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Guitar picks and... computer bits?

Guitar picks and... computer bits?

Do country music fans and computers mix? Gaylord Entertainment is betting yes. The company is already busy gathering material for its Country.Com Internet site, the first phase of which will be launched this fall. Initially, it will offer computer-savvy fans access to extensive—and constantly updated—information about country music, country stars, motor sports, and outdoors activities. In doing so, it will involve users with Gaylord’s kingdom of country-related properties, including TNN, CMT, TNN Motorsports, TNN Outdoors, the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland USA, the Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, the Wildhorse Saloon, and the Ryman Auditorium.

Country.Com’s second phase is expected to be in operation during the first quarter of 1997. It will enable users to buy merchandise, order Opry tickets, book rooms at the hotel, and so on. The site is being developed under the guidance of Martin Clayton, vice president and general manager of Gaylord’s New Media, Network Enterprises.

“The three things we have that distinguish us and give us really exciting potential,” Clayton says, “are, one, a [clearly defined] category—country music and country lifestyles.... Two, the marketing muscle of TNN, CMT, and CMT-worldwide to point their audiences to Country.Com.... Three, the fact that the country music fan, the motor-sports fan, and the outdoors enthusiast by their very nature can’t get enough [involvement and participation]. They’re loyal, and they’re interested. That’s the kind of people who use the Web—the ones who can’t get enough. Our real goal is to create a community of like-minded people.”

ABP Interactive and Bellcore are working with Gaylord to develop the new site. Bellcore’s Adapt/X Recommender technology, Clayton explains, enables the system to customize information for each user. “Adapt/X Recommender software works only within the Country.Com domain,” he says. “But as the visitor moves around the site, the technology notes that activity and builds a profile on what [the user’s] likes and dislikes are.... After an analysis of that, it provides suggestions on additional locations of interest.... The end result is that we truly will be publishing to an audience of one.”

For example, if a user repeatedly seeks information about Alan Jackson, the computer program will automatically alert him or her to new data about the star, such as an upcoming appearance on TNN.

Even before the site is endowed with its second-phase “transactional capabilities,” Clayton says it will generate revenues by selling advertising. Promotions on TNN and CMT, he adds, will “drive a very targeted audience back to Country.Com.”

Clayton says he has been in touch with the major labels to gather the essential startup information. “When we get enough content here to satisfy some of our goals,” he continues, “we will switch the site on. Once you switch this thing on, you’ve got to feed the monster every day.... We’re going to hire a staff of writers, editors, and programmers here to update the site daily.”

Pioneering

Japan’s giant and diversified Pioneer LDC Inc. has established the Pioneer Music Group in Franklin, Tenn., under the guidance of music veteran Charlie Lico. A talent manager and former vice president of artist and business development for Liberty Records, Lico says he began exploring the idea of creating an American record label with Pioneer around eight years ago. Specific planning for the operation, he adds, got under way “16 or 18 months ago.”

Bernie Leadon, a founding member of the Eagles and more recently a member of MCA Records’ “rhythm & bluegrass” act Run CNW, will serve as Pioneer Music Group’s vice president of A&R.

“We are looking into every genre [of music] right now,” Lico reports. “We’re talking to a number of acts from roots-rock to alternative. These young kids out there have such a feeling. Some of these bands remind me of the bands of the ’60s, just really free-flowing and with really interesting arrangements. And they’re not so calculated.”

As Pioneer signs acts in different formats, Lico says, it will create different labels for the music. Country music “is a low priority” for the new operation, and Lico admits that one of the reasons for locating in Franklin is to avoid some of the country overtones a Nashville base would imply. He is quick to add that he isn’t complaining about the prevalence of country—he’s just trying to develop other fields of talent.

Pioneer Music Group plans to release three or four albums its first year. Within “six to 12 months,” Lico says, the company will also establish a music publishing division. He may also bring a management operation into the overall structure. “I consider it an arm of the record company,” he notes.

When it comes to selling albums, Lico says, “We are looking at every possible delivery system we can get to, not just [customary] retail. We’re also considering direct mail, Internet, and other forms.... We’ll do everything that’s done traditionally [to promote record sales], when it’s right. But our feeling is that setup is the most important thing and that artist development is crucial. We want to take more of a grassroots approach, making sure that the artist is comfortable, that we are building what we need to build, and that we are going after the consumer [instead of] the trade. Then once we get to a point, we’ll take it into the traditional methods. But we want to be as nontraditional as we can be.”

So far, the fledgling label has not settled on a distribution company, but Lico says that representatives from both major and independent distributors have already approached the new company.

Currents

♦ EMI Christian Music Group has purchased ForeFront Communications Group. Established in Nashville in 1987, ForeFront’s artist roster includes DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Geoff Moore & the Distance, Rebecca St. James, and Big Tent Revival.

♦ Chuck Howard, vice president of A&R for the Curb Group, is working on a “Three Hanks” album that will blend the voices of Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., and Hank Williams III.

♦ Songwriter/producer Chris Waters is the new vice president of Tree Productions. Waters currently coproduces Terri Clark and Joel Nava.

♦ Merrill Farnsworth has signed an exclusive songwriting deal with Sony/ATV/Cross Keys/Molto Bravo Music. She is a cofounder of the Hummingbird studios in Nashville and has written lyrics and music for commercials for McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, KFC, and other national and international companies.

♦ Singer-songwriter Skip Ewing has signed with Word Records’ country label, Word Nashville. Ewing earlier recorded for MCA and Liberty, racking up such hits for MCA as “I Don’t Have Far to Fall,” “Burnin’ a Hole in My Heart,” and “The Gospel According to Luke.”

♦ If you want to hear the living definition of traditional country music, listen to “Don’t Tell Mama” on Ty Herndon’s new album, Living in a Moment.

♦ Here, without editorial change or comment, is a classified ad from the August issue of Yankee magazine: “Will swop 2 Brooks Brothers suits, size 44 regular, for a Stetson cowboy hat, size 7 3/8, and a pair of cowboy boots, size 10 1/2.”

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