Yamaha recently launched a new record label under the auspices of the Yamaha Entertainment Group of America. The news itself was worth noting as an example of the current range of experimentation with music business models and approaches including corporations creating in-house labels. I took the opportunity to speak with Founder Chris Gero to find out more about the story behind the news.
When I initially wrote about Yamaha's new in-house label
I skipped over most of the history I found, in part, because it was scattered in bits and pieces across the web. This was especially true of the Yamaha Entertainment Group Founder Chris Gero's bio and when we talked last week I found that Gero's relatively low profile in the music industry is very much a part of working within Yamaha's corporate culture.
Gero's career at Yamaha began in the early 90's and he's spent that time gradually rebuilding their artist support program which was largely decimated in the 80's. Traditional thinking at Yamaha did not place a high value on building the brand through artist sponsorships and related programs.
Gero actually began his relationship with Yamaha as a sponsored artist and when that agreement ended began working with them in a consulting role which led to a permanent position focused on artist services.
Gero then developed a revived artist services platform that found ways to support artists through materials and services, e.g., equipment and marketing, and to strengthen Yamaha's brand in the world of music. This direction ultimately led to the production of films, records, promo videos and large format concerts, all ways of giving Yamaha a higher profile. Yet Chris Gero's profile remained relatively modest.
Gero explained that in Japanese corporate culture being too big a star is not considered an advantage. So as Gero was connecting Yamaha to stars like Elton John, he maintained a low profile and focused on producing results and earning trust. That ultimately allowed him to found the Yamaha Entertainment Group
and to base operations in the Nashville area, out of the spotlight and working with a small group.
Gero revealed that the Yamaha Entertainment Group is a unique entity within Yamaha not just because of its focus but because of its small size and personal nature. Being able to maintain such a working environment in a conservative corporation resulted from years of successful results from Chris Gero and associates.
The idea of developing an in-house record label grew out of conversations that began 10 years earlier as shifts were becoming evident in the music industry and as various cracks in the economy began to reveal themselves. During this period artists were also becoming more savvy about working with brands and increasingly expressed interest in marketing activities.
One result was a decision to cherry pick some of the best artists both known and unknown who they were already sponsoring and promoting them through in-house media outlets such as Yamaha All Access Magazine
Two years ago the decision was made to do a label leading to its recent launch. Gero says its not a case of throwing corporate dollars at a vanity project nor is it an attempt to emulate major labels. The aim is to focus on profiling exceptional talent and he hopes the imprint itself will become recognized for its releases.
They expect to release no more than 5 albums a year and he considers that an aggressive pace for a project that only involves 5 or 6 people and has a limited budget. Though we didn't get into whether or not the indie label was a good fit, Gero made it clear that this has more the qualities of a small label than a more typical corporate effort.
One benefit the label has is the history of in-house recording and production which gives them access to facilities and expertise. They also have Yamaha's marketing outlets for possible support. Nevertheless, starting a label has never been an easy process and keeping one alive has always been difficult. Given Chris Gero's history, I'm sure the Yamaha Entertainment Group can take care of business. If only the music industry was that simple.