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The new guard in Nashville: With major labels faltering, new kids arise on the block

By Brian Baker, May 2001

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Lauderdale is typical of the kind of artist that DualTone is seeking for its roster, according to Herrington, a former Arista Austin executive. In addition to Lauderdale, DualTone has signed Radney Foster (whose live album comes out in June with a pair of new studio tracks), Jeff Black and Chris Knight. The label debuted in April with an AC/DC bluegrass tribute album by Hayseed Dixie.

"We look for the cream of the crop, but not necessarily something that's a slam dunk radio hit that sounds like everything else on the country chart right now," says Herrington. "That's not the game we're going to play. Music Row is great at what they do, and that's what they do. We're going to be the other side of that."

This declaration of independents is certainly not lost on the majors.

Although the majors set this chain of events into motion themselves, in an effort to stem the tide of artist defections and to retain some of the small label charm, Polygram and Sony have set up small, indie-like labels within their larger companies.

Labels like Lost Highway (Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Kim Richey, Robert Earl Keen) and Lucky Dog (the Robison brothers, Jack Ingram) have sprung up within the label system, benefiting from a smaller headachy as well as the incredible distribution machine available through the parent labels.

Time will tell whether or not this strategy will prove effective. With the upheaval caused by the major label realignment and the number of smaller, more versatile labels cropping up to fill the void left by the majors' departure, the only real certainty is that the label structure within the music industry will never be the same. The lines between the amateur and the professional, the very big artist and the very small, and the corporate and the independent, once very clearly defined, have all gotten very fuzzy and indistinct.

Regardless of the path that any of the labels may be taking on this strange new trip, VFR's Jim Hester likely speaks for the majority.

"We're not limiting ourselves to any genre," he says. "Our thinking is that we want to find music that we like and figure out a way to sell it."

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