“The goal with almost everything we do is to figure out how to make some kind of a profit,” said Gary Severson, Wal-Mart’s head of home entertainment. “But this can also give us the opportunity to add to the brand, and I hope we’ve accomplished that as well.”
Exclusive album deals have been happening for some time with that goal in mind. Wal-Mart and Best Buy, the two largest physical retailers of music, often get special editions of albums, with exclusive songs or video footage. In 2005, Wal-Mart made a deal to become the exclusive distributor of Garth Brooks albums, including a new collection of outtakes. But the Eagles and Journey are the first two major acts that have released albums of new material that are available at only one retailer. And although record labels tread carefully around such deals, for fear of upsetting rival stores, bands need not be so sensitive.
This summer Wal-Mart will carry an exclusive release by the young country singer Taylor Swift in a promotion that also calls for Ms. Swift to promote L.E.I. jeans. (In this case, Ms. Swift’s label was part of the deal.) And Mr. Azoff said that he was already talking to Wal-Mart about an exclusive deal for Fleetwood Mac’s next release. “Classic rock really works there,” Mr. Azoff said.
Front Line is only one of the major management companies that are trying to take on roles that have traditionally been filled by labels. The Nettwerk Music Group, which manages Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan, has set up custom labels for some small artists. And Q-Prime, which manages Metallica, recently hired an executive to start an independent label of sorts.
The idea of treating the label as a middleman that can be cut out fits Wal-Mart’s approach to cost-cutting. In the past the chain has pushed record labels to lower their wholesale prices, arguing that customers would buy more CDs if they were less expensive.
“I think that with any product, when the price goes up, the demand goes down,” said Mr. Severson. “Sometimes it’s about the right artist with the right product at the right price.”
For Journey, some of the success of “Revelation” is also about the right timing. For a band that hit its commercial peak in the early ’80s, Journey has enjoyed an unlikely revival in the last few years. The song “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” has been licensed for “Family Guy,” “Scrubs,” “Laguna Beach” and, most famously, the last episode of “The Sopranos,” and the exposure increased the song’s sales on Apple’s iTunes store. Journey, which has gone through several vocalists, recently hired a new singer, Arnel Pineda, whom Journey’s guitarist, Neal Schon, discovered singing the band’s covers on YouTube.
But Journey would almost certainly not be selling as many albums without the support of Wal-Mart.
“Shelf space has shrunk so much over the last five years that for anyone to give you shelf space and exposure is a big deal,” said Terry McBride, chief executive of Nettwerk Music Group. “Should the labels be worried? There’s been a move away from the labels for a number of years now. And it’s not necessarily their fault. The shelf space to have those records sell just isn’t there. That’s the market reality.”