Saturday, January 12, 2008

Which is more "risky" - an album by Beth Rowley or Portico Quartet?

Something I don't understand from the way that major labels work is their attempt to play catch up and mimickry with each other. That certainly doesn't chime in with what I can recall of portfolio theory when I worked as an economist. In that, you invest in a range of stocks, with a small amount in high risk, high return.
But what record companies seem to be doing at the moment is compete with each other to sign vocalist upon vocalist. Trying to have them follow in the steps of Amy Winehouse recently, but without the extra drug and behaviour "baggage". Each is quite an expensive "investment". It seems ironic that it is left to the small labels, such as Babel, to spend its (my) money on higher risk artists - more creative and less likely to sell fast. Even if the actual absolute amount spent on, say, releasing an album like Knee Deep In The North Sea is a fraction of that spent on Beth Rowley, in terms of the percentage amount that Babel has in total available to spend it is high -probably 10% of my annual budget. Certainly, I have noticed that Portico Quartet is now number 1 in the HMV jazz chart, and I can confirm that it has nothing to do with any payments for racking space to HMV. It also means that we can make a profit much quicker than the majors can. We are also much more flexible
Perhaps the major labels have a problem of high fixed costs (not just "flowers and fruit" or their powder equivalents which alone totalled £20,000 a month at EMI). Staff overheads mean that the actual cost of recording an album is low relative to the marketing, and admin costs. Also that the corporate machine is much slower.
Is it "safer" to release vocalist number 36? And to push her hard, so as to dilute the quality out there, such as Babel's own Christine Tobin or Paula Rae Gibson because one doesn't get the chance to hear them away from venues such as the Vortex. Surely it's safer to spend a fraction and get albums of the quality of Polar Bear's Held On The Tips Of Fingers into the stores. Which didn't make incredible sums of money for Babel, once one paid for manufacture, copyright and royalties, but certainly has made a profit on a lower level of sales. Meanwhile, an album such as Billy Jenkins' Songs Of Praise Live! will give me a lot of pleasure for a relatively low outlay and have a much more important long-term importance. (By the way, when Babel started, there was discussion with Polygram (the predecessor of Universal) to release the work of Billy. They were a bit frightened, though Wulf Muller, still one of the heads there, is a great fan. The album finally came out as Suburbia. Have a listen and let us know if you think that it's a better thing to release than some of the other stuff appearing on UCJ.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having just heard a pre release copy of Beth Rowley's cd "Little Dreamer" due out in a month or so I would say that Universal have put their money into a very sound investment. That's not to say of course that Bable will not also make good with some of their own singers. I guess its a case of "horses for courses". As a current economist I see Universal taking a quite small risk investment with some pretty classy gilts in this particular case of Rowley.Good luck to all of you!