It’s time to ask, what the heck is going on at Columbia Records?
The legendary label, home to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, and Beyonce, has been hit-free for the better part of the last year.
The word ‘Columbia’ doesn’t appear on the top album charts and hasn’t in a long time. It’s made cameos on Beyonce’s duets album with Jay Z (which was a release from Columbia, Universal, and the Carters’ Parkwood Entertainment). New albums by Jack White and Leon Bridges each made brief (one week, two) stops on the charts before vanishing.
Other than that, Columbia hasn’t had a hit single on the charts since last year. That’s when One Direction’s Harry Styles was supposed to come with a monster hit solo album. To date since May 2017, Styles’ self-titled debut has sold a mere 384,000 copies according to Buzz Angle. (Its streaming numbers aren’t much better.) Sony has reportedly poured millions into Styles hoping for a long term superstar, but so far– at least in chart position and sales– that hasn’t happened.
So it was something of a surprise today that Joel Klaiman, executive vice president for promotion, announced his exit. He’s been there six years this time around. He had a previous run at Sony, and in between another six years at Republic/Universal.
But Klaiman has to be frustrated. In January, Ron Perry came to Columbia as president, with no experience ever running a label. Rob Stringer, who’d moved up the corporate hierarchy to be chairman of Sony Music (which includes Epic, RCA, Arista, etc) chose him to bring in new acts.
In the 8 months since Perry has been running Columbia, absolutely nothing has happened. It’s as if the company didn’t exist. What did Stringer expect? Perry had been a successful music publisher at SONGS, an upstart company that was sold to rival Kobalt Music. When the sale was announced, Perry was free. Stringer scooped him up. At SONGS, Perry had signed Lorde, Major Lazer, and The Weeknd.
But at Columbia, Perry has been silent. The biggest news came last week when Sony announced they’d signed a Naples, Florida rapper named Dominic Fike for between $3 million and $4 million. He’s little known, without a big social media following (only 901 Twitter followers). His music is what you’d expect– riddled with expletives and not particularly unique.
Columbia Records is considered the jewel in the crown of Sony Music. Adele is the jewel in Columbia’s crown, but she’s only now starting to think about a new record for next year. In baseball terms, Columbia has no bench of artists to go to while waiting for Beyonce to come up with a surprise release, or Adele to finish, or Springsteen to wrap up his Broadway stint. (A CD from the Boss’s show should come at Christmas, so that will help.)
One insider likened the Perry situation to one several years ago, when Sony turned its Epic Records over briefly to a songwriter named Amanda Ghost. She lived up to her name.