Archive for the ‘Black Tape For A Blue Girl’ Category
From Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal: I find myself spending more and more time watching youTube on my living room TV. It’s becoming the all-knowing archive of everything! With that in mind, Projekt & Steve Roach are creating more visual material for you to enjoy. In the last few days, we’ve added these new clips:Projekt’s creepy attic & roof collapse (2009) at youTube
I found a short bit of video on a backup harddrive; I mixed that with some photos to take you on a brief tour of the creepy attic of the 2009 Brooklyn office, and recount the story of the roof collapse. Happy Halloween!Timothy Leary’s Trip 1 narrated by Alex Cox at youTube
To commemorate the centennial of Timothy Leary’s birth, I recorded an electronic space music/art rock collaboration with Projekt’s artists, including 4 short Trips with Leary’s words. This clip has narration by Repo Man director Alex Cox.Steve Roach 10/24/2020 Livestream… the day after Tomorrow at youTube
Stream starts at about 25:38 minutes in. Enjoy a replay of Steve’s Saturday Livestream concert, a 90-minute show followed by the premiere of 3 videos from the new album Tomorrow.Black Tape For A Blue Girl • Dracula’s Ball 2010 at youTube
January 16, 2010, Black Tape For A Blue Girl performed our 126th show — the 7th with the new 3-piece line up of Athan Maroulis, Nicki Jaine & Sam Rosenthal. The 30 minute slot at Dracula’s Ball included 6 songs off the then-new 10 NEUROTICS album, and 2 tracks off HALO STAR.Timothy Leary’s Trip 4 narrated by Reggie Watts at youTube
This track is narrated by Reggie Watts, bandleader on CBS’ The Late Late Show with James Corden. I did some Nam June Paik-inspired video art effects in the middle.
Celebrating Timothy Leary’s 100th birthday, Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal collaborated with the label’s electronic artists (Steve Roach, Erik Wøllo, Mark Seelig, Forrest Fang, theAdelaidean, Jarguna and others) to create Tim, where are you now? Interspersed within the music are trip narrations based on Timothy Leary’s writing, read by Alex Cox (director of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy), Rick Doblin (executive director of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), Reggie Watts (bandleader on CBS’ The Late Late Show with James Corden), Lee Ranaldo (founder and guitarist of Sonic Youth) and others.
Sam talks about the album…
Q — With the music and the album, what are you trying to evoke? How do you want people to listen and engage with the music? What are you trying to show them?
Sam — Well, first it’s a listening experience. It’s music — new sounds and new spaces. The narrators read short scripts that float within the music. The trips come from Leary’s writing. He’s question reality — Is this thing that seems to us to be so firm and inviolable actually real? Is this actually what it appears to be?
Leary wrote in 1968, “…since that first LSD trip, it remains impossible for me to return to the life I led before, unable to take myself, my mind, and the social world around me as seriously.”
Q — How did you gather these musicians and readers?
Sam — I asked Projekt musicians to send me sources to work from. I wasn’t looking for finished tracks, this wasn’t a compilation album. I asked artists for bits of music, perhaps unused individual instrument tracks from their projects. My idea was to compost those sources and make new music. I’d listen to their source, see what ideas it brought up, which portions I’d like to focus on, what sort of song it inspired me to create. I might use an 8 second bit of their source and loop it, or a longer segment as a texture to build upon.
While these songs are collaborations, the structuring, editing, processing was my contribution; I also add my electronics here or there where a texture is needed. On some tracks, I’d get a structure for the song flowing and then go to a specific musician with an idea for a part they could add on top, such as Erik Wøllo’s driving electric guitar part on “Reality-tunnel,” or Ryan Lum’s bossa nova-flavored guitar part on “PSY PHI love means High Fidelity.” Or Steve Roach’s drone in the 2nd half of “Reality-tunnel.” I sensed that area needed some low-end support, and I knew Steve was the magic man to give it the texture it required.
The other track I created with Steve was “Molecular symbol, thinking” which is very abstract and spacey. Steve being ever-prolific sent me a gigabyte of great source material to work from. All of it really lovely. This source stood out because it was oblique, with a psychedelic spaciousness. I edited out some of the places where it took form, to keep it on an abstract level. Listening to Steve’s track, I envision my thoughts drifting away like a train on a swirling track heading off into deep space, the cars growing further and further apart as the packets of thoughts begin to distort and lose their connection and form. It created exactly what I wanted to occur at that point in the album. About two and a half minutes into the piece I laid in a little bit of Erik Wøllo’s processed electric guitar textures — painting with their sounds. I didn’t worry about BPM, or even what key the pieces were in. It was just a question of, “Do these elements sound good together?” Then another minute in I’m playing a short 4-note pattern, giving a bit of earth under your feet. At the end I brush in a bit of Jarguna’s modular synthesizer textures to add some sparkle as the track comes to a finish.
For the narrators, I was looking for marquee names to help spread Leary’s words out further. I sent a ton of emails, asking agents, contacting friends to see who they knew who might be interested. The first on board was Alex Cox, followed by Lee Ranaldo. Hearing them on the finished tracks was exciting! The pieces worked as I had imagined them. Yes! Perfection!
