Author Topic: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)  (Read 2705 times)


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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #20 on: August 29, 2014, 04:40:55 PM »
I would guess Steve  . . .

Yes that is a guess.  ;D  Sorry but I am not going to say what each artist makes per disc, I can't speak for other artists and I don't wish to give such details about my own deals.
Take care.

- Loren Nerell

Julio Di Benedetto

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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2014, 06:59:49 AM »
Todays newsletter from Sam

My 20-something friend, Case, and I were messaging about music. She wrote:

I feel like having access to so much of something devalues it. I had few toys growing up. The toys I had were very valuable to me. I knew each of them by name and played with them often. When I went to the houses of other kids my age, I found them filled to the brim with plastic toys and junk. Entire floors covered like a scene from Hoarders, the reality TV show about people living with too much stuff.
Many people are digital hoarders. They acquire something simply because it is there (in this case, music) yet rarely look at it again, or savor it. When I dug out my hard drives from 12 years ago, I found 250 gigs of music. Almost all of it was crap. I realized that I had only acquired it because I could. Once I had it, there was too much to listen to. I didn’t savor each song because everything was the same, a name in a digital list. Compare that to my dad’s music. Thought I would make fun of him for purchasing so much, especially what I considered overpriced CDs, that’s where I got the most joy out of listening. Each CD or album or cassette in the living room was a new experience waiting to be explored.

I feel like the MP3 culture was anemic. Growing up, most of the people I knew who downloaded MP3s had absolutely awful taste in music. They didn’t respect it. At LAN parties we’d trade entire hard drives full of music. Did it make anything special? Did we cherish any of that music? Absolutely not. It was just hoarding behavior. The understanding of a limit had been lost. The exceptions were people with parents who passed down their excitement for music.

I realize now that some people learned about music from siblings, or friends, physically bringing records over, or going to record stores and listening there, or at local live shows. How did you get introduced to the music of Brian Eno or David Bowie?

I've been thinking about this. How did I discover music when I was young?

I was introduced to David Bowie on the radio, along with Kraftwerk, The Strawbs, Frank Zappa, the B52s. It was strange music, compared to the popular mainstream rock of the time: acts such as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Meatloaf, Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd – remember, I lived in South Florida! WSHE (103.5) was our local rock radio station mixing in unusual tracks along with the mainstream hits.

The first song I remember hearing a million times on the radio was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which went to #9 in the USA in 1976). It is a weird rock song! Can you imagine something that bizarre getting radio play today? I remember being at the beach with a friend (and his mom) and the song blasting out of car windows in the parking lot.

Wow! WSHE played odd music, which led to finding more odd music.

I cannot honestly say I remember the first time I heard Bowie on the radio; but it must have been “Space Odyssey” or “Starman.” It was the end of the 70s, but his tracks of 5 years earlier were still new to us. Bowie's music came before his image. I'm sure I was interested in the space theme (teenage boy in the 1970s, of course I was into SciFi), and also the alienation. You know: feeling like an outsider in your own world.

But where was the connection from Bowie to Brian Eno? You might think it was via the Low album, but I don't remember getting into that side of Bowie until a while later. It was the very early Ziggy Stardust-period that was familiar to me.

There were two magazines – Cream and Circus – which covered rock music. Lots of Bowie, Alice Cooper, Stones, etc. Rolling Stone Magazine was a bit too square for me (Hall & Oats, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton) and SPIN didn't exist yet (it started in 1985).

Ah ha! Here's the holy grail. I remember buying the October 1978 issue of Trouser Press with Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. This was the doorway to a variety of amazing English music I didn't hear on WSHE. Trouser Press covered mostly prog and English artrock; then in the early 80s it morphed into New Wave & New Romantic. There were also UK magazines (cannot remember the name, but probably Smash Hits, Slash, Underground or something. I still have some of them in a box in my storage space.)

The three magazine covers included in this blog are iconic in my mind. They bring me right back to that era, pouring over the words before I heard the music, and then eventually entering the new sounds and new worlds created for me within this music.

By this time I had bought the Eno Working Backwards 11-LP box set, yet I cannot honestly say that I listened to the first two albums. I was a fan of Before and After Science, Ambient 1, and Discrete Music. I was more about his ambient side, and wasn’t interested in his glam / pre-punk sound. Nowadays, I love Here Comes the Warm Jets; it's a really catchy and quirky album!

