[JPL] Arts Journal - The New Jazz Labels (Musician-Led).
Cheryl K. Symister-Masterson
cherylksm at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 11 11:46:07 EST 2005
For those of you having problems opening the page to
this article, I've pasted it below. It is from
Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com):
Jazz Recording Artists Go
Into Business for Themselves
By LARRY BLUMENFELD
March 9, 2005
When trumpeter Dave Douglas took the stage at the
Village Vanguard jazz club in early February, he
introduced not just his new five-piece ensemble,
Nomad, but his new company, Greenleaf Music.
"I started a new label," he announced, "because you
can sit and complain about the record business until
you're blue in the face. So I decided to put my money
where my mouth is."
With that, he pressed his mouthpiece to his lips and
began "North Point Memorial," an elegiac piece from
his debut Greenleaf CD, "Mountain Passages."
Artist-run independent labels are nothing new,
especially in jazz. (Decades ago, bassist Charles
Mingus and drummer Max Roach formed Debut Records;
singer Betty Carter once founded her own BetCar
imprint.) But established jazz musicians are going
their own way in surprising numbers today, touching on
age-old and new business issues.
In the 1990s, major record labels were reinvesting in
jazz. Mr. Douglas was among the banner signings of
RCA's reactivated Bluebird jazz label. Now these
companies are abandoning jazz, mostly because
corporate consolidation has forced a bottom-line
consciousness intolerant of the music's modest sales.
(The Recording Industry Association of America
estimates jazz to represent less than 3% of the
overall music market; among the 11 genres tracked by
Nielsen SoundScan, jazz experienced the sharpest sales
decline during the past year.)
Mr. Douglas's concept for Greenleaf -- a collaboration
with industry veteran Michael Friedman -- addresses
basic truths about the jazz business: Today's artists
have expansive stylistic palettes and far-flung
audiences; the Internet and other alternative means
have forever altered music marketing; and major
labels, once viewed as prerequisites to success, are
no longer primary outlets for career advancement.
"It's time to broaden the sense of where our music is
going, and to have labels that reflect that sense,"
Mr. Douglas says.
Greenleaf responds to common complaints about record
labels: unrealistic sales goals; royalty formulas that
frustrate artists, often deferring earnings until the
label has realized a substantial profit; and a sense
that artists are shut out of marketing and
distribution decisions. The label offers artists 50/50
profit-sharing deals, and makes them partners in other
ways. "The musicians will know everything we do," Mr.
Douglas says, "and will serve an integral role in the
Bandleader and composer Maria Schneider has departed
even more radically from the traditional business
model. Her "Concert in the Garden" earned a Grammy
Award this year for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Recording
-- perhaps the first such recognition without a single
CD available in stores. Ms. Schneider has forsaken her
former label, Enja Records, to command the business
side of her career through the Internet platform
ArtistShare. Her latest recording is available only
"The experience with Enja got me on the map," Ms.
Schneider says. "But this model is better for me. It
gets rid of the middlemen, going directly to my fan
base. Also, it allows me to share much more than just
Click onto Ms. Schneider's Web site, and you'll find a
tightly organized list of options resembling the
marketing brochure of a savvy nonprofit arts
organization. An MP3 Download Participant ($12.95)
earns access to the music; a Limited Edition CD
Participant ($16.95) gets the actual CD (only 10,000
were manufactured). For $65, a Composer Plus
Participant receives samples of music scores and sound
clips from rehearsals. And Bronze Participants ($250)
are listed in the liner notes as "helping to make this
"For so long, artists were happy just to get a record
deal as some sort of recognition," Ms. Schneider says.
"Now people can set up their own rules of the game."
Through ArtistShare, Ms. Schneider has sold 4,000
copies of her CD so far -- roughly one-fifth of her
previous album's sales -- but has earned far more
money than on past projects. She seemed as happy about
breaking even (her recordings involve big budgets) as
about getting the Grammy nod. Other notable jazz
musicians, including guitarist Jim Hall and pianist
Danilo Perez, now work through the site as well.
