Music entrepreneurs Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind, together with friend and veteran film and TV producer Brian Robbins, have partnered with Universal Music Group to launch All Def Music, a label created expressly to sign, develop and promote YouTube artists.
All Def Music label will seek to identify and cultivate music talent bubbling up on YouTube, in much the same way Rifkind and Simmons once hit the streets in pursuit of promising hip-hop acts for their respective labels, Loud Records and Def Jam.
"How [Russell] built Def Jam and how I built Loud was through the streets and through grass-roots marketing," Rifkind said. "Cut to 20 years later, we're applying this same formula, this same blueprint, using YouTube as our street team, using YouTube as our A&R source, using YouTube as our branding machine."
YouTube has become an important platform for breaking music acts. Teen pop star Justin Bieber famously came to the attention of the music industry through his homemade videos posted on the site. More recently, Korean pop star Psy's "Gangnam Style" video became the first to break 1 billion views on YouTube, catapulting him to the top of the music charts and landing him a major label contract in the U.S.
Both Bieber and Psy are signed to Universal's Island Records.
Vevo, a label-backed YouTube channel devoted to music videos, has become as important as radio in influencing tastes. The channel has emerged as one of the leading sources of Internet video in the U.S., attracting 49 million users who in June watched more than 562 million music videos, according to measurement firm ComScore.
Against this backdrop, Simmons and Robbins announced plans in January to create All Def Digital, a YouTube-backed channel that is expected to launch this fall, featuring culturally diverse talent. Rifkind joined the duo as president and chief executive of All Def Music.
"I wake up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning, ready to work," said Rifkind, who is associated with such artists as Wu Tang Clan and Asher Roth. "I haven't been this excited [in years]."
Universal Chairman and Chief Executive Lucian Grainge said in statement that the launch of All Def Music is part of the label's strategy to work with experienced entrepreneurs in media and technology to find and develop promising talent, and take advantage of the Internet as a new outlet for music.
The partnership returns Simmons to Universal, which acquired his Def Jam in 1999. Grainge also struck deals earlier this year that brought rapper Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, and his Roc Nation label, back to Universal.
"It is truly a thrill to be able to welcome Russell back to our family. As one of the founders of Def Jam with Rick Rubin (whose American Recordings is a part of Republic Records), Russell and Rick created an iconic brand that forms part of the foundation of [Universal Music Group] and a label that has had a profound impact on popular culture," Grainge wrote in an email to Universal employees.
"I can't say enough about how highly we think of Russell both professionally -- his vision and entrepreneurial talents are legendary -- and personally. He is a rare treasure," Grainge wrote. "And with Brian's track record on the content side and Steve's on the business side, they make a formidable team."
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