Moving along with the “weird electronic” music, I was introduced to Gary Numan when a redneck friend in high school gave me the “Cars” single. It was alien, distant, bizarre. I liked it and dug into Numan, purchasing The Pleasure Principle, but more importantly, Replicas. From Numan, I leaned about an obscure band that influenced him, Ultravox! (Check out "I want to be a machine:" Ultravox! produced by Brian Eno.) I was late to the game, John Foxx had already left the band. The week it was released, I bought Midge-Ure-era Ultravox's Vienna album. I also hit upon other electro pop / synth bands, such as Depeche Mode (bought the first album when it came out!) and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. A friend in high school turned me on to “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, and I had a new favorite band! And let's not overlook DEVO! Are we not men? was an amazing find (again, produced by Eno).

For me, then, it seems RADIO served as my introduction to music in middle school. In high school it was MAGAZINES, FRIENDS and exploring at RECORD STORES.

There was a amazing shop -- Open Books & Records (1979-1994) -- that stocked all the imports and the local bands and underground USA music. I would read about a band in a magazine, then go to Open to check if they had a copy. I’d listen to a track or two to see if I liked the music. Sometimes I picked things up, based purely on the cover (such as The Last Man in Europe Corporation.) Leslie at Open would say, “David Sylvian’s solo album is coming out in two weeks, would you like me to order one for you?” or “You like Ultravox, have you checked out Visage? There's a different singer but Midge Ure and Billy Currie write the music…"

Case talks about trading hard drives of music, but it having no real value, being merely unseen data without context, unsavored. Our situation was just the opposite back in the early 80s; we had to intentionally work to discover music. Each new musical experience was gained by overcoming obstacles, finding something unique. The hunt gave the music a lot of value. While most of my classmates were listening to The Doobie Brothers' "Minute by Minute," or "Sgt Peppers" for the seven thousandth time, I was adventuring into the musical unknown. These albums I found meant so much to me. The obscure music we followed was wrapped deeply into how we identified ourselves. We were underground, individual, non-mainstream. Music was part of that identity,

I began my fanzine, Alternative Rhythms, to cover a mix of the European bands I was interested in, plus local South Florida bands I'd hear about from singles at Open Records. South Florida's music scene was diverse; we had electro-pop from Futurisk ("Split Second Decision" 1982, on YouTube) and Stones/Velvet Rock-n-Roll from Charlie Pickett ("If This is Love, Can I Get My Money Back" 1983, on YouTube). Writing about music served as a pretext to get into bars when I was underage, I went out to cover these bands for the 'zine.

Music discovery meant everything to me. That's still true today. My job at Projekt is finding new music, and spreading the word. It's a different era, yet it's similar to 35 years ago; the difference is now I have taken on the role of being the person who exposes new music to people. Music is part of who I am.

Julio Di Benedetto

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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #22 on: October 07, 2014, 02:48:45 PM »
From Projekt Record's Sam Rosenthal.

Over the last 20 years, Projekt has brought in over $7,000,000 ! Color me impressed (sort of an aquamarine, a little on the green side). But don't make the mistaken assumption that I lined my pockets with cash. Projekt was a very effective money churning-machine, moving cash around the economy. Nearly all of that money went right out the door.

Keep in mind that Projekt was really expensive to run back in the peak era (1995-1999):

* Projekt bought full page ads in Alternative Press
* Projekt had massive bills at the pressing plants. Those deluxe-packaged CDs were pricey to manufacture, I would have to order 5000+ CDs at a time, and often 3 big releases at once. Furthermore, while the option was there to press-for-cheap in China or the Czech Republic, I chose to press in the USA. It was the right thing to do, to keep the money in the "local" economy.
* Projekt artists were paid their royalties
* It cost $1000 to make a poster (film + printing).
* Each release had it's own postcard
* At the peak of our time with Ryko Distribution, they got 400 - 600 promotional CDs for stores, and we sent another 200+ to press, radio, etc. For Lycia, that number was much higher, as they were touring a lot, and Pat was working on local press pieces.
* In that 1994-1998 time frame, Projekt was distributing tons of Hyperium and Tess and Cold Meat Industry CDs; after I moved to Chicago, the label had 11 employees with two key employees earning more than I earned, plus they got health care.
Yes, I took a salary, but nothing extravagant. Pretty much all of that seven mil was consumed by the business.

