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Dot Time Records: Placing the Artist in the Center

Dot Time Records: Placing the Artist in the Center
Jakob Baekgaard By

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One of the problems with the record industry is the potential distance between label owners and artists. This is especially the case with major labels, where there are many people involved in music production who care more about sales than the vision of the artist.

Then there's a label like Dot Time Records whose entire identity is built on artistic freedom and trust. This becomes clear when reading the short manifest on the label's website:

"Dot-Time Records is the new Jazz and World music label being launched in 2012. Dot-Time releases feature exciting virtuoso artists, both established and newly discovered from around the globe. The branding of Dot-Time Records can be found in the creativity, artistry, passion and energy of these artists and musicians."

The people behind this manifesto are just as passionate as the musicians themselves and they know the business from both sides of the table. Jo Bickhardt and Andrew Read have a combined history of work that covers all aspects of the industry, from performing to managing and distributing. They have followed a record from every step on its way from demo to the stores before they decided on launching their own label. Based in the Netherlands and New York, Dot Time Records isn't the vision of one producer and owner, but a team based on friendship, experience and mutual respect. More than anything, it is a modern label that has left the dusty image of the record mogul and entered the age of networking and collaboration.

All About Jazz: Could you speak about your background? How did you get into music—and jazz in particular? Did it ever occur to you that you would be label owners some day?

Andrew Read: I was born in Australia and come from a musical family. My mother was an opera singer and my father a great jazz fan. I began music lessons at the age of 8 and at age 17 switched to double bass. I have degrees in both jazz & classical performance. After leaving the conservatorium in Melbourne in the late seventies, I ended up in the pop/rock scene in Melbourne, however, jazz was always my passion. After I left the pop scene in Australia, I returned to university to study Business Management. After graduating I had decided that a career in the business world was not for me and decided to return to the music business. I moved to the Netherlands in 1993 to further my classical studies and 20 years later I am still there.

Did it ever occur to me that I would own 50% of a jazz label one day? The short answer is NO, although I have always been interested in the business side of the industry. From 2002 until 2008 I managed a baroque orchestra and later took on a number of jazz artists as well. I met Jo Bickhardt (my partner in Dot Time) through a release from my jazz trio. Jo Bickhardt was the US distributor for the label I was on at the time and we just clicked. There were so many points of synergy that we started working together. Dot Time came out of this relationship.

Jo Bickhardt: I was born in New Jersey, USA and I have been immersed in music from birth. My father was a great lover of classical music as well as a fabulous singer. From my earliest recollection I loved to sing and I have been doing so professionally my entire life. I am classically trained and also a cantor. While at conservatory in Chicago I was fortunate to work with some recording engineers who discovered I had a great set of ears for classical recordings and they stuck me behind the console. People began to ask me to help produce their work. I started a small classical label to help out friends and realized that distribution was extremely difficult and made no business sense, which still holds true to this day. So I started a small independent distribution company with my own set of rules and have managed to survive all the storms and current forecasts.

Jazz is new to me and I have come to enjoy many avenues of it. Andrew and I talk music but very differently as I approach things from a very classical side. It helps me to think that way and keeps me clear of the numerous issues that jazz musicians face regarding genre expectation. It never was an issue to own a label, and the one we have created is much different than the industry norm.

AAJ: When did you form your label and how did it happen?

AR: Our label was formed in my car on the A1 in Holland. Jo and I had just attended a meeting for one of my artists at the offices of their Label. The point of the meeting was to discuss the contract for their coming release. The deal on offer was so ridiculous and on the way back Jo said "You know, with my distribution and your experience in management we can do this much better." My answer was OK then let's do it. Dot Time was born. This was November 2011. In April 2012 we released our 1st CD.

