Universal Music Group taps YouTube talent with new record label

Cimorelli at a June 7 performance in New York City.
(Donald Bowers / Getty Images for DigiTour Media)

Universal Music Group is looking to the world’s most popular online video site for its new stars.

The music giant has partnered with TV producer Brian Robbins and music entrepreneurs Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind to form a new record label focused on acts that have already earned popularity on YouTube.

The label, called Awesomeness Music, already counts artists such as singing sister sextet Cimorelli and singer-songwriter Niykee Heaton. Rifkind said Awesomeness is set to sign two new artists in the next two to three weeks.


“We want to show the world that there’s a new way of doing business,” said Rifkind, best known for founding Loud Records and SRC Records. “We’re using YouTube as a marketing arm and as an A&R source. The great thing is, we can reach our fans at the press of a button.”

YouTube can provide a huge audience for music artists.

Music accounts for much of the most popular content on YouTube, which counts 6 billion viewing hours a month for its videos. The site has helped propel the careers of hit-makers including South Korean rapper Psy, of “Gangnam Style” fame.

Cimorelli, known for vocal harmonies and covers of popular songs, has amassed 2.75 million subscribers for its YouTube channel, and its most popular videos have generated tens of millions of views. Heaton’s video for her song “Bad Intentions” has earned about 1.32 million views.

Companies such as Universal Music Group want to take advantage of that audience.

This is not the first such joint venture for the Vivendi-owned music giant. Last year, Universal Music partnered with Robbins, Simmons and Rifkind to create All Def Music, which was also designed to sign, develop and promote YouTube up-and-comers.

“We feel both these companies could be the next Island or the next Def Jam,” said Rifkind.

Robbins is the creator of AwesomenessTV, the YouTube network that was acquired by DreamWorks Animation last year for $33 million in cash. In the traditional TV industry, he’s best known for executive producing shows such as “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill.”


Entertainment companies have shown great interest in the so-called multichannel networks that aggregate YouTube channels, hoping to reach the younger viewers who follow online video stars. The Walt Disney Co. earlier this year acquired Maker Studios in a deal worth up to $950 million.

Universal Music’s Chairman and Chief Executive Lucian Grainge serves on the board of directors of DreamWorks Animation SKG.

The record company also owns Def Jam, which Simmons founded with Rick Rubin in the early 1980s.

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