It was during a recent, animated conversation about back catalogue affairs that a stunning realization was made. Of all the major companies dealing in music and pop culture, there is one that has a surprisingly subdued place in the world of reissues. Were this company to change their mind about catalogue affairs and start utilizing their vast discography for more box sets and other special titles, it might be a step in revitalizing the whole reissue practice in general.
I’m talking, of course, about The Walt Disney Company.
I know. It’s probably not what you expected to hear. But think about it: you have a film studio which for around 80 years has been putting out some of the best-known and best-recognized family entertainment, with some of the best-loved film and T.V. music connected to said entertainment. Surely a company answering to this description would have a devoted staff working 40 hours a week to bring you the best in reissues, compilations and box sets drawn from all that music.
Of course, the answer is no. Disney Music Group – which primarily consists of main division Walt Disney Records, vintage soundtrack imprint Buena Vista Records and pop-rock arm Hollywood Records (known today for being the home of The Jonas Brothers and such, but also the U.S. distributor for the Queen catalogue) – does not have a catalogue-specific label.
This is a particularly insane thing to consider since Disney has not only one of the best catalogues around, but one of the best reissue producers on hand, too. Randy Thornton, the only staff producer at Walt Disney Records, has been instrumental in getting classic Disney reissues to the public, namely through souvenir soundtracks that Disneyland guests love to purchase (or sometimes even bigger sets, like a lavish box set produced in 2005 for the park’s 50th anniversary).
Thornton is also a champion of digital distribution, which will help Disney evolve in the future but also threatens catalogue fans rightfully deserving of releases that sound good. Disney has in fact toyed with keeping physical distribution of soundtracks to a minimum, which is how Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score to Up never got a CD release last year. Obviously, a happy medium has to be found between the digital revolution and the notable niche market rightfully concerned with quality.
But Disney can find that medium – perhaps better than anyone else in the music business – because they know how to sell to a niche market. Last year Disney launched D23, a special fan club for Disney devotees. The emphasis on both exclusive content (special events, discounts, merchandise and the like) and a reverent eye toward the past (screening lesser-known films and spotlighting fan favorites in the club’s official magazine). Imagine if this thought process naturally lent itself to some sort of boutique label – reissuing classic tunes from all over the company’s history , from classic records sold at Disneyland in the early years to commercially-unreleased music from classic film, TV shows and attractions over the years. The possibilities are frankly endless, and I’m shocked that there seems to be no discussion of such a label.
The Mouse House can be a leader in this field if it wants. It has the resources and the brand recognition/loyalty to draw listeners in and keep them there. Sure, perhaps there isn’t the same kind of loyalty in the pop music spectrum, but it’s not hard to imagine other labels drawing inspiration from such a scenario. All it takes is Disney heeding their own musical advice and becoming the leader of the club that’s made for you and me.