Q — What is your definition of a “trip?”
Sam — Speaking with people at Portland Psychedelic Society meet-ups (pre-pandemic, of course), I know there are all kinds of trips. Some are purely body, energetic experiences. Some are purely visual. Aside from an LSD trip when I lived in Los Angeles in the 90s, I hadn’t done any psychedelics until 5 years ago, when I accidentally discovered that I easily trip on edible THC. For me, trips are very hallucinogenic with experiences that feel absolutely real in the moment. Visuals, sounds, emotions. A single trip contains hundreds of short vignettes, many are past-life experiences. I am there as the observer, and those observed. I rotate consciousness through the people in the scene, often overlaid at once.
Timothy Leary and Stanislav Grof both came to psychedelics from the therapeutic angle: guiding subjects via psychedelic-therapy in a safe environment with attention to set and setting. Grof speaks of our internal healer who knows what we need at that moment; our trip is directed by that knowing. I am very much of the mind that psychedelics have great therapeutic benefits. MAPS.org is proving this with the success of their FDA-approved MDMA trials for PTSD. Psychedelics are also helpful for addiction, depression, and end-of-life anxiety (Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS, reads one of the trips in the digital bonus material.)
Of his first psilocybin experience, Leary later said, “I learned more about my brain and its possibilities and more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than I had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology.” Progress and connections can be made during a trip that cannot be made in talk-therapy. When the mind is free to wander outside of the ruts, interesting new answers that were not previously available are found.
If you share this page on social networking, please include #timothyleary100 & #TL100
Sam will answer your questions and reminisce. You can chat in the text window with Projekt artists, fans, and long-time assistant Shea Hovey. See you there! Saturday May 2 — 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern / 8pm Italy facebook.com/SamProjekt If you are not on Facebook, use this link: www.facebook.com/SamProjekt/posts/10218929688366123 and then chose “not now” on the pop up.
“This set is a triumph that goes beyond the scope of mere words. It should stand as one of the year’s best.” – ALTERNATIVE PRESS
1994 — Inspired by seeing Love Spirals Downwards’ perform a black tape for a blue girl song live, Sam asked other artists to contribute their interpretations to this one of a kind compilation. Fourteen artists from the Projekt roster, guest artists from America & Europe, and even fans who create music in their home studios come together with strikingly different and beautifully personalized renditions of black tape for a blue girl’s touching ethereal-goth sound.2CD Box Set (final copies)
These are the final copies of this box set, that have been in storage for years. 2CD in jewel boxes, with 4 art cards + sticker in a nice hard box. 1994 release. Note that although they are in shrinkwrap, they have been traveling the country with Sam for ages; there might be some scuffs or dings. As mint as it gets, I suppose. 6 remaining.
Concept, design, production • Sam Rosenthal Original idea • Ryan Lum Photography • Susan Jennings Model • Anne Chen released November 12, 1994Consider joining the Black tape for a blue girl patron area. For $5 a month you get this album (download & streaming) and lots of other exclusive music. Plus you're giving a monthly contribution to help me create my art. And that's just very cool of you!
from Sam Rosenthal:
Thoughts at the end of the tens.
Today is that "holiday" launched by AmEx in 2010, Small Business Saturday, where we go out and support a small business or two. Well let me tell you, Projekt is small. Very small!
Projekt is almost as small as it gets. The staff is:
Sam (me) — (not quite full time) — I communicate with the artists, design the album covers and other graphics, keep on top of the physical production schedule, email the distributors (Hi Sebastian, Mike, Scott, Tracy, Rob, Sue, others), communicate with many of our press contacts, update Projekt’s Bandcamp store, post a portion of our social networking, update the website, write album bio copy, and look out over the bow a year into the future for an idea of where the industry is headed.
Joe — (a few hours a week) — fulfills your orders at the Projekt webstore.
Shea — (a few hours a week) — posts the rest of the social networking, updates the reviews on the website, proofs the copy I write (but not my email lists, which is why there are always those damn typos), and is my trusted sounding board (She’s worked at Projekt since 2001!)
We’re a small business, and that leads me to what I’m thankful for.
I’m thankful for you, and your love of music… hold on… I have to do some business before I continue with what I’m thankful for…
Enter BF19 in the coupon code field during checkout at projekt.com. The sale excludes pre-order & new category items. Sale ends Friday December 6 at Noon EST.
Right. As I was saying…
I’m thankful for you, and your love of music! I’ve run Projekt as my full time job since 1991. For 28+ years your love of music has put a roof over my head, food in my belly, and helped me pay the costs of raising my son. It’s pretty great that we’ve been doing this for each other all these years!
Projekt began as a hobby when I entered college in 1983; the label grew out of my fanzine, Alternative Rhythms. Do you watch Stranger Things? I’m the same age as the older kids like Jonathan, the non-conformist photographer. That show does a good job of showing what it was like to live in non-big-city-America in the mid-80s (except we didn’t have to deal with The Upside Down where I was from.) I popped over to youTube to find a video of Jonathan and synchronicity brought me the perfect clip for this blog. In it he’s giving his younger brother a mix tape. They’re listening to The Clash and Jonathan says, "All the best stuff’s on there — Joy Division, Bowie, Television, The Smiths. It will totally change your life!"
