Here at The Second Disc, there's a lot of coverage of soundtracks. (For proof, check Joe Marchese's recent exciting review of a few vault reissues by Henry Mancini.) Granted, not every fan of classic pop, rock and R&B catalogue releases is big on orchestral scores and whatnot, but it's an integral genre in the wide, wild world of reissues and worth covering from an artistic point of view.
But recent revelations have shown that soundtrack catalogue comings and goings are worth covering from a business point of view, too. Last week, Variety filed a pretty captivating (if brief) article on the indie soundtrack labels and their continued success.
Perhaps the most striking facts were that this niche market - a bunch of labels catering to roughly 3,000 to 5,000 fans and collectors - are collectively enjoying an estimated $10 million a year. Mind you, that's $10 million in CD sales. No digital, no vinyl, no promotion outside of message boards and a handful of fan sites. And these aren't ultra-obscure releases, either. Between labels like Intrada, Film Score Monthly, La La Land Records and Varese Sarabande (to name just four), the scores to films like Back to the Future, Robocop, Caddyshack, Independence Day, The X-Files, the 1970s and 1980s Superman films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Goonies are just some of the recent or future releases in the past few years.
It's an exciting time for fans; so-called "holy grails" seem to get checked off the list at a rapid pace. And the majors are willing to play along - rumors abound that La La Land, having founded a good partnership with Paramount Pictures, is developing a similar bond with Sony.
The question that arises from such a positive story on a part of the music business is this: what can the business of pop/rock reissues learn from these indie soundtrack labels and vice versa? I think there are a few answers, and you can read 'em after the jump.
- Quality matters. The soundtrack labels are easily as passionate as the fans, too; the liner notes and remastering jobs are revelatory in an age of too-loud, too-boring modern discs. And the label heads are open and affable, posting on fan forums and personally answering e-mails. (The e-mails I got from Intrada honchos Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson thanking me for thanking them for releasing the Back to the Future score were astoundingly personable.) If they can do this stuff on a tight budget (tightened further by the fact that there are union dues involved with these releases), there's no reason a major label act should have a spotty discography on the catalogue side of things.
- Content wants to be free, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be limited. The fact is, these soundtracks do well because they're not pressed with the intention to sell a million. A big ticket release is usually 3,000 to maybe 6,000 - more in exceedingly rare cases - which is a model well copied by Rhino Handmade and Hip-o Select (still not sure why Sony doesn't have as firm a boutique label in place). Bold as it might be to say, I don't see why there aren't more limited releases even when it concerns the big-ticket names. Even something like The Beatles in Mono will not have lasting crossover appeal for most teens. Get their attention to classic music another way - likely some sort of digital means - and then hone and train them to respect quality content.
- Keep looking forward. The soundtrack labels need to figure out their future business model, and they know this. No matter where that takes them - be it digital deals, vinyl (wouldn't that be something) or another place - they're at least aware of their surroundings. Everyone's got to come to terms with this. The box set and nice packaging crowd aren't going away hopefully ever, but that shouldn't mean that labels shouldn't look into all the angles.
What lesons would you teach reissue labels? Sound off below, as always.