In a neat piece of wordplay today's Independent newspaper has a supplement in praise of Independent Music. Here are some of the highlights from Michael Church's article:
Gavin Bryars, whose Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, in which a tramp's accidentally-recorded song was put through a labyrinthine series of transmutations, is one of our best-selling contemporary composers. Yet since he began putting out his works on small labels "who were ready to take works from experimentalists like me, who the majors saw as beyond the pale", he has regarded those majors as a more of a curse than a blessing. Jesus' Blood, put out on a branch of Philips in the Nineties, has sold half a million copies, but since the costs of jetting an orchestra round the world were so huge, he hasn't seen a penny in profits. "And if I was recording now with a major label, I'd be lucky to do an album every two or three years. Moreover, the executives of that company would choose the repertoire. I prefer to control my own destiny," he says.
And he now does. Using his own label, GB Records, for which his wife does the design and a friendly American production company helps out, he is now re-releasing existing recordings to which he owns the masters, and making new ones with the aid of licensing deals with Latvian Radio musicians. "I do these records partly to keep things in print, partly to control the output, and partly to invest in subsequent recordings. It's not so much about making money, as ensuring the music is heard."
Simon Perry, who has succeeded his father as boss of Hyperion, sees a different threat from the download phenomenon. "Retail record shops, on whom the classical labels depend, survive by selling pop CDs, but as downloads eat into that market, they may close. We will have to find other forms of distribution, and downloads - which can't carry the liner notes which are what our clientele require - are not sufficient." That is the challenge.
* I'm glad to say that I bought my copy of Gavin Bryar's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet from the wonderfully independent, and still thriving, Prelude Records in August 1998, and not via the Amazon link on Gavin Bryar's website. Incidentally, Jesus' Blood was originally released on Virgin EG, not Philips as stated in the Independent article. You can check out Prelude's top ten sellers via this link, as I write Sting and Dowland are at number one. Please add your own recommendations of independent record stores around the world using the Comments facility below.
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