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Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a doctor in the house. Or in this case, a musician. Since the birth of Sonance Records (Ambler, PA) in 1999, CEO Rick Frimmer has preserved the label’s mission: to provide the highest quality audio and visual recordings for bands, among other things. Frimmer has all the experience to back it up. He is a corporate attorney by day, and admits that he has taken on quite a few entertainment cases in his work. But more importantly, Frimmer plays trumpet and guitar and has arranging and composing experience under his belt. This musical education has helped Frimmer and the rest of the staff of Sonance (less than 10 people) center their mission around providing talented, dedicated musicians with the resources to build and maintain a solid fan base.
According to Frimmer, once a band establishes a fan base, they can successfully build a career. Bands like Pearl Jam and Phish paved the way, but Frimmer says the only way for groups to survive is to be active on the road, and understand the challenges of today’s technology. The internet has a tight grip on the livelihood of many of today’s musicians. Sonance mainly focuses on licensing deals with bands, but a huge part of their business, which is growing rapidly, are live recordings. Frimmer says, “Many artists’ music will never see the light of day because the bigger labels are putting their resources behind fewer and fewer artists.”
Although Frimmer and staff listen to all the demos they receive, they are, in fact, looking for musicians with special qualities.
“First, they have to have a product that is unique, so we are only interested in superior musicians. We’re also looking for people who don’t want someone to lead them by the nose into this market; they need the type of spirit to execute their own business plan, and they have to be proactive in their own careers. These days, with radioplay being very difficult, bands can achieve recognition by being in front of audiences, and they can use that fan base to execute their business plan,” Frimmer says.
The old days of the music business are gone, according to Frimmer. “The days where the record company throws a lot of money at the band, hires the best publicists, photographers, etc, only works out for the top .05%. Successful bands in this day and age have to be touring bands. “We are really a service company,” Frimmer continues. “We provide live recording services for bands, and we use that as an opportunity to discover bands that have a capacity to go further. That way we can do more joint ventures with bands to get their music out. We are using Live Discs as a way to provide a product that the market desperately wants, but we are also using that as a product line for bands who want to go further.”
The label doesn’t focus on any one genre of music. Jazz, heavy metal, gospel and alternative bands have all called Sonance home. The streamlined and technologically advanced business system built by Frimmer and staff is appealing to artists with a realistic approach to their craft. “The majority of artists come to us because they want help with a recording,” Frimmer states. “The relationships we have with our artists are not traditional, where the record company acts as a venture capital firm and fronts all the costs of publicity, recording time, then gives the artist a meager royalty. The industry, for years, has operated on the principle that the record label, because it pays all of the up-front costs, owns the product. We prefer not to own the product. We think bands ought to own their own music for posterity. We help them manufacture a product and do licensing transactions, but it’s more like a partnership. Both parties go into the process together and share the risk,” Frimmer says.
One of Sonance’s breakthrough services is electronic press kits. “It’s custom-made and self-booting. It’s everything a band would send on paper, except it’s user-friendly, plays music, has web connections, brochures, all kinds of features. We develop it for the bands from the materials they provide. Instead of sending out a paper press kit to radio stations and other media, they send out a computer CD-ROM, which is very convenient,” Frimmer says. The press kits also contain the band’s sound and video clips, which makes a more profound impact when sending the kit to a potential promoter. It helps prove that the band has an active audience.
Sonance’s live recording division is in the midst of several important projects. One of those is Rebirth, a recording of descendants (Michael Henderson, Ndugu Chancler, Michael Wolff, Sonny Fortune, Badal Roy and Barry Finnerty) of the Miles Davis bands of the 1970s.
Although the label has not focused their attention on any one genre, Frimmer feels that certain types of music fit perfectly into the live disc segment of the company. “Jazz is one of the best genres for live recordings, because it’s about improvisation. There is no canned music. Jazz artists not recording live is like Noah taking only one animal of each kind on the ark,” Frimmer states.
“Our live recordings are a combination of analog and digital. We are capable of recording bands live on 32 tracks on the fly through a digital recorder, and we master everything on analog mixing boards,” Frimmer explains.
When looking at the big picture of the recording industry, Sonance is way ahead of its time. In addition to its streamlined employee practices and recording abilities, the company also boasts a full print shop in their Philadelphia office, where posters, customized press kits and art are manufactured daily.
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