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Blue Music Group

Marcia Hillman By

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Blue Music Group (BMG) is a record label that has positioned itself for the 21st century. Not only does it fulfill the demand for instant gratification and portability, but also it has succeeded in filling the gap created by the loss of many retail record store outlets due to the recession. As a matter of fact, the company has been able to do well because of and in spite of the negative economy.

Keeping up with the current technology, BMG sells records in two different formats: CD Downloads (the first record label to introduce Instant Net-CDs on its website) and also in convenient mp3 files. They are sold from the label's website. Each customer can then decide what to do with the CD downloads, whether burning it on a CD or simply converting to their favorite smaller formats for portable devices. The CD format includes printable artwork, lyrics and inserts.

Mika Pohjola, BMG's president, states, "The biggest problem with physical CDs today is the delivery time. CD Downloads deliver the same quality anywhere in just a matter of minutes. The mp3s are there as a discount version and they are optimized for a smaller size and slower connections."

Pohjola, a notable Finnish jazz pianist, first became involved with the label two years ago as its artistic director and product developer. He explains that he "saw a need for this label to connect with the jazz community. I knew many musicians who have been on the scene for a while" and he called on some of them, working out a clearance with Blue Note Records for Joe Lovano. "I didn't have to contact that many," he continues. "The word spread quickly and my inbox was soon filled with emails from musicians. Some also just found the site which has developed into a full vehicle within the past two years."

The website is exceedingly informative, offering biographies on each of the artists and descriptions of each of the products for sale. BMG does not think in terms of who is on the label, but considers each project individually. The label prefers to call its 'artists' by the title of 'musicians' and is known for its quality high-end recordings as well as remastered classics. The label does not categorize musicians in genres but in instrument groups and does not put a distinction on whether a musician is in the jazz scene. The label does not "own anybody" as Pohjola explains, but musicians "can use our name and many do. Who is a jazz musician is not up to our discretion either." Some of the musicians sometimes perform in other genres as well.

One of the prime examples of the label's focus on the musicians is the case of the late Rashied Ali, the free jazz, avant-garde drummer who, among other things, worked with John Coltrane during the last years of Coltrane's life. Pohjola states that "Rashied was a fervent fan of Blue Music Group and I had a blast working with him on the album covers and getting his unreleased tapes into retail condition. I did an interview with him on August 5, 2009 in his studio, just one week before he passed away." This interview was sent out to the industry and played at his funeral, both in Riverside Church and in Philadelphia. There are three CDs by Ali currently available at BMG: The Music of John Coltrane, Eddie Jefferson at Ali's Alley and Cuttin' Korners.

BMG finds its projects by musicians sending in their CDs. The label prefers them to send three tunes by mp3 files at first. In this way, the label continues its ecological commitment by saving time, effort and plastic waste. Some of the albums currently on the label are by such artists as Pohjola himself, Lovano, Luciana Souza, Chris Cheek, Esperanza Spalding, and Jack DeJohnette among others. There are also remastered classic albums by artists including Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker, Jefferson and more.

Pohjola has some very strong ideas about how a label should be run, believing artistic leadership is inseparable from being a musician and emphasizes that "a good label serves the scene with strong artistic leadership, independent values, completely immune to hype and commercial aspects when selecting future releases. If the music is no good, people realize it very quickly no matter how you advertise it." Pohjola has always felt an ambition to serve "good music," no matter the genre. One of the things that he finds important for jazz labels is that a label person needs to play, compose and connect with musicians, not just be a fan or someone who follows the current scene. (This emphasis on leadership by "artist" rather than "bottom line accountants" is a refreshing one in this commercially-oriented world.) "Leading this label is now sort of an extension of my musicianship more than anything and trusting in other musicians who make great music for an audience. I do ask for musical integrity and development without fear and if the musicians are immune to external opinions, that's even better."

BMG is there for their audience, Pohjola goes on to say, but "we do not bend down to what people want. Instead, people who want us and the music that we represent know where to find the site. I believe this way our audience will believe more in us because we're not for the hype and hammering. We're, for sure, not for everybody but who we are will be decided by those who visit the site and listen to the music. It's that simple."

Blue Music Group is not your traditional record label, but one born out of these times: economically, ecologically and technologically. In its own way, it is a pioneer in this brave new world of delivering good music to customers who want their products instantly and easily.

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