Reissues, a booming side of the major labels’ business during the CD era, have gone into eclipse with the waning of the format, but a new breed of catalog imprint run by veteran execs — most of them former chieftains at major catalog divisions — is enthusiastically picking up the slack.
New labels like Real Gone, Omnivore Recordings and Rock Beat Records, run by the likes of former Collectors’ Choice Music exec Gordon Anderson, former Rhino Entertainment execs Cheryl Pawelski and Arny Schorr, and ex-Warner/Chappell Music senior VP Brad Rosenberger, are targeting collectors with the music they grew up on — and selling it on vinyl as well as CD — even as the industry moves to newer distribution models.
“Not only did the market diminish and the retail space (for reissues) diminish, but the staffs diminished,” notes Pawelski, former Rhino VP of A&R. “There was no longer a commitment, if you will, to running through the vaults and finding things that could be sold.”
All the new reissue lines go through conventional retail distribution channels — Real Gone through Sony-distributed Razor & Tie, Rock Beat through E1 Entertainment, Omnivore through EMI. Their operators know they are taking a slice of a diminished market, and their sales objectives are modest.
“How much can we move? I’m confident that we will move, over the course of the titles, 3,000 to 5,000 (copies),” says Anderson.
Says Schorr, “It could be 750 units, it could be 2,000 units. There’ll be things like Moving Sidewalks where the potential is there … that we can sell considerably more than that. But we’re being very judicious about what we release.”
For the most part, the new-look reissue companies launched by doing what comes naturally. Real Gone, formed by Anderson (who exited Collectors’ Choice at the end of 2010, shortly after parent company Infinity Resource was sold to wholesaler Super D) and Gabby Castellana (whose own reissue-oriented distributorship Hep Cat Records was also owned by Infinity), is packaging collections of ’60s singles by pop singers Joanie Sommers, Shelby Flint and Connie Stevens.
“At Collectors’ Choice, we found there was a real market for singles collections of early-’60s and mid-’60s acts,” Anderson says. “Those are the versions that people heard on the radio back when they were teenagers, and those are the versions that those grown-up teenagers who are now collectors or enthusiasts want to hear.”
Real Gone debuted its first LPs this month: re-releases of two sets by the ’60s garage band ? and the Mysterians. Anderson says the potential field of reissue candidates is exponentially increased with the market growth of vinyl, and adds the Real Gone will be reissuing as many as a quarter of its collections in that format.
Real Gone was also happy to pick up the “Dick’s Picks” series of authorized Grateful Dead live bootlegs. While the Dead enjoy an exclusive arrangement with Rhino, the Warner Music catalog division licensed the titles to the start-up.
“Rhino wants to focus on high-visibility and higher-ticket titles,” Anderson notes. “They’ve got bigger fish to fry with the Dead” — meaning projects that bring in greater revenues than do bootleg concert compilations.
Meanwhile, true to its Rhino roots, Rock Beat — formed by former Rhino homevideo exec Schorr and Richard Foos, Rhino co-founder and CEO of Shout! Factory (with ex-Rhino A&R exec James Austin overseeing the release schedule) — is pursuing an eclectic release schedule. Its offerings have encompassed vintage blues and R&B (T-Bone Walker, Ike & Tina Turner), roots music (the Blasters, Big Sandy), country (Rodney Crowell, Travis Tritt, Buck Owens) and pop (Billy Vera, Jackie DeShannon). There’s even a naughty ’50s “party record” by Faye Richmonde.
“We’re being very judicious about what we release,” Schorr maintains. We’re trying to do as many enhanced releases as we can.” As an example of the latter type of product, he cites the label’s re-release of San Francisco psychedelic band Quicksilver Messenger Service’s self-titled 1968 debut, augmented with nine additional tracks.
Omnivore, too, has rolled out a diverse release schedule. The label, formed by Pawelski, Rosenberger and graphic designer Greg Allen, debuted on Record Store Day this year with a limited-edition LP version of cult rock band Big Star’s much-cherished third album, and has rare releases like Leon Russell’s “Live in Japan” and the Motels’ “Apocalypso” on tap.
“It was never our intent to be a label that just repurposes material,” Pawelski says. “I’m more interested in material that has a story and that is not available. The Leon Russell (album) — half of it was very obscure, and the other half of it was not available. The Motels record was totally shelved since 1981. The things that we put out have got to have a great story.”
Of all the new imprints, Omnivore has been the one to embrace vinyl most enthusiastically. “The concept dictates the configuration,” Pawelski says. It has issued colored-vinyl versions of the Motels album and funk compilations by Darondo and the Two Things in One; in January, it will offer first-time LP releases of ’90s rock-pop act Jellyfish’s two albums.
As for Rock Beat, Schorr says vinyl releases are going to be done selectively. So far the company has issued LP versions of rap titles by Ice Cube and Ice-T, and plans to release a two-LP rendering of the rare and much-bootlegged album by the Moving Sidewalks, the ’60s Texas band fronted by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
Adds Omnivore’s Pawelski: “A lot of the music I’m interested in might not have that broad a market anymore. And I’m OK with that. But it’s gotta make sense. … If we sell 5,000 to 10,000 units on something, that’s a great day. That’s a hit!” n