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Industry Waits as Warner Music Decides on Artist Roster Cuts

Times Staff Writer

Next out the door at the newly private Warner Music Group: dozens of mostly underperforming artists.

Music insiders are scrambling to identify which recording acts are being slashed from the roster as new management takes charge of the record company, which Time Warner Inc. sold to private investors this year for $2.6 billion.

A slew of acts is due to receive walking papers as the company consolidates its major East Coast labels, Atlantic and Elektra, sources familiar with the matter said. About 50% of the labels’ combined roster of about 170 acts will be let go, the sources said.

Among the casualties they identified: pop-rock band Third Eye Blind, whose album last year made a disappointing showing with just 220,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.

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Other acts may shift labels within Warner Music as a result of the roster review.

With the exit of several top executives at Elektra, one of that label’s top-selling acts, rock icons Metallica, struck a deal to have its next -- and final -- new album under its contract marketed and promoted by Warner Bros. Records, sources said.

In addition, Warner Bros. will oversee the sales of albums from specialty label Nonesuch, which had been affiliated with Atlantic, the sources said.

Lyor Cohen, Warner Music’s U.S. chief executive, declined to detail the roster cuts but said, “The tipping point of whether an artist remains is the company’s passion to market and promote them. Everyone that remains we’re going to be insanely passionate about.”

The roster review comes as part of a broader effort by Warner Music’s new owners, including its chairman, Edgar Bronfman Jr., to cut more than $200 million in costs.

In March, the company began a reorganization in which about 20% of Warner’s approximately 5,300 employees are being let go. Bronfman’s management team -- in a move that is becoming increasingly common in record company suites -- also notified many senior executives that they had to accept salary cuts of as much as 30% if they wished to remain on the payroll, sources said.

Warner Music also is pressuring outside contractors to lower their costs. In recent weeks, for example, Warner cut ties with radio monitoring firm Broadcast Data Systems after the firm declined to accept a new contract that would have cut its fees by well over 50%, sources said. Warner instead struck an exclusive deal with rival radio tracking firm Mediabase, which accepted lower fees.


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