From Projekt Record’s Sam Rosenthal…
It’s become obvious to me: over the last few years Projekt has become a (primarily) electronic/ambient label.
For clarity, I do not mean the EDM/dance style of electronic & ambient music. I mean floating, drifting meditative ambient, or adventurous drone / space-music electronics. For simplicity, I will refer to this side of Projekt’s sound as “electronic.”
I began Projekt 31 years ago, releasing a few compilation cassettes, and a whole bunch of my own solo-electronic music. In 1986, I released the first album from my band, Black Tape For A Blue Girl; the label’s sound began an evolution toward a goth / ethereal / darkwave perspective. Projekt really came to people’s attention in the early 90s, with the success of the rock-side-of-the-label acts Black Tape For A Blue Girl, Lycia, and Love Spirals Downwards. Fans and writers called Projekt “the American 4AD.” But I wasn’t soley focused on one sound; at the same time as the darkwave heyday, I was releasing electronic music. In fact, the fourth band on the label was O Yuki Conjugate, with their tribal ambient masterpiece, Peyote. In late 1995, I released the first Steve Roach album on Projekt, his double-CD collaboration with vidnaObmana, Well of Souls. Parallel to the darkwave sound, the electronic side continued to grow.
I dug into the numbers, to see if my hunch was right about the direction the label has taken. I tallied up the last 12 month’s royalty payments, and sorted the artists into electronic or darkwave.
On royalties paid to the label’s top-25 acts, 69% went to the electronic artists, 31% to the darkwave artists. Yes, 69%! A big chunk of the 69% goes to Steve Roach, while on the darkwave side much of that 31% goes to Voltaire. If you pull those two artists, and compare the rest of the acts, the ratio skews slightly more darkwave, yet remains nearly the same: 64% electronic / 36% darkwave.
My hunch was correct.
Now, part of this shift can be attributed to the lack of releases from my band, Black Tape For A Blue Girl. We were a big part of those sales in the 90s, but as the label grew busier I’ve taken less and less time to work on my own music. With Lycia and Love Spirals Downwards and Mira gone, the bands that contributed the bulk of the rest of the darkwave side are no longer here to keep up the tradition.
You might have noticed that Projekt’s CD output reflects this switch, with many more electronic releases in the last two years. I still love the darkwave bands, of course. But I want to focus on what you are interested in.
Various Artists: 10 Projekt CDs for $25Projekt has tons of overstock CDs in our storage space: wonderful music that longs to be heard! Help us clean up the place, and receive hours of enjoyment at the same time! $25 gets you 10 random Projekt CDs focussed more on the darkwave genre: a surprise selection of amazing Projekt music.
Questions and Answers
I asked people on Facebook to post questions for me. If you have a question, email email@example.com, and I’ll get to it.
Chris Zubryd asked: Is being in a band AND running the label like directing a film in which you have a main role?
Sam: I put your question first, Chris, because the answer is a good seque from the section above. As I said, as the label devoured more of my time, I spent less time on Black Tape For A Blue Girl. This is one of the reasons it’s been five years since the last album. At any other label, if the #2 band wasn’t making music, the label owner would beg, plead, and blackmail them to get off their rear-end and make new music. Wearing both hats, I find it hard to get out of the Projekt chair, and into the studio. I feel an urgency with other artists’ work. They contact me, and ask, “What’s up with my album release?” While the guy at Blacktape never sends me an email. : )
Scott M. Neth: Are you still running Darkwave distribution? The reason I asked is because I used to buy from Darkwave for a record store I ran back in the 90’s and I’d be kind of curious how you think think the distribution industry has changed since then. Back then, distribution used to kill our small store because for major labels we could only buy direct (from Warner, BMG, etc) and we couldn’t compete with the Best Buy’s and Walmart (they’d force us to buy a large inventory of ¢rap we couldn’t sell to get the stuff we could) so we totally shifted our focus to buying from small(er) indie companies like Darkwave, a few little punk distribution companies and Saddle Creek Records (and it saved our store).
Sam: Yeah, that was one of the many STUPID things the record industry did: co-op. Basically, us labels had to bribe the stores (Tower, Borders, Best Buy – but also indies) to stock our CDs. Discounts at places like Best Buy were so deep that they could sell for less than what a small store like Scott’s paid to buy the CD. It was idiotic. There were other kinds of co-op besides discounts. A Borders’ listening station was effective in the 1997-2001 period. We introduced a lot of people to Projekt’s music that way. But buying a 1/4 page ad in the Village Voice so Virgin-Union Square would do a Mira instore? That probably wasn’t the best use of Projekt’s money. Still, it was the game we all had to play back then.
