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Jazz and the Net

Fantasy Records: An Archive of Many Lifetimes

By Published: February 8, 2005
But now, all is in jeopardy. Fantasy has been purchased by Concord, and no one really knows what is going to happen to the Fantasy catalogue. Logic and common sense dictates that the Fantasy team should continue to do what they have proven to do best, make great CDs. The Fantasy team knows the music, and gives it the loving attention it so richly deserves.

But, cry the naysayers, Concord has paid tens of millions for the library and now that they own it, shouldn't they try and "utilize"? the music in varying configurations to properly "exploit"? their assets?

A few years ago, Joel Dorn bought the MUSE catalog. Joe Fields built quite collection of music himself, perhaps not of the same stature as the Fantasy catalog, but MUSE had many fine recordings from the 70s and 80s. Mr. Dorn, a man who started as a DJ in Philly, repurposed the catalogs, for the most part, as a series of "Best of"? recordings, and created mood oriented compilations like Jazz For a Rainy Day. These titles sold quite well. In fact, at one point, Dorn was the host of a cable television infomercial hawking Jazz For Lovers. A few years later the operation ran amok.

I can only hope, and pray, that Concord won't cannibalize the Fantasy archives. People who don't really know the music might do something like that. Not that I'm pointing fingers, but stranger things have happened. I mean, we're talking respect here: R...E...S...P...E...C...T. That's what our Jazz forefathers have earned. Very few of them got rich off their music. And most of them are no longer living, so we can't change that. But we can treat the music right, like Fantasy has done.

However, I must admit a certain skepticism. Not because I doubt the motives of the good folks at Concord. After all, Concord is a Jazz label. We're all on the same team here.

It's the money people who scare me. The bigger the company, the more likely the possibility the "investors"? and "stockholders"? will want dividends, ASAP. And those are the people who don't know the difference between Wayne Newton and Wayne Shorter. They only know profit margins.

I like profits too, but not when they involve exploitation. Record companies and artists can co-exist, and even help each other, this business doesn't have to be about exploitation. But in the past, there have been certain inequities, between record company and artist. You know the deal.

Part of the evolving music industry, the Jazz record business is also transforming. There used to be a whole slew of what were called major record labels, who had Jazz departments with "budgets."? With their marketing and distribution strength, the major labels yielded lots of power. That's over now. Blue Note is the only one left, Bruce Lundvall is the last record company president still standing. Warner Bros is gone, Columbia is gone, RCA is gone. The only thing that remains is their catalogues. Verve is, well, I'll get into that another time.

In the midst of this revolution in the way people explore and (hopefully) purchase music, there are certain "futurists"? who believe that the major players in tomorrow's music industry will be Apple, Sony and Starbucks. There will be millions of lemonade stand websites globally, but only three big companies.

One doesn't need a crystal ball to see that Apple and Starbucks are already coming into play. The success of the I-Pod and I-Tunes carves out a very big role for Apple's right now. They've got a platform and delivery system that's reaching a whole lot of people. Within a few months, I-Tunes will pass one hundred million sold and that's downloads, not burgers.

The I-Pod is about cool. When you own an I-Pod, it's a style statement. It may be cool and stylish now, but these things tend to change up, sometimes in a matter of months. The I-Pod will be around for a while, but not forever. New technology keeps changing. Remember the Beta-max and the mini-CD?

As for Starbucks, they have already made some serious inroads. When one goes into a Starbucks location, it's quite possible Jazz is being played, and sold. In fact, in a subtle way, Starbucks is the only major commercial entity "marketing"? Jazz. For Starbucks, Jazz is cool, part of the atmosphere of their outlets. They play the music, people hear it, like it, and then they buy the CDs right there, in Starbucks. With thousands of Starbucks worldwide, tens of thousands in a few years, that's significant. In a few months, Starbucks will be introducing kiosks where people download music directly to the device of their choice.

What if those kiosks were stocked with tracks from the Concord Music Group? What if comprehensive booklets telling the story of the artists were also available at those kiosks? That would honor the music, but also introduce it to a new audience. Very soon, in matter of a few years, we're going to reach a time when more people will get their music via some sort of digital delivery, than actual physical "product."

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