Small record labels hit perfect pitch

TIME was when just about the only promotions in record shops were in the mainstream pop sections. Records that had already sold in vast quantities a while back and those that had promised so much but had failed to sell at all were offered at small discounts in annual jamborees at the large retailers.

Lately, though, an increasing sophistication has crept in, and it has spread to other parts of the larger stores. For instance, PolyGram, the international entertainment company that owns a fistful of rock labels, has started using the marketing techniques commonplace in pop music to promote artists on its jazz and classical labels.

In common with counterparts at companies such as EMI, it links up with retailers such as Tower, HMV (owned by EMI) and Virgin Megastores (separate from the Virgin record label, which is part of EMI) that have large specialist sections for "label-of-the-month" campaigns and other promotions.

Wulf Muller, head of jazz marketing at PolyGram, explains that the idea is to create an image for its highly regarded Verve back catalogue, by getting significant amounts of it into the store. Having targeted the jazz buffs, it can try to broaden the appeal to non-enthusiasts by drawing attention to the links with in-vogue dance music and other genres.

This sounds beneficial to the independently minded consumer. But it is not all good news. The small record companies, many of which claim to have been offering alternative music to the public long before the majors discovered the strength of their back catalogues, frequently find themselves unable to compete with such marketing muscle for the attention of retail buyers. While jazz, blues and even classical are enjoying a boom, the output of the independents often falls between categories, and retailers who cannot easily pigeon-hole it often decide against stocking it.

It is no accident that mail order and other forms of selling away from the high street are on the increase in this area. Harry Friedman II, who runs the Texas-based Antone's group of labels with founder Clifford Antone, is so disillusioned with the way his records are sold in stores that he is looking at "alternative ways of selling records". The Internet and TV sales are among his options. "Very few people in the stores know the product. The business is changing. It's becoming a software business," he says, in what sounds like a veiled reference to the recent moves of electronics companies into the record industry.

Antone's is the very opposite of this approach. Born out of the blues club of the same name that Mr Antone founded in the Texas capital of Austin 20 years ago, it is largely a personal passion. A self-confessed "blues nut" who professes himself less interested in making money than in making records that will last, Mr Antone has hooked up with Mr Friedman, an experienced producer, to record artists that did not quite fit his definition of blues as practised by Muddy Waters and Sunnyland Slim.

The result is the launch two years ago of Dos, for "roots-based" material, and the more recently established DMZ, offering "alternative" rock for younger listeners. While Mr Antone concentrates on releases by the likes of Snooky Pryor, Jimmy Rogers and younger pretenders, such as Fabulous Thun- derbirds frontman Kim Wilson, his partner aims to appeal to the market that buys records by artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder with releases by such performers as Stephen Bruton and Doyle Bramhall.

But having worked for another Texas-based independent that failed, Mr Friedman knows that it is not enough to rely on your belief that your records are different or of value to succeed in what is an increasingly competitive market.

While admitting that the economics for an operation like his are different from those of the big guns, he is not unaware of the role of marketing. However, it is one thing to realise this and another to put it into practice. "Until you get a 100 or more in the catalogue, it is very difficult to market records," he says.

Another problem is distribution. Where the majors can call on international sales operations, the independents generally rely on independent distributors - often with indifferent results because they cannot counter the clout of the bigger players in the battle for limited shelf space. Antone's has recently signed up with Pinnacle, probably the best-known independent distributor, and is encouraged by early results.

What a company like Antone's gets, says Pinnacle's David Pegg, is "the best of both worlds". It has penetrated the large retailers while having the credibility to deal with the independents. By working closely with the label itself and the promotion company, it typically advises on the release schedule and other matters. "We're able to effectively work as the UK office for overseas labels," adds Mr Pegg.

He is confident that by not diluting the market for the sort of blues and country-based material that Antone's has on offer he can achieve significant sales for the likes of Stephen Bruton, Kim Wilson and Steve James. But here, of course, he demonstrates another difference from the majors. By significant, he means upwards of 10,000 records - a figure that would be of little interest to the PolyGrams of this world.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Ashdown Group: Contracts Executive - City of London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Contracts Executive - Cit...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Debt Collector - Multiple Roles

£21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks