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At Disney Records It’s Also an Adult World, After All

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t tell Carolyn Mayer Beug, Walt Disney Records’ new senior vice president, that what she does is kid stuff. Beug is so sure of Disney music’s appeal to children of all ages that she has launched a major tactical shift in the company’s marketing strategies in order to pull in adult consumers.

A re-recorded “Cinderella” soundtrack, released today, and a new “Winnie the Pooh” album due out on Oct. 10 will mark the record company’s most ambitious push into the adult market to date.

Beug’s first foray into the adult contemporary market for Disney was with “Rhythm of the Pride Lands,” this spring’s spinoff album from “The Lion King,” featuring Grammy-winner Lebo M.

The first single from that album, “Hakuna Matata,” with Lebo M and Jimmy Cliff, was an adult contemporary radio hit.

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“My vision is to take [Disney] beyond a children’s label,” Beug said. “We intend to maintain our presence in the children’s music business, but we can expand into the adult contemporary market because this music appeals to everybody.”

Eschewing business as usual, Beug increased the company’s distribution numbers--traditionally much lower in the children’s music market where music is not radio-driven--and “contemporized” the sound of familiar Disney film scores and songs. Also, in what she describes as a first for the company, Beug hired independent radio and music-video promoters to get the product out to the lucrative adult contemporary market.

Beug, 41, a former CPA, is co-founder of the Westside Children’s Center and an award-winning music-video producer (for Van Halen’s “Right Now,” an MTV Best Video of the Year for 1992). She joined Walt Disney Records in fall, 1994.

Her plan of action clicked into place when she compared the sales of the “Snow White” home-video release last October--"approximately 25 million pieces,” with that of the film’s much less successful re-released soundtrack.

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“ ‘Snow White’ was recorded 40 years ago, and what you were hearing was something that wasn’t very audio friendly,” she said. “The music might be beautiful but the technology was not as good.”

So, with the “Cinderella” release to home video on Oct. 6 in mind, Beug had the 1950 animated classic’s score and songs re-recorded with such adult-friendly artists as Linda Ronstadt, David Sanborn, David Benoit, Take 6, James Ingram and Bobby McFerrin.

“The sales effort will be everywhere,” Beug said, “and our distribution will be phenomenal,” with recording industry marketing--radio and video--added to the mix. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the industry that this little label has more attributes of a major than an independent. . . . The fact that we can go out and ship 2 1/2 million pieces--I want to utilize it to its full capacity.”

The next release, “Take My Hand: Songs From the 100 Acre Wood,” features familiar Winnie the Pooh songs sung by the Chieftains, Kathie Lee Gifford and Maureen McGovern, with Tyler Collins’ “Never Alone (Eeyore’s Lullaby)” as the single and video release.

“Rhythm of the Pride Lands,” Beug’s first adult-oriented effort, “was in its final stages of production when I came on board,” she said. “I looked at the marketing plans and listened to the record and I went, ‘Wait a minute, this is more than just shipping 250,000 units and letting it go.’ We did a video. We hired an independent promoter, Donna Brake, and we went for it. We are near platinum now and no one expected it. I’m very proud of that record.”

“Adult contemporary” covers two demographics, according to Brake, head of Nashville-based Donna Brake Promotion: ages 25 to 54 and ages 18 to 34, with the emphasis on women. Disney’s singles go to “about 200 radio stations,” then to syndicators.

“We were on hundreds and hundreds of stations with ‘Hakuna Matata,’ ” Brake said.

Those 18-54 demographics “and Disney’s demographics are very complementary to each other,” Brake said. “Stations like to do promotions that are family-oriented, they work with Disney World doing trips and contests, so to be able to do music with a company they already feel positive about is an extra plus.

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“We’re just setting up for the ‘Cinderella’ single by Linda Ronstadt, ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ ” she said. “Here again we’re tying in with the release of the ‘Cinderella’ home video and it’s a very familiar song by a very familiar artist in the contemporary format. [Beug] knows that makes a whole package more desirable.

“These are songs people grew up with, but now they’ve got a fresh spin, people hear artists they already play, tied in with a song that they know, then tied in with a product--it makes it more a synergistic thing, much, much bigger than any one component. I think it’s a brilliant strategy.”

“What we’ve got here is a catalogue unbelievable in terms of its scope and evergreen quality,” Beug said, “and we’ve got the ability, because of the Disney machine, to really get this music out.

“We are not artist-driven, we are event-driven,” she noted, “so we are constantly looking for something to promote the records we do. With Disney, obviously, there are always things that we can tag onto.”

Walt Disney Records’ recent venture into the field of children’s recording artists, with such acts as Craig ‘n Co. and Parachute Express, is over, Beug said.

“I have halted signing artists and I’m letting the contracts expire. It’s my belief that with most children’s artists it’s difficult and expensive to really support them. A children’s artist that is really successful is an exception to the rule, Raffi is a good example. He was brilliant, but the success he had was difficult to follow up. It was too difficult to keep up with them promotionally and tour wise.

“Children need something visual,” she added briskly. “What children are drawn to is the event. I defy anyone to sing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ without moving your fingers--that’s the way your mother taught you, that’s the way she got you to listen to the song. So to sign an artist doesn’t mean as much as it does to have the visual.”

But, she said, the company will “continue to support the work the artists have done with us.”

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Recruiting well-known talent for the albums, however, “is easy. Everybody has a warm and fuzzy memory of Disney and many have children now, so bringing them in to cover a Disney song or re-record something, it’s not hard. They all want to be a part of the magic, if it fits in their schedule.”

Beug, 41, is the mother of three children, ages 7 to 12. “I do believe my little boy thinks I go to Disneyland every day,” she said.


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