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Sony Music Nashville Launches Free Flight Records — a New Non-Country Label

Mr. Nimbus | 02/16/2024

Sony Music Nashville has launched a non-country imprint, Free Flight Records, with singer-songwriters Darren Kiely and Ben Goldsmith. Though the company is only announcing the label now, it’s already experiencing success with pop/folk artist Kiely, whose song “Sunrise,” hit No. 1 on the Irish Homegrown chart.

Kiely’s No. 1 in Ireland “signifies what I want this to become in scope and scale,” Sony Nashville chairman/CEO Randy Goodman tells Billboard. “What I hope this will be for us is a significant global proposition as well.” 

The genesis of the label started when SMN A&R manager Nathan Thomas was greatly impressed after seeing the 17 year-old Long Island native Goldsmith perform in Nashville. Goldsmith then came to the office and “He goes from guitar to piano, he sings his ass off. He’s writing songs that sound like they could be on Elton John’s Madman Across the Water but with a very current feel,” Goodman says. “It was one of those things where we don’t really know what to do with this, but we felt like it was important and we all wanted to be involved with it.” 

Trending on Billboard

Then the A&R staff discovered Irish artist Kiely, who had moved to Nashville via New York, via a video online. As his music began to resonate in his native country and the U.S., Kiely , who was influenced by acts like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons, signed with UTA and is now on a headlining U.S. club tour in support of his Lost EP. That set’s “Mom & Dad” has landed in the top 5 of the Irish Homegrown chart.  

Though the first two signings are folk-tinged singer/songwriters, Taylor Lindsey, Sony Nashville’s senior vp of A&R, stresses that the remit for the label is simply to sign artists and authentic storytellers who are “not country…If it made sense and an artist walked in here who was a hip-hop artist or a true pop artist, we wouldn’t take those off the table.” 

Free Flight Records

Releases will be tagged Free Flight/Sony Music Entertainment, not Free Flight/Sony Music Nashville, to reinforce that Free Flight is not a country label. “When people think of Sony Music Nashville, they think of country, obviously,” Lindsey says. “But these artists are not falling into our traditional country mold. From a global standpoint, we want people to not be confused and we also want to make sure that unsigned artists understand that we can have a home for them that isn’t affiliated with our traditional country strategy.”

Free Flight Records resurrects the name of an RCA Nashville-affiliated imprint started in the ‘70s, when acts like Charlie Daniels and Exile were having both pop and country success. “It was created for a similar purpose and that was to serve a movement of music outside of the purely country category,” Goodman says. The label only existed for a short time in the ‘70s and has been dormant since then, but the name still belonged to Sony. “We just thought that could be a really cool bit of connective tissue to what we’re doing right now,” Goodman says. 

At a time when pop labels are signing country acts, such as Warner Records signing Zach Bryan or Columbia inking outlaw country artist Koe Wetzel, Goodman says the borders are gone. “We should be as genreless and as broad thinking as we possibly can because the new world order allows us to do so,” he says. “It’s a fun, creative thing for us, but it’s also a really good business model because we’re sitting right here in the community of this incredible songwriting city. Ben and Darren opened our eyes to what is actually happening in our backyard.”

Goldsmith released For the World Between My Ears on Sony Music Nashville in September but is already working on  his new project for Free Flight. He’s in Los Angeles writing for the album now with such songwriting greats  Dan Wilson and Rick Nowels.

Though terrestrial radio may come into play, the plan is to promote these artists primarily through digital strategies including streaming and social media. “If and when the time is right to work them at terrestrial radio, we will, but for us strategically, whether it’s [Sony Music Nashville] or Free Flight, that’s always kind of the last piece of the puzzle,” Goodman says, though he adds that when Goldsmith toured last year, they serviced his music to Triple A radio. “We thought this is probably a crowd where we should go ahead and create some awareness with Ben,” he says.

For now, Sony Nashville’s existing staff will handle Free Flight’s roster, though Lindsey says “as this progresses, we’ve already discussed the possibility of staffing up and what that could look like.” There is no “magic number” when it comes to how many acts Free Flight will sign,” she adds. 

The goal is simply to sign and build  acts unfettered by attaching labels. “I don’t want people to look at Free Flight and go, ‘Oh, that’s a rock imprint’ or ‘That’s a pop imprint,’” Goodman says. “At its core, it’s just about being as broad minded as we possibly can be.”

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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