Sunday, 5 August, 2007 1:53 AM
CMA: New Trails in Music Distribution
BY TAMARA REYNOLDS
Turner at Cracker Barrel display at the Ryman Auditorium.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
Cracker Barrel claims
no special insights into reviving retail CD sales. "The music
industry is more expert at that than we are," said Simon Turner,
Chief Marketing Officer at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.
"Our expertise is in making chicken and dumplings."
But music has become
a tasty side dish for the restaurant chain, which locates the vast
majority of its 554 stores at interstate exits in 41 states. Since
2003, the company has rolled out a series of exclusive Country albums
featuring artists Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss & Union Station,
The Charlie Daniels Band and Sara Evans. Cracker Barrel has offered
several multiartist collections as well, including Grand Ole Opry-themed
Live Classics CDs and its Songs of the Year album featuring concert
performances of award-winning tunes by Trace Adkins, Lonestar, Jo
Dee Messina, Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton, Trisha Yearwood and other
artists. The company also created the American Legends series that
features Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Haggard, Elvis Presley, Hank
Williams and more.
Josh Turner's new live
album, recorded at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium on April
19 and released July 3 exclusively at Cracker Barrel and online
marks the company's most extensive commitment yet. In addition to
the CD, Cracker Barrel is sponsoring the MCA Nashville artist's
current concert tour and extending a relationship in which Turner
already serves as the voice for the Tennessee based company in its
"Not everybody keeps
up with the music business and with what new music is out there,"
Simon Turner said. "But people do eat. [For them] to walk in
there and maybe pass by Josh Turner's live album on the shelf before
they go and grab a table just kind of appealed to me."
Cracker Barrel exemplifies
a growing trend toward releasing exclusive Country titles in non-traditional
retail outlets. Starbucks' Hear Music program (hearmusic.com) has
issued a number of "Artist's Choice" CDs in which performers
including Cash, Emmylou Harris and Nelson developed playlists of
their favorite artists. Plus, Hear Music Coffeehouses have allowed
visitors to listen to a variety of music (including Rascal Flatts'
Me and My Gang CD) from an interactive listening station and burn
their own personal CDs for purchase.
In March, Starbucks and
Concord Music Group, whose past collaborations include Ray Charles'
5.5 million-selling Genius Loves Company, launched a new record
label, Hear Music, with Paul McCartney as its inaugural release
on June 5. The album is McCartney's first album available digitally.
Likewise, Hallmark releases special albums in a limited window of
time to key on the Christmas and Valentine's Day holidays. These
have included Martina McBride's 2005 compilation My Heart, which
repackaged six of her signature love songs with new remakes of Buck
Owens' "Together Again" and Etta James' "At Last,"
and George Strait's all-new 2006 set Fresh Cut Christmas, which
achieved Platinum sales just seven days after its appearance in
"It's exciting to
partner with a company that not only is known for being of the highest
quality, but has actually set the standard for others to follow,"
McBride said. "I have grown up with Hallmark, and the thought
of my CD in a Hallmark store is thrilling for me."
aren't traditionally music retailers understand the value and importance
that music plays in their customers' lives," observed Ben Kline,
Executive VP of Sales, Marketing and New Media at UMG Nashville.
"So I think what
you're seeing is an abundance of non-traditional music retailers
embracing music as a way for them to promote whatever else they
sell at their retail location."
The timing for these
ventures couldn't be better for the industry's bottom line. Digital
downloads have eroded album sales for the music industry at large,
and the loss of Tower Records to bankruptcy contributed to a shrinkage
of shelf space in music's traditional retail outlets.
Country has weathered
those setbacks more successfully than other genres, and the interest
from these other retailers simply underscores the idiom's flexibility
and appeal to Middle-American consumers.
"This business is
changing," noted Turner's manager, Ted Green, of Modern Management.
"Are we going to
stick our heads in the sand or are we going to adapt? One way of
adapting, in my view, is if you have a major retailer like Cracker
Barrel that has 554 stores across the country and 230-something
million people coming through the doors every year, it's a no-brainer
as far as we're concerned to try to do something with them."
The fit, of course, has
to work for both sides. For a performer, Cracker Barrel's reach,
and its location along the nation's major arteries, are ideal. Some
36,000 people eat at a Cracker Barrel daily, and 40 percent of those
customers are just passing through.
"When you're traveling
down the interstate and you're stopping off for a meal along the
drive and you want some new entertainment, it's great to be able
to pick up a CD there and pop it on in the car," Simon Turner
In addition, 36 percent
of the chain's consumer base listens to Country radio heavily, and
more than half listens to the genre regularly. Clearly, Cracker
Barrel guests are interested in Country artists.
Making it even sweeter
in Josh Turner's case, the company typically buys spots on 10 radio
stations in the markets where it advertises. In most cases, eight
of the 10 stations are non-Country formats (talk, urban or some
form of pop music), meaning Turner raised his profile significantly
by lending his voice to their advertising campaign.
"That's been kind
of cool for me to just reach out and go beyond the world of Country
Music," the singer said. From the retailer's perspective, the
albums generate additional revenue, but they also enhance awareness
of the brand. When Cracker Barrel sponsored the Alison Krauss &
Union Station tour in 2003, a significant number of her younger
fans made a point in visiting the restaurant to pick up the CD because
it couldn't be bought through any other store.
obviously wants to bring people in and get them to eat at Cracker
Barrel and become loyalists over time," Simon Turner offered.
But the company is also
careful about working with artists that represent its core identity
as a multi-generational family-style destination.
"It's about getting
the right emotional connection and the right image connection,"
Simon Turner asserted. "We're also very concerned about authenticity.
Take Josh and Amy Grant and Alison Krauss: These are all people
that love Cracker Barrel, they eat at our stores, and it's been
very important for us and with our relationships with them that
when we've come to negotiate the deals that they've all been very
positive about our brand. A major part of the interaction that we
have with them is their ability to be ambassadors for us during
the period that we have their CD on sale."
As key as non-traditional
merchants might be to an artist's growth, the performer and Music
Row still have their eye on the relationships with the bread-and-butter
music retailers who've supported the industry over the long haul.
It's important, Kline said, to fashion exclusive deals in a way
in which "we're not competing against ourselves." In the
case of the Turner album, it's a live album, something the label
would not have released through usual channels at this stage in
his career. Plus, it was timed as a bridge between Turner's previous
double Platinum album, Your Man, and his third studio CD, which
will likely be released later this year.
That doesn't mean that
exclusive albums can't overlap with a regular project. Strait, whose
albums are also distributed by Universal, put out his Hallmark CD
on Nov. 1, exactly four weeks after the release of It Just Comes
"We give heightened
awareness to something," said Ann Herrick, VP of Strategic
Music Alliances at Hallmark. "So when you see George Strait
[advertised] on TV, now you want some George Strait music. Some
of that's [available at] Hallmark and some of that's regular studio
albums, but I think a consumer just goes and buys George."
In the Cracker Barrel
case, the restaurant is banking that consumers will continue to
buy Josh Turner - along with their chicken and dumplings.
On the Web:
BY PATRICIA PRESLEY
Barrel CD display.
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