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Record Label Profiles

Darby Christensen: At the Jazz Summit

By Published: January 27, 2004
AAJ: How do you sort through all the demo tapes and CDs you get from musicians wanting to record for Summit?

DC: You know, on the surface it's tough, but the good stuff sticks out. We get so much stuff, and we really don't get our A&R committee together as often as we need to at times just because we get hung up in other things, but we will play them in the office—and you'd be surprised what pops out. For instance that Sai Ghose, it just popped out. It seemed like it just shined a little brighter than the rest. But it is a bit overwhelming when you get a ton of things and then you get a bunch of people calling saying, "when are you going to listen?" And we try to be cool about it because every artist has got a statement. But it's tough. It really is tough.

AAJ: What would you say is the greatest difficulty that Summit faces in creating and promoting its jazz catalogue?

DC: I would say just the sheer mass of product out there. There's just so much. So it's breaking through the clutter. And Allegro, our distributor, does a good job for us—at least probably as good as can be done in this environment.

AAJ: And is breaking through contingent on the music or on the marketing?

DC: That's a loaded question! I would say the music because that's what we're about. The retailers have it set up now that if you want a lot of copies out there in the marketplace you've got to buy shelf-space, for the most part, whether it be on end caps or listening stations. And even to get into those you have to be auditioned. There's a lot of marketing. I think the appearance of the recordings, the covers—we've definitely taken strides to become a first-class look and feel in the bin—it's also very important. You could have the best recording in the world but if it looks like a snapshot from the Seventies on the cover... who really wants to pick it up and listen to it. And unconsciously—and I'm from the school of marketing—the recording sounds better when it looks better. Our graphic designer, Dan Traynor and his company Anvil 88 are absolutely the best.

AAJ: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like people to know about the label?

DC: We really do care about the music and the musicians. It's a tough industry [in which] to make ends meet. We do our best.

Photo Credit

Dr. Jazz

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