Now wait! Actually, come to think of it, Projekt consumed way more than what it earned. Projekt was building up debt on my credit cards.

Of course, fans in the late 90s had this perception that Projekt was much larger than we were. All those ads, and postcards, and catalogs helped build the mystique. I remember talking with Mike of Lycia about how fans on the road made guesses like, "You guys must sell 20,000 CDs!" "30,000 CDs!" Oh, if only!

A few releases did some lofty numbers, but these were the best-sellers, not the typical sales numbers. Black tape for a blue girl's 1996 Remnants of a deeper purity was the biggest selling non-compilation release, with around 16,000 sold. Love Spirals Downwards first two albums were each not that far behind. Three compilations did extremely well; the two we released exclusively with Hot Topic: 2002's Projekt: Gothic (27,000) and 2003's The New Face of Goth (25,600); and the first Christmas CD, 1995's Excelsis: a dark noel (15,000).

Projekt was really busy, and bands were getting out to their fans, but by early 2000, Projekt was in considerable debt. In fact, $180,000 in credit card debt, and the future looked like a downward slope. Yikes! That was the time when - if I had a business degree - I might have cut my losses and gone bankrupt. But that thought only flickered by in passing. I left Chicago for NYC; I downsized, huddled, got caught up on royalties due to Projekt's artists, and slowly paid down the debt. In a way, I downsized Projekt at the perfect time. Most of America waited for the fall-out from the dotcom bust, and 9/11, to tighten their belts. Because of the excesses of the '90s, Projekt was a year or two ahead of the crowd.

For a while there in NYC, it was only Lisa and I at Projekt. I kept releasing great music and finding new bands to work with. My budget was very sober and close to the bone.

At that time, people were still buying CDs, yet the music industry was changing. Napster existed from June 1999 to July 2001. On January 9, 2001, iTunes 1.0 was released, though it took a while to take off. Projekt's sales were slipping (like every label in the music business); yet I was bailing out the waters of debt; the ship was righting itself (have I tortured enough metaphors?) When Lisa got pregnant in late 2001, I brought Shea on staff to handle the mail-order.

2002 was the year things really shifted in the industry; it was the year when Projekt's key releases stopped selling in the 5-10,000 range (except for those aforementioned Hot Topic comps, which sold amazingly.)

Fast forward twelve years, I've been adapting and learning every since. Gone are the days when we'd regularly ship out 5000 units of a new release to stores. No more big tours, nor ad budgets, and a lot less cash flowing in and out the door. Projekt is lean. The staff hours are about the same as in the early 90s. I don't work 60 hour weeks anymore. 

When people say to me, "Projekt's problem is you don't know how to adapt to the times," I shake my head and sarcastically mumble, "Yeah, right. THAT's the reason records aren't selling! It's because Projekt hasn't changed since the heyday of 1997." Not at all, my friends. Projekt is small but alive, and I'm enjoying my life. And things are good, thanks!

- Sam

Julio Di Benedetto

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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #23 on: October 13, 2014, 05:05:26 AM »
From Projekt Record & Black Tape For A Blue Girl's Sam Rosenthal.

On Friday afternoon, I hung out with the people behind the electronic label Spotted Peccary Music. They release great CDs plus they're the company that serves up Projekt's 24/96k high res files.

We were sitting at picnic tables in the open-air back-porchy-like room of a typical Portland-styled drinking establishment. Wood-planked walls, beer signs over the steps to the bar, a food-cart belching scented smoke as it turned out Philly-styled Italian food. I'm painting a picture for you, a little setting of reality before this blog heads off and becomes cerebral. We're sitting there, drinking our what-have-yous, having a really great brainstorming session concerning many tangents in the music industry, including physical vs. digital, will people pay for music, and the new landscape for survival.

Howard looks up and asks a question, I begin to answer, but then go off topic and start talking about how fans interact with bands. In "the old days" (the mid '90s), Projekt could release an album from a band with no image (and a lot of mystery), mention it a few places, buy a few ads, send postcards and catalogs, and wham! We'd sell 2-3000 copies. People were itchin' to hear new music, and Projekt was a reputable source for interesting new acts.

