December 16, 2008
Equity Music, the label co-founded by Clint Black, suspended operations on Tuesday (Dec. 16). In addition to Black, the label’s roster also includes Laura Bryna, Carolina Rain, Kevin Fowler and new artist Blake Wise. “Our investors tried to find a way to keep the doors open at Equity, but with a struggling industry, an overall decline in discretionary spending by consumers and a total freeze on credit markets, the Board of Directors has been forced to make this difficult decision. … We want to wish our wonderful staff and artists all the best in all their future endeavors,” said label president Tim Wipperman, who will remain with the company.
Equity Music Group was founded in 2003 by industry veteran Mike Kraski, and Clint Black served as its flagship artist. In 2005, the label signed Little Big Town, who had endured a cool reception to their lackluster debut album with Sony. They quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed acts operating in mainstream country music, with their platinum-selling set The Road to Here garnering two Grammy nominations and multiple nods from both the ACM and CMA. Their departure in April 2008, along with the resignation of Kraski the previous fall, signaled trouble for the indie startup.
The wretchedly gloomy outlook of the economy played a part in the decision, with CD sales down almost 20% from last year. Little Big Town, along with the rest of Equity’s roster, owned all recorded material in exchange for the label maintaining a “vested interest” in their careers. Management issues also contributed to the downfall; Wipperman replaced Kraski in November 2007 and aligned the company with two outside investors that fall. In November 2008, Black sued his manager/accountant Charles Sussman and his Music Row firm, Gudvi, Sussman & Oppenheim for negligence in handling the artist’s finances.