Canadian music startup gives Death Row second life

Sun Mar 15, 2009 11:17pm EDT
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By Robert Thompson

TORONTO (Billboard) - The Canadian music startup WIDEawake Entertainment Group is moving from obscurity to Death Row, having unveiled its ambitious plans for the U.S. gangsta rap label, whose catalog includes recordings by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.

Despite a low profile even in its home country, WIDEawake snapped up Death Row Records from bankruptcy for $18 million in January. It now plans what it says will be a "hugely profitable" business strategy for the company, built upon digital and mobile formats, synchronization licensing deals for television and film, and the issuing of previously unreleased material -- including songs by Shakur, who was killed in 1996.

Some industry observers have questioned the acquisition price, but WIDEawake founder/CEO Lara Lavi says there are plenty of revenue opportunities.

"The label hasn't been exploited significantly for the digital market," she says. "There's no mobile exploitation and absolutely no synch (synchronization license) income. When you put those things together, you have a pretty good sense of what this company is worth."

Lavi says WIDEawake's interest in Death Row commenced last summer when Ronald Ovenden, chairman/CEO of WIDEawake investor New Solutions Capital in Mississauga, Ontario, asked her to find a "cash-generating entertainment asset."

She quickly set her sights on Death Row, saying the label's financial details made it attractive. Lavi says that even with all the turmoil surrounding Death Row --including the incarceration of its founder Suge Knight and the bankruptcy -- it was still pulling in $3 million-$5 million in what she calls "passive" annual income, without promotion or significant marketing support.


Lavi has hired former Death Row producer/engineer John Payne as senior vice president at Death Row/WIDEawake Entertainment LLC. Payne says the real opportunities in the 10,000-song catalog reside in unreleased tracks by the likes of Petey Pablo, Kurupt, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and even Beyonce. He's now working with the artists concerned, ensuring that appropriate contracts are in place.   Continued...