CMT goes after crossover audience with ‘CMT Edge’

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 10:05pm

Gathered around a cake shaped like a banjo case, people of all ages chatted about music — the sounds, the bands, the business. In the next room over, the Punch Brothers, a Brooklyn-based bluegrass band, worked through a soundcheck.

But instead of taking place in the dimly lit Mercy Lounge or Station Inn, this event was happening high above Commerce Street at the headquarters of CMT.

The party marked the launch of the CMT Edge website and marks a bigger foray by the network into music outside of mainstream country. And with an MTV-based infrastructure, CMT is providing a national outlet for the burgeoning genre of Americana.

“We kinda just started paying less attention to the format that they’re geared to and [more to] just whether or not we liked it,” CMT Edge editor Craig Shelburne said. “It’s a smart business decision, because as product... from major labels slows down, there’s this whole wealth of music over here just waiting to be tapped into, so why not take advantage of that?”

According to Martin Clayton, CMT’s vice president of digital media, the company’s investment in CMT Edge is minimal. They are building off the same web template as MTV’s The Hive — another Viacom-based independent music blog. (CMT Edge won’t be a full-blown TV channel. Leslie Fram, CMT’s senior vice president of music strategy, said CMT plans to mix Edge-approved videos in their regular rotation, and the network’s second cable channel, CMT Pure, will feature 30-minute blocks of Edge artists.)

Clayton hopes to build off other MTV brands, as well. CMT sent a group to this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin to scope out the roots music scene. MTV already produces a SXSW college music showcase called the Woodie Awards. Clayton said CMT Edge is in the early stages of discussion about hosting a half-day SXSW showcase using MTV’s setup.

CMT also expects to follow MTV’s footsteps in launching an artist-controlled web platform. MTV released Artists. MTV in August, which allows artists to claim or create pages on MTV’s website. It allows new and established artists to sell merchandise and music and promote tour dates through MTV’s web platform.