RCA Records has dropped Dunedin native Lari White from its roster, a move that has sent shock waves through Nashville's music industry.
Artists and labels part company regularly, but White was coming off a gold record with her second album, Wishes, which had yielded three hit singles, including Now I Know and That's My Baby. But her current album, Don't Fence Me In, had failed to yield a hit, despite solid reviews, and doesn't even appear among the Top 75 sellers on Billboard's country albums chart.
For years, gold certification sales in excess of 500,000 units has been a benchmark for success in country music. White's departure from RCA last week shows how the business has become much tougher and how other acts might find themselves in the same situation.
"Metal certification at the gold level doesn't mean anything other than that you had one big song, one good song that people got excited about," said Joe Galante, president of the RCA Records Labels Group. "It doesn't have to be the song of the year to go gold."
In fact, the gold album is losing its brilliance because of the increased cost of doing business. Typically, an album costs $150,000 to record, and supporting videos about $100,000 apiece. An album that yields three videos thus costs $450,000 to create. In a recording contract that bills the artist for the cost of videos, all that money and some other costs is deducted from royalty payments until the performer breaks even.
A hit would make money sooner for White if she went to another label and started over, Galante told her. He even offered to help her find another label, according to her manager, Bill Carter.
"The primary reason was not the money," Galante said. "We sat down and talked about the music first and later on came to that discussion."
Carter said White is already talking to another label. Capitol's Walt Wilson said his company had considered pursuing her, but instead is waiting to see if other acts with gold track records may be released by their record companies.
"This was inevitable," Wilson said. "This town cannot stand the number of labels and the number of artists it has thrown into the system."
As recently as 1989, Nashville had only six major labels, and each had deeper rosters. The labels established their priority acts, and artists of lesser priority rarely broke through the system. Now, Nashville has more than 20 labels competing for even fewer spots on playlists at radio, the primary vehicle for exposure.