JB: Andrew asked me to attend a meeting with a record label that was really not doing their due diligence for an artist that he was representing. Being a US based Distributor I was able to do some research, ask some questions, point out a few issues that really hurt the artist in the USA. The answers I heard were so off the wall and mark that I walked out extremely agitated and laughing at the same time. In the car back to Hengelo I kind of said something like..." I am sick and tired of seeing really good artists screwed by these kinds of labels...I could do this better in my sleep..."And Andrew said "OK, do it!" So in the car on the A1 to Hengelo the label was born.

AAJ: Is there a story behind the name Dot Time Records. What does it mean?

AR: Yes, the story is as told, however, the real story is that we wanted to create a label where every deal we make is a "win-win" for both the artist and the label. We run the label from an artist's perspective as we understand that our most valuable asset is not the catalogue but the artist themselves.

JB: (laughing)—There is always a story...I was looking for a name that expressed meter or tempo because I felt that life works in that way. We live in a time where 'time' itself is lost. People don't like to wait. Decisions in life are now made based upon speed and quickness. Dot Time expresses a specific set of time based on the artist's perception of time and space. However, the real inside story (scoop) is, and I never told Andrew, was I liked DOT, which is the acronym for Department of Transportation. Of all the arts, music transports us the most and has the most spiritual effect in our lives. It takes us places unrealized and rarely explored. Each listening is an experience on to itself and potentially inspires us for more. It allows us to leave the physical world and explore the spiritual world. That is an attractive quality and jazz is at the forefront of that.

AAJ: How do you see your role(s) as label owner(s) and how would you characterize the sound(s) you are looking for?

AR: One of the advantages we have with Dot Time is the fact that we have a foot in the scene on both continents. In this way we can open doors in the US for our European artists and the reverse for US artists in Europe. My Role in the label is A&R Manager and through my media company the coordination of the online marketing. Jo looks after the US office (this is our Head Office) and coordinates the distribution and business end of things. Jo and I both handle the development of label strategy and branding.

The label has one main criteria and that is the music has to great. As you can see from the catalogue so far, the selection is rather eclectic and covers a wide range of styles within the jazz genre. We are very involved with our artists, in fact this is the basic philosophy of the label. It's not our job to get intricately involved with the music from an artistic point. We leave the artist completely alone in this. If they ask our advice on this, of course, they will get my opinion. We do get heavily involved with the branding and marketing aspects, this is often an area that the artist has no clue about.

AAJ: You have offices both in the Netherlands and in New York. How do you coordinate your work? How is a typical day at the office?

JB: I have always been an early riser. Furthermore, when I was really developing the distribution side of my life I was on the phone to Europe early every morning so I guess it became ingrained in me. We live on Skype and email and we know each other's schedule pretty much. So coordinating isn't much of a problem. Typical day starts at 6 am.

AR: Hardly a day goes by that Jo and I do not speak. Also we do travel a great deal. Jo is in Europe at least 4 times per year. Due to time zone differences both Jo and I have adjusted our schedule so that we are available for each other at least 6 hours a day. In effect a typical day at the office could be described as LONG.

AAJ: You have a very eclectic catalog. Is this a conscious choice or a coincidence? Is there any type of jazz that wouldn't fit in on your label?

AR: Indeed, the catalogue is eclectic, this is no coincidence. We feel that for a label to be successful, we need to offer music to a wide audience. This makes the branding of the label a little more difficult. However, we believe in the long run this will work in our advantage. As the catalogue grows we may see a specific direction emerge and it is not unthinkable that we will introduce some sub labels in the future if this makes sense from a marketing and branding perspective.

I don't think you could expect to see any Dixieland coming out on Dot Time. Also I am allergic for programmed music. I hear a lot of smooth jazz where the backing tracks are sequenced and sampled. This you will never hear on Dot Time.

JB: The challenge for the label is that we see an industry where there are many blurred areas that box in the artist to be something that they are really not. Traditionalists or purists run the risk of really missing wonderful virtuoso musicians, who have their own story to tell. The ability for the label to be eclectic was a choice Andrew and I made really from day one, because we saw the artist as artists ourselves. We treat them as we would want to be treated. Each one is like a family member. I don't know what wouldn't fit as of yet.

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