Hear Music a ‘natural next step’ for the coffee behemoth and music retailer, says Starbucks boss. Sir Paul McCartney rumoured to be the first artist to sign to label
Rosie Swash: Guardian Unlimited
Coffee behemoth Starbucks announced today it is to extend its role from coffee shop and part-time music retailer to full-blown record label with the formation of a new company, Hear Music. The company has for the past few years been selling music in its stores by artists such as Ray Charles and Brazilian Sergio Mendes, while also signing distribution deals for previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks and music by Canadian artist Alanis Morrisette.Announcing the formation of Hear Music, the president of Starbucks Entertainment, Ken Lombard, said, “This announcement is a natural next step in our entertainment strategy. Hear Music will add tremendous value to the content offerings and distribution of great music Starbucks customers have come to expect.”
Starbucks purchased the Hear Music brand name in 1999, when the label was a catalogue company; it evolved into a radio channel and began in-store CD sales and sales through iTunes and is now a complete record label that will manage new artists. Reports spread by Fox News, as yet unconfirmed, suggest Sir Paul McCartney may be one of the first acts to sign to the label.
Mark Borkowski, of PR firm Borkowski Services, thinks Starbucks’ latest venture into the music industry will prove to be a double-edged sword for the coffee giants.
“On the one hand, this is a fantastic shield for Starbucks. It’s the third time they’ve announced a new liaison with the music industry in the past few years, and their brand is historically tied to music by way of the traditional folksy, rootsy coffee-shop scene.”
However, the PR man also thinks the dubious ethical value of the Starbucks brand will prove tricky to overcome. “Everybody is trying to get into music, and while Starbucks has a strong link in this area, it is also a passive one. so every now and then Starbucks need to make an announcement like this to reconnect their brand with music. Another problem they have is an ethical one; the negativity that surrounds the brand is their Achilles’ heel.”
The chain’s development into a giant of the music-retail industry has been a controversial one. Dylan caused outrage when he signed a deal to sell material from his 1962 album Live at the Gaslight exclusively through Starbucks. The coffee franchise is a symbol of American capitalism for the anti-globalisation movement and the move did not sit easily with many fans of the notoriously anti-establishment Dylan.
Starbucks has 13,000 stores worldwide and nearly 45 million customers a week globally, making it one of the top 40 music retailers on the planet.