Gerry Koster manages Newmarket Music, based in Melbourne. Newmarket releases a range of music, mainly by artists in Melbourne and more recently in Sydney. The label is mostly jazz-based but with a smattering of blues, and world music. The spectrum spans music from the Macedonian Women's Choir to Ren Walters – two extremes on what Gerry sees as a continuum of under-represented music. I spoke to Gerry in his office about the label, and about the jazz community – subjects that are both close to his heart. AAJ: Tell me about how your association with Newmarket Music began.
Gerry Koster: I came to Newmarket in about 1995 or 1996. I was working at PBS [Public Broadcasting Service in Melbourne, a metropolitan community radio station] and a friend of mine there recommended that I talk to the new manager here at Newmarket, because they were looking for a sales representative. The last job in the world I would have been looking for was as a sales rep – for anybody – but I visited the office, had a coffee and before I knew it I had a bag of samples and I was going and visiting shops in Melbourne.
And then I did one of my typical things of quitting my job, packing up everything, putting on my backpack, buying a one-way ticket somewhere and going round the world.
Eight months later I came back and there was a new guy looking after the business. I had known him when I was working there before I went away. I came back in just to see him, say hello and have a coffee. They offered me some part-time work. I took it on and eventually started working full-time and running the company with one other guy. He decided to leave and the owners of the business saw this as a turning point. They told me we had two options. If I decided to leave, the label would close down. All there was, in terms of Australian labels releasing jazz at that time, were probably Jazzhead Records, Rufus Records, ABC Jazz and not really anything else. I didn't see how we could leave Melbourne jazz musicians without a distributor. The business owners said that if I decided to stay on they would give me twelve months and see how it went. I took it on. I'd been traveling for eight months and I was fresh and I thought I could rise to the challenge. At first I was virtually living in the office – it was at least six days a week. That was just cleaning up the catalogue, getting rid of all the dead wood and bringing it back to its original focus as a jazz label.
AAJ: Obviously the distribution side of the business is something you have always taken very seriously – you aren't just in the business of releasing music.
GK: Distribution is a big part of what I do at Newmarket – and that means getting CDs into shops. Some buyers know their jazz but we have to tell some buyers who Miles Davis was. Except for specialist shops, there's no guarantee that the buyer knows anything about the music we are trying to get onto their shelves.
I think the key to breaking into stores is just commonsense. You make friends with these people. You know, I can smell a sales rep – I can hear them before they come in the door in a lot of cases and some of them act like tele-marketers. They come in and they feed you the line. I don’t want to operate like that.
I can call up any store that I deal with on a regular basis around Australia and I don't have to introduce myself. They hear my voice and say, 'G'day, Gerry,' and we can have a chat about this, that and the other and I tell them what I've got and what I think would work in the store. Sometimes they ask me about something obscure I have in the catalogue. They get to trust you. There are a lot of reps out there who walk into a shop and they have a monthly budget and targets to work to. They're under pressure to meet these targets and therefore under pressure to load the shops up with all sorts of stuff. Monthly targets work for Top 40 but they just don't work with this genre.
AAJ: So, what is the answer?
GK: I think the best way to operate is very much on a personal level. I try to establish trust and then once the store trusts you they'll take some of the risks on your behalf. Once they trust you and they see that some of your product actually sticks, they'll work with you.
It works the other way too, with the overseas labels we distribute. We have a series of labels from overseas that we import and distribute and I talk to them on the phone too. I've never met these guys, but we've become friends and they are happy that in the beginning, instead of sending an email or a letter to introduce myself, I called them up and introduced myself to them. I think a lot of this is just common sense.
AAJ: What is the relationship between Newmarket and other jazz labels in Australia?
GK: To be frank, all the different labels are in the trenches together. If I get material that I think is more suited to another label, I will tell the artist to try them and see what response they might get. A couple of the people with recordings on Newmarket also have recordings with other companies. You'll find that happens quite a bit.