These days, chains like Newbury’s in the Boston area want a massive discount. They want something unreasonable like a $4 discount per CD (a store usually pays between $10 – $12 per unit); the discount is not so they can stock it in their stores, but so they can undercut everyone else in the Amazon marketplace. Apparently many labels give them this deal, we do not. I don’t need Newbury to sell at Amazon. I need them to stock Projekt CDs in their stores. Which they do not. So screw them, basically! : )
Back to Scott’s question. No, we don’t really sell directly to retail stores anymore. eOne Distribution and the one-stops do that for us. If you run a store, and you want to talk about whatever, drop me a line. firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian John Mitchell: Would you rather be remembered as the ‘Projekt guy’ or the ‘black tape for a blue girl guy’ or something else?
Sam: BJM – I’d rather be remembered as a good dad. By my son. : )
Brian John Mitchell: Also… is the blog more for your personal use to document things or to give fans insight to what you do or to hopefully generate additional traffic & sales (essentially an advertisement in a way) or a mix of all these?
Sam: A mix of the second two, definitely. There’s a movement to take the internet back from Facebook: a return to using your own site to host your thoughts. I think that this blog also serves as “therapy” to get myself through Facebook-withdrawl. I spend time writing these blogs, instead of looking at cats scratching bob marley vinyl on Facebook. (ha!)
Also, I’m sick of arguing with people / pirates on Facebook. They tell me how the music business works, when they don’t know what they’re talking about! Running a label is what I do. I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s not just a “hunch” when I say sales are down, and people getting music for free has hurt sales. I have a good deal of experience in the music business!
Ooops. Sorry, I got onto a Facebook rant. I have a lot of experience running a label, and it’s fun to share what Projekt has been through. So, yes, it serves a combination of your 2nd and 3rd suggestions. And yes, I hope it encourages people to support Projekt’s music.
Alisa InCupcakeland: Why did you decide to start with Projekt Records?
Sam: The label began 31 years ago, and I’ve been running Projekt as my full-time job for over 20 years! When I started, I was making a fanzine in Florida, called Alternative Rhythms. In 1783… oh, I mean 1983… I released a cassette of some of the bands I was writing about, called Projekt Electronic South Florida vol. 1. You can see a list of out-of-print Projekt releases from that era.
Nils Inge Graven: I would like to know how I can get the South Florida compilations!
Sam: I suggest eBay. I don’t have contracts with any of those artists anymore. I don’t even know where to find most of them. I couldn’t ethically re-release those cassettes at this point. Those early cassettes are really rare, I made perhaps 100 – 150 of each of them.
James Hopkins: More about distribution would be interesting. How you set it up and kept it going all these years. That’d be great to read.
Sam: When Projekt started, I was in College, living in Florida. I would put cassettes on consignment at a few local record stores and also sell them mail-order via little ads in magazines like Option and Sound Choice. As I moved into LPs and then CDs, I worked with a variety of distributors that sold to stores. In the 1991-1997 period, Projekt didn’t have an exclusive distributor, to get CDs to stores we sold through Cargo, Silent, Rough Trade, Caroline, etc. etc. I sold to everyone, and it was a mess getting paid.
Here’s a story.
One of the companies that bought from Projekt was Tower Records. In around 1994 (I believe), Tower owed Projekt $50,000 for Blacktape, Love Spirals Downwards and Lycia CDs they ordered and sold through the stores. Like almost every vendor back then, they were late at paying. Or just flat out refused to pay. I put Tower on hold and kept nagging them, but they wouldn’t pay up; they knew Projekt needed them more than they needed me. $50,000 not paid for 6 months would have put most little labels out of business. Fortunately for me, I had cash flow from other distributors, including overseas. Hyperium sold a lot of Projekt CDs, at that time. Eventually, Projekt had new albums from a few of the bigger bands, and I remember talking on a pay phone while visiting New York City, I was telling the finance person at Tower that they’d have to pay up to get these new titles. I guess they wanted the releases because they agreed and sent me a check. After I cashed it, I told them to screw themselves. I wasn’t going to send them any more CDs unless they paid me up front; I didn’t want to find myself stuck in the same situation with them, in six months. They were REALLY pissed off and told me Projekt will never be stocked in Tower again. Maybe it was stupid of me to make that choice, however I don’t like working with partners who dick me around.