But that's not how you get involved with music, these days, is it? Let's face it, "fans" can access most music for free, if they really want to. The old model of a label releasing a faceless band, you heading to a record store to buy their CD, and then hearing their music for the first time when you get the CD home... that's sort of over. What I find through my blogs, Facebook, and Kickstarter campaigns is that you want a connection to the artists you're excited about. Few bands can survive, reclusively hiding in their bedroom-studio-caves. Yes, maybe a few legacy bands can get by on that, but certainly not younger bands; and certainly not older bands who never successively made the transition to the promotion-connection of social media in the modern age.

I see this problem, over and over. I speak with artists who haven't had an album in ten or fifteen years, and they pull out absurd examples for why things should be a certain way; "Back in 1994, when we toured...." or "When the old label was placing the ad campaign for my last album in 2006." Man, that's a million years ago. The record industry doesn't work like that anymore!

Well, I could shorten that sentence down to, "The record industry doesn't work."

This is the point where my brain shoots off onto a hundred different tangents. Try to follow me here.....

What motivates us artists to keep going?
For Xmas 2009, I posted a blog concerning the topic of Success. In it, a number of Projekt (and related artists) talked about what success means to them. Hold on a minute, I am going to go back and re-read it now, with five years of perspective.
Yep. I still agree with what I wrote back then: " the end, what I really enjoy is successfully making the artistic statement I want to make. When each album is fresh and new, it is the most accurate statement of where I am, creatively. At that moment, I am complete."

But, I would clarify that.

To me, success is having my artistic statement received by the listeners. I like when that communication is completed.

And yet, that's not what my brain thinks about. I need to do some self-reflection, to understand why I still have a money-centric definition of success.

Units and Dollars
Here’s the thing, Black Tape For A Blue Girl and Projekt was huge when the music industry measured success in units sold and dollars earned. Back in the 90s, bands like Blacktape could sell a lot of records. As mentioned last blog, at the peak Blacktape's 1996 Remnants of a deeper purity sold around 16,000 copies.

( That was then. I don't live in the past. I only expect a fraction of that, for the next album. )

And yet, I find that I cling to that old belief: units and dollars indicate success. I am using an outdated measuring stick.

I know there are fans of my creations; people who really connect to what I am working on (and what I have created in the past). And yet, I am still thinking that the way to measure that success is the same as it was in the mid-90s: by looking at a spreadsheet containing units and dollars.

I’ve been asking myself, "What is success to me?" or "Why did I want to make art in the first place?" The answer, as I said above, is: I want to communicate. For me, successful communication is the goal of making art. What matters is that people receive my work. They experience it. And that is not at all related to profit. In fact, I probably have more 'success' (by my own definition) now, then 20 years ago. Why do I say that? Because anyone can hear my work, without the barrier of having to pay for it.

So, why doesn’t that feel good to me?

Well, part is because I cling to the old paradigm about sales.

And the other part is I have this underlying belief in "fairness." If I spend the hours doing the work of being an artist, I should get paid!

A friend wrote -- when I asked him why this "getting paid" matters so much to me -- "Perhaps it's a matter of ethics, not so much the actual number but the idea of getting paid. After all, you try and pay people what you say you will pay them, on time and quite accurately; then I think you expect the same of others."

I don't want my favorite artists to be amateurs.

I really want to live in a world where artists can focus on their art. Would I want John Cale to have to work as a viola instructor, so he can take off two weeks a year to play some shows? David Bowie, maybe he's a graphic designer? Marc Almond, he's probably a drag queen, or turning high-end tricks with members of the Houses of Parliament :) . Voltaire is a bartender, the one that you visit every week because he's so damn entertaining. Think about it! It's a very weird world where the-average-joe expects to be paid for their labor, and yet people are generally OK with the artists they love working some other job so music can be their hobby.

That's not really the way I want the world to be.

My first job was archaeologist...
My first job was computer graphics

You all know that Projekt is my day job. But that wasn't always the situation. In the late 80s/early 90s, I created speaker-support-graphics for a living. I worked long freelance hours, creating dumb graphics that were projected at conventions for the corporate executives from the likes of Taco Bell, Denny's, Acura, Mazda, etc. etc. (This was pre-PowerPoint, but the same general idea.) It paid really (really!) well and allowed me to fund the early CDs on Projekt.

Around the time Projekt was having success with Blacktape's This lush garden within and the first Love Spirals Downwards release, I realized I was sacrificing the label's potential. I wasn't at my desk answering faxes from journalists and my overseas distributors; I was somewhere around the country doing freelance work. This was in the days before the internet; it wasn't easy to keep in touch remotely. I'd return home and have a month off between jobs; and then I worked on music and the label. But too often, I'd leave Projekt unmanaged for two to four weeks, and that was getting to be a problem. I made the decision to stop working the freelance jobs, and focus on Projekt.

