Using the slogan "The only thing we take seriously is the music," country superstar Toby Keith and veteran Nashville record executive Scott Borchetta will kick off their new joint label venture on Sep
Using the slogan "The only thing we take seriously is the music," country superstar Toby Keith and veteran Nashville record executive Scott Borchetta will kick off their new joint label venture on Sept. 1. They have already assembled an A-list staff, signed a handful of artists and secured a major distribution deal.
Running a label may be a novel experience for Keith, but it's not the only new venture he's embarking on. He's also landed a three-picture film deal with Paramount Pictures and will make his acting debut in the first of the films, set to start shooting in October in either Tennessee or Georgia.
The name of Keith's label and its distribution partner will be unveiled at a press conference in Nashville on Aug. 31, but both Keith and Borchetta spoke exclusively to Billboard.biz about their plans.
For Keith, who has sold 21 million albums in the U.S., the new venture marks the end of his long association with DreamWorks Records. After losing its biggest act, major changes are expected at DreamWorks in the next few days.
In an unusual set-up, the new venture will be structured as an umbrella company housing two labels, Keith's and Borchetta's. The latter will be known as Big Machine Records. The labels will share office space and resources in a Music Row building Borchetta owns, and will also share most of their staff, including the promotion team.
One exception is George Nunes, who will be GM for Keith's imprint only. Nunes was formerly president of Santa Monica, Calif.-based label Sovereign Artists. While new to Nashville, he is an industry vet whose work history includes stints at Capitol Records, EMI Distribution and House of Blues. Keith says he hired Nunes "on the spot" the first time they met.
Each executive will sign acts separately. Keith has already signed his band mate and frequent songwriting partner Scott Emerick, who previously had a deal on DreamWorks.
Keith also says he's received numerous phone calls from other "major artists in play" who are interested in joining his roster. And Keith himself will also record for the label.
Meanwhile, Borchetta has signed Jack Ingram, who previously recorded for Rising Tide and Sony's Lucky Dog label. Big Machine will release a live album from Ingram, which includes two new studio tracks, on Nov. 1.
Also on the Big Machine roster are singer/songwriters Danielle Peck and Taylor Swift. Peck's single goes to radio Sept. 26. Swift, a Sony/ATV Music Publishing writer, will debut early next year. Borchetta had previously signed Peck to DreamWorks, but she was dropped from the roster during the label's 2004 merger with Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN).
Borchetta predicts that the combined roster for the two labels will eventually top out at seven to 10 acts. And while both Borchetta and Keith say they'll focus on being a country label, neither rules out the possibility of branching into other genres for the right act. Additionally, Keith has secured the soundtrack rights to any films he does with Paramount.
As for his new acting career, Keith says he's "signed a deal and agreed to three projects, and discussed as many as six or seven" with Paramount. One such project under discussion is a film based on Keith's 2003 No. 1 hit "Beer For My Horses."
Until March, Borchetta was senior VP of promotion and artist development at UMGN, overseeing those departments for MCA Nashville, Mercury and DreamWorks. Immediately following his unexpected split from that company he began talking about plans to launch his own label. Keith has also been speaking publicly about starting a label since March, when he announced at Country Radio Seminar that his days at DreamWorks were likely numbered.
Interestingly, Keith still owes DreamWorks one more album under his contract. Asked how he got out of making it, Keith quips, "I made them an offer they couldn't understand."
More likely the deal is an indicator of who the distribution partner for the new venture will be. Keith declines to confirm that it's Universal Music and Video Distribution.
Even more surprisingly, the first single the promotion team from Keith's and Borchetta's new label will work to radio is "Big Blue Note," a track from Keith's current DreamWorks album, "Honkytonk University." It goes for airplay Sept. 12.
Borchetta, who will hold the title of president at Big Machine and also oversee radio and marketing strategies for Keith's label, says he and Keith are "on the same page as far as what we want to do musically, and the buck stops with Toby and myself."