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Marty Khan: Outward Visionary

By Published: July 5, 2011
AAJ: Let's piece this apart. Can you talk at further length about the application of your principles from Straight Ahead to the conceptualization, recording, production, and distribution of Rahe's album? A number of the business steps you took were quite novel.

MK: The cornerstone of my approach has always been the idea that the business needs to be the same as the art. In jazz, you had to use improvisational methodologies. So you look at a situation and think, "How am I going to make this work?" So you try something and maybe say, "Whoa! That didn't work out," or you think, "Uh oh, that was a chord change I hadn't counted on; the pianist hit the wrong note!" You ride this roller coaster of business because that's what the music requires.

So in this situation, we are looking at working with an artist like Rahe who is as innovatively creative as all the other artists I've worked with. However, she's also working within a popular music zone because the traditional role of the singer- songwriter has an enormous accessibility. It's a compelling and direct connection, with the words coming from the singer-songwriter's heart and soul. So it's a different musical approach than pure improvisation, but when you're creative like Rahe is, and you're inspired by people like Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, flamenco music, world music, and so forth, you don't want to put it in a box. You want it to breathe and grow in an organic fashion.

So we had to create something in that manner, and that's the approach that we took to developing the music for this album. The improvisational nature was that we needed studio time and we needed musicians. So I made a proposal to Kelland to put the class theory into real-world action, "OK, this artist came from the Camerata experiment, and here is your experiment in motion. So let me give you this business model in exchange for you providing me with access to certain resources, and we'll come up with something that will work for everybody."

The school systems in America, particularly the state colleges, need new mechanisms because they are in financial trouble as states are cutting back. My idea is that if you can convince a school to invest in its talent, and help students to launch their careers by using the resources already at the school, the school can tag a piece of that action. This creates a situation where instead of just giving students diplomas, you give them careers, and then the students make out better while the university builds an income stream. It's a symbiotic relationship.

So that was the concept we launched here, tied in with the Camerata Program, and I hope this becomes a model for state universities throughout the country. Like we always have, we're trying to change the environment we're working in, and the educational environment needs to be changed, so we're putting this model on the table.

AAJ: It looks like the business setup for all participants on this recording has allowed everyone to be invested in the outcome.

MK: Yes, and in more ways than might be readily apparent! Revenue sharing, to me, has always made a great deal of sense. In the late 1980s, I developed a program that I put in front of the National Endowment for the Arts—and another failed attempt to do something for jazz, the National Jazz Service Organization- -that was a distribution methodology in which jazz product, which had been viewed as a loss leader for record companies, could be split off and sent out directly to its niche marketplace. So let's forget the idea of attempting to put product into places designed to reach 100 percent of the market, and focus instead on solely reaching the three percent of jazz. Central to the concept was the idea that the artists would own the product, and instead of going through labels and distributors, it would be a collective and collaborative effort by professionals working with artists.

Utopian, I know, but it's the model that now exists among individuals who produce their own records, sell them from the bandstands, make deals with Downtown Music Gallery and other small stores, and realize that it doesn't pay to put your product in Borders or other stores where you have to chase down your money even if they actually sell the product. It's simple arithmetic.

So with Rahe, the question was how we could get the product out there if we're paying sidemen and a studio. And the idea was that you make the deal with everyone to function in revenue sharing. We said to the studio, "Look, you're going to be dark at a certain time, so while you're dark I could come in with this group. Rather than sit there empty, you can loan the studio to us, and we'll cut you in on the profits." You say to the musicians, "I can't pay you up front, but you aren't doing anything that night, anyways. The music is good, it's enjoyable to play, so let's do it, and I'll give you a royalty for every record we sell and every track that is downloaded." We found out the artists' asking fee, were they to be paid outright, and we increased it by 30 to 50 percent and made it a revenue share, capping off the revenue share at that increased number. Someone who wanted $600 would now get $900. If we don't sell the full amount of product, then they get their corresponding piece of the action. But that means that if they want to take it and buy product as a retailer or sell it from the bandstand, they're able to do it, and they get their markup as well as their royalty.

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