In 1997 when Projekt went exclusive with Ryko Distribution, Tower stocked our CDs again. So, it ended well. For Projekt, at least. My label is still in business. A few bankruptcies later, Tower is gone.
Alisa InCupcakeland: This is kind of off topic but.. do you have a book recommendation?
Sam: Sure. My book recommendation is my erotic novel RYE; a good option if you’d like a fun, silly, serious love story. With lots of non-mainstream sex…. : ) Get it for Kindle at Amazon or buy the signed physical book from me!
Frost V. Insomnium: I also miss printed catalogs, I could meditate on what to buy while lying on my bed, watching tv, using the bathroom. Instead of spending time tied to a computer .
Sam: But Frost, you can do all those things with a laptop: “lying on my bed, watching tv, using the bathroom” : ) But yes, I have ideas about a new printed thingie! I am thinking of making a paper-catalog again; perhaps starting with the 3-fold sheet of paper, like in the early days. I think that would be very cool.
Ok, we have time for one more question. Over there in the back, Yeah, the guy raising his hand… : )
Steve Baldwin: Well, was it worth it?
Sam: I support myself from Projekt. I haven’t had “a real job” in 20 years. So hell yeah, it’s worth it! All of you make it possible for me to do this. I support myself and my son from your interest in Projekt and the artists I work with. That’s really worth it!
Back in stock
Some recent review excerpts
Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence (3-CD reissue) reviewed in Yoga Journal
“Each track arises from silence, coming to full volume like a film slowly coming into focus. From there, listeners waft along a gentle current of majestic bass swells, chimes, and soft-focus clouds of billowing sound.” – Yoga Journal September 2014. Purchase the CD for $18 at the Projekt site / Stream or Digital Download for $18 at Bandcamp.
Steve Roach’s The Long Night Structures From Silence reviewed in Santa Sangre Magazine
“Using analog and digital synths but also traditional instruments such as ocarina and cedar flute, as well as field recordings, the first words that come to mind when searching for a verbal description of this music, are ‘shamanic’ and ‘earthly.’ . . . A mysterious, ghostly aura always hovers above this landscape of abstract elements and fading apparitions.” – Santa Sangre Magazine. Purchase the CD for $14 at the Projekt site / Stream or Digital Download for $10 at Bandcamp.
Erik Wøllo’s Tundra reviewed at Star’s End
“As with all of Wøllo’s releases the use of sound on Tundra is not only dramatic but infinitely subtle in its scale of values and carries a hidden story… Some of the five tracks on Tundra suggest a yearning for spiritual fulfillment through increasingly bright hues and mounting forms, while others explore the lure of the unfamiliar, the remote and the primitive.” – starsend.org. Purchase the CD for $14 at the Projekt site. Only 5 copies left! / Stream or Digital Download for $4 at Bandcamp.
Bettie Page was the #8 top-earning dead celebrity in 2013. Who knew!?
There’s a new Amanda Palmer article, that got everyone all grumpy on my Facebook page. I don’t know if anyone actually read it, or were just upset by the headline and Amanda’s name. Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet, but Amanda often has interesting insight into things. I’m going to make a bullet points list of the things she writes that could apply to us.
Interesting infographics from the New York Times. Very few New Yorkers move to Oregon. Californian transplants are the largest people moving in; this explains why Portlanders love New Yorkers and dislike Californianers. Check your state…
And here’s the other half of The Dresden Dolls! Get your Brian Viglione t-shirts, Underwear, etc…. it’s the Viggie close-out sale.
Saturday September 6 Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace Book Panel. Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Record Store present this discussion on 1980s goth subculture (fashion, music, evolution) in the US/NYC – moderated by Kate Eichhorn. Athan Maroulis (of Black Tape FOr A Blue Girl and Nori is on the panel). Frankie Teardrop spinning rare postpunk and goth vinyl. No wristband required.
Not surprising to anyone who works in the record business: Streaming Isn’t Saving the Music Industry After All, Data Shows. Read the article at Digital Music News.
“Life After Brooklyn” is an informative New York Times article about housing prices in Brooklyn, and how it is driving many long time residents out of NYC completely. I was one of those in the diaspora.
My son is very excited by the Goatcam. We have it as a private channel on the Roku Box, so we can stream goats all day! : )
Digital Ferret exceeded their indiegogo goal. The store will transition to Joe soon! There’s still time to donate, and get some great music at a great price.
A free sampler from Black Tape For A Blue GirlThe Collection sells for $5 at iTunes, or get it for free at blacktape’s Bandcamp page. Ten songs spanning twenty-eight years of music. Thanks so much for your interest.
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