Last month, bassist Dave Holland, a celebrated jazz
veteran, released his latest big-band CD, "Overtime,"
on his new imprint, Dare2 Records. The album made its
debut in the top 10 of Billboard magazine's
Traditional Jazz Chart. The move ends a 32-year
relationship with ECM Records.
"I have nothing but affection for ECM, and I'm proud
of that association," Mr. Holland says, "but,
generally speaking, labels are not prepared for
long-term development of an artist anymore. And that's
what jazz requires. These days, labels need an
artist's music to sell well from the start. They find
it hard to lend the type of support that builds an
audience over time, and to alter their standard modes
of marketing as the situation may demand. This, and
changes in the music market in general, have opened up
avenues for artists to find alternative ways."
Mr. Holland thinks about offering fans instant music
downloads after hearing a performance. And he mentions
another incentive to start a label: the importance of
owning his own master recordings (in most cases,
labels own recordings and pay artists a royalty). "For
our children and grandchildren, it would be nice to
own our own work," he says.
Ownership of masters is a major concern. "It's the 'in
perpetuity' part," Mr. Douglas explains. "Keeping
music in print. A new jazz recording may not sell well
now, but 50 years from now, somebody is going to make
money on the reissue of these master tapes. It keeps
happening." (Mosaic Records, for instance, has
realized significant sales for reissues of Thelonious
Monk's earliest Blue Note recordings, which sold
poorly in their day, and for the work of lesser-known
musicians such as pianist Herbie Nichols.)
Mr. Douglas ran into saxophonist Branford Marsalis at
the Village Vanguard some months ago and gave him a
bearhug, in thanks: Mr. Marsalis left Columbia Records
three years ago, after some 20 years, to launch his
own label, Marsalis Music.
"Like a lot of musicians, Dave was inspired just to
see it happen," Mr. Marsalis recalls. For a short
time, Mr. Marsalis had been responsible for signing
new artists to Columbia.
"The Columbia executives told me they wanted to return
to jazz's glory days. But they and other major labels
have actually said in no uncertain terms that they
can't be interested in what we do." With Marsalis
Music, the saxophonist has accomplished precisely what
he set out to do at Columbia, releasing albums by
pianist Joey Calderazzo, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, and
guitarist Doug Wamble in addition to his own music.
The label continues to grow modestly, on its own
terms, with sales for Mr. Marsalis's output rivaling
his Columbia track record. The company is small enough
to customize its marketing approach for each project,
Mr. Marsalis says, and it offers a royalty provision
that provides payments to artists from the first album
Meanwhile, executives at most major labels have
reduced or altogether eliminated active jazz rosters
to focus almost exclusively on reissuing classic jazz.
"It's plain-and-simple economics," said Verve Records
President and CEO Ron Goldstein. "For whatever
reasons, jazz artists don't seem to be connecting to
the audience that's out there. And given the state of
the industry, established labels might not be the best
place for them to achieve their goals. I keep waiting
for someone new to come along -- even one artist that
will be today's Miles Davis or John Coltrane."
But the musicians who carry these legacies forward
revel in the possibilities of the here-and-now.
"I think it's easier to reach your core audience than
it used to be," says Mr. Douglas. "People who are
interested in my music now make a point of putting
themselves in the path of the information."
Not all corporate-run labels have shied away from
jazz. The Nonesuch imprint of Warner Brothers Records
has made jazz an integral part of its eclectic mix of
genres. And Blue Note Records continues its stalwart
In general, these labels welcome the upstart
independents. "They're far from a threat," says Blue
Note President Bruce Lundvall. "They may end up
raising the water level for jazz in general and, if
they're truly innovative, may have something to teach
For musicians, these new ventures are a source of
empowerment in the face of uncertainty. "There's a
good deal of hand-wringing going on in the music
industry right now," says Ms. Schneider. "But for
creative musicians who are willing to be creative
businesspeople, these are the best of times."
Mr. Blumenfeld, an editor-at-large for Jazziz
magazine, last wrote for the Journal about Jazz at
Cheryl K. Symister-Masterson
Co-Host of Jazz Flights, Fri., 6am-8am
WMUA 91.1 FM / UMass Amherst
105 Lincoln Campus Center
Amherst, MA 01003-1230
Listener Line: (413) 545-3691
cherylksm at yahoo.com
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