commercial. "Though everybody fancies themselves a guitar player, the actual buying population for musical instruments is about 6% in the U.S.," Gero says. "Traditionally, what we've done with advertising has been print, down to the dealer level. But we need to compete against larger market manufacturers, and the best manner to get that messaging out is through artists."
Label signings will still have the opportunity to be featured in Yamaha advertisements, as well as a 50% share of recorded-music revenue that's far above the industry standard. "We're keeping the overhead very low, keeping the marketing very current and very focused," Gero says. "The artist is going to be able to surround themselves with people who can finance and produce and market at a higher percentage. We're giving up a lot more territory to an artist than a traditional label would."
Beyond the label, Yamaha has been actively involved with artist services and custom sweepstakes for years, partnering with John Legend, Young the Giant, James Taylor, Luke Bryan, Sara Bareilles, Michael W. Smith and Greyson Chance-and that's just for 2012 promotions. The company also works with 3,600 different artists to loan them top-shelf instruments for motion pictures, national TV shows, major awards shows and concert performances.
One frequent artist partner, Sarah McLachlan, recently participated in a "Summer Symphony Sweepstakes" and has also teamed on initiatives providing instruments to the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.
"My relationship with Yamaha and Chris Gero over the past 10 years has been a true partnership," McLachlan says. "[Yamaha Entertainment Group] continues to support helping children find their voice as we work together to provide an exclusive fan experience and the opportunity for a fan to own a brand-new Yamaha C2 grand."