Things really took off, there was a lot of interest, and slowly Projekt ate all my time; my own art suffered. By the end of the 90s (because of all the obligations to the bands on Projekt plus the 11 employees), I rarely made time to work on my music. Then into the early 2000s, and the downsizing (mentioned last blog), and I had plenty of work to do (and I had a son!).

My best friend often reminds me that I cannot pass off responsibility for the decisions I made. And he's right. I chose to put my energy into Projekt, rather than my art. It seemed like a wise move at the time: Projekt was getting very successful.

At any other record label, the biggest artist (Blacktape) would have been begged, cajoled, and bribed to get back into the studio. The label needed its biggest act to keep releasing music (if for nothing else, for purely profit reasons). But I was the guy at the label and in the band, there was nobody at Projekt pushing me, to get me on track. If I had a manager, he would have asked, "Do you really think it's smart to keep putting all your energy into dayjobia, rather than into your music?" That was the thing: Projekt was a new day job and just like computer graphics, this job took lots of time away from my art.

It seemed like a wise decision at the time. However, what ended up happening was that I supported 30+ band's careers, while letting down the most important thing: my own creativity.

I let my art go cold for years at a time.

If I had been focusing on my own work for the last 20 years, would I be surviving at it? Would I be like Steve Roach or Voltaire? Spending a huge chunk of my time making art?

(I hope this doesn't come across as regret. That is not the intention, per se. This is me reflecting with awareness of choices I have made in my life, and contemplating whether I've gotten to the place I intended to go.)

It brings up the question, "Could I survive off my art?" I told myself many times over the years, "I don't mind that Projekt is taking up so much of my time. If I had to support myself from my music, I'd have to make compromises to get by." Yeah, sure, a guy in his early 30s can say that. But I'm older now, and I see Steve and Voltaire creating without compromise. And I ask my younger self if that argument was just an excuse, to avoid the hard work. To avoid having to lay it all on the line, and be an artist. If 'an artist' is what I am here to be, then was I chickening out? Hiding behind a reasonably justifiable excuse for not making more art.

Ben Franklin looks around the bar

Ok, so back to my meeting on Friday with Spotted Peccary. The smell of Italian sausages fill the air again, Howard looks up and poses another question. "What's the future for record labels like ours?"

And I reply, "I'm sorry to say it, but there is no future. Projekt will not be able to continue as the label that discovers amazing new acts and releases them on CD. Because these CDs just don't sell anymore. I cannot keep investing in CDs, when the demand is for less than 250 copies."

Some will misinterpret that statement, so to be clear: Projekt is sticking around! I will keep releasing exciting music on my label. But the logic of releasing acts that barely sell? There is no logic in that at all.

I have to be realistic.

For me, personally, I want to make a transition back to being an artist who runs a record label, rather than a record label guy who has a (mostly) dormant artistic career.

I have thoughts on how to do that (which I will discuss in an upcoming blog).

The intrinsic value of music

For now, I have to be aware of my old connection to dollars and units. I have to recognize that my goals as an artist are not tied up in those numbers. Yes, I definitely believe there are ways to make a living creating music. But even more than that, I believe I can foster a better connection with each of you. Many of you are fans of what I create. And you still value music. It's the core of what matters to you. It's your soundtrack. It's what gets you through your days, both good and bad. And I am told over and over (via email, Facebook, and Kickstarter) that music is worth a lot to you.

You are the completion of the circle that gives what I do meaning.

Music has an intrinsic value to you. It is important in your life. The same way NPR is important, and modern dance companies, and historic art house theaters. You don't want to see music disappear, or become the realm of amateurs.

We're thinking the same thing. Music has value, and it's something that's worth supporting.

I'll post some great new ideas about this shortly.



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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #24 on: October 13, 2014, 06:50:23 PM »
I love these Sam posts. So much to think about.

drone on

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Re: Sam's Thoughts on the "music industry" (Projekt News Letter)
« Reply #25 on: October 13, 2014, 09:20:23 PM »
Most anticipated Projekt CD this year:  Steve Roach & Jorge Reyes--Ancestor Circle.  Woo hoo!!!!!