Honestly, that’s exactly the reason I made the fanzine and started Projekt — I really loved music and wanted to expose other people to it.
Back in the 80s and well into the 90s, we didn’t have the internet to expose us to interesting music from around the world. It took dedication to find underground sounds. We read magazines, listened to a cool local college DJ if our town had one, went to dance clubs, and if we were lucky there was a cool record store where the owner got to know our tastes ("Yes, Leslie, of course I want to special order a copy of that Mick Karn/Peter Murphy 12-inch!")
Exposing people to great music is what I did and continue to do.
I know it’s easy to stream music these days; people are buying less and less. I’ll fess up, I’m one of those streamers. Streaming brings in around 50% of Projekt’s income and it grows every month. Streaming does pay!
If you’re a digital fan, it helps that you go to the Projekt Bandcamp page to purchase a download, and/or chip in when there’s a new name-your-price release. That money ads up to royalties for the artists you love. In fact, right now there’s a new release, Christmas Nocturne by Sue Hutton and Athan Maroulis. It’s a name-your-price holiday download!
As many of you know, I’m the songwriter/bandleader of Black Tape For A Blue Girl. Since 2013 (when I moved from Brooklyn NY to the more-reasonably-priced Portland Oregon) I’ve put more time into my own art. It was hard in NYC — working as much as I could at Projekt to bring in income, raising my son, AND trying to find time for music? It was too hard to do it all. I know everyone has different economic realities, for me Oregon is a less-expensive place to live; this has lowered my financial stress and I take more time to make art. It also helps that I have 67 very cool patrons who contribute towards my music-making expenses.
It takes time and money to create music.
Back in the beginning of this decade, I used to argue with people on Facebook (and in email) about how piracy & illegal downloads hurt artists because it deprived them of income they needed to cover the costs of creating (let alone paying the rent.) I’ve long since given up on arguing with people on social networking (that was a pretty annoying way to spend time, wasn’t it?)
In a sense the battle was won by Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. Streaming took over, and much to my surprise it seems Daniel Ek was right — streaming reduced the piracy problem, while sending money to artists. Count me corrected!
Now we’re in the last weeks of this decade (!!!) and I understand that the problem of fans buying less physical releases is going to be solved when artists (1) catch up with the modern age and accept what is changing (and has already changed) and (2) embrace new ways to bring in income.
Projekt has a couple of artists with the success necessary to work full time on their music. However, most of the musicians I know create on a very part-time basis. That’s sad when you think about it. There could be a lot more great art if musicians were able to work less at their income-producing job, and more on their art.
It turns out I am a (Democratic) socialist. I think society would be much better if the billionaires didn’t have quite so many billions, and their hoarded money wasn’t sitting in their 3rd mansion and stocks. It would be better if that money was equitably shared in the system. This isn’t just to benefit people I know, it’s to benefit you. I doubt you’ve got a billion, or even a million, or probably even fifty-thousand, socked away that you’re not using. You could probably use a little more of a fair share, and some security, right? I hope one day we have Health Care For All and a Basic Income for everyone, so if you want to get out of the grind of that day job and start the business you’ve been dreaming about — well, you can take the leap and try. I was fortunate that I didn’t have crushing college debt, and I was healthy. I could chuck the job in 1991 to focus on Projekt. The label was growing and it needed me to take the risk to be there full time. Nowadays, how many of us can follow our dreams?
Economically, that’s not easy at all!
I hope that things change in 11 months and we get new leaders with a desire to help the people rather than the rich. Oh, yes… another thing I’ve learned is talking politics here on the list pisses people off. I’ll just say: let’s all get along and be good to each other. I’ll be thankful for a time when there’s more love and compassion, and less divisions and us-against-them.
And that’s my Thanksgiving message of hope (and despair — yes, I’m GenX. I have a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism.)
Somebody will inevitably email me and tell me off — that’s not going to wreck my day. After I realized life wasn’t a tragedy, but a farce, it got a bit easier.
Speaking of governing the right way — Ryan Lum (formerly of Love Spirals Downwards and of LoveSpirals) is running for Long Beach City Counsel. If you’ve loved their music and you’re a progressive that wants to see positive change, pass a donation his way: https://ryanlum.net/
So….. new topic…. I’ve made a video! My first new video in 6 years! It’s really nice. Please watch it…
black tape for a blue girl "In my memories" video at YouTube
I conceived, shot & edited this rumination on the passing of time, nostalgia, regret and loss with the help of my three great actors. Shot over the course of two year, it stars Dan Von Hoyel (vocalist/songwriter from the bands Harmjoy and Titans) and fellow adult industry performer Mercy West.
Watch “In my memories” off To touch the milky way.
Sam explains, "The piece began with a half-minute phone-video of Mercy splashing & diving underwater at a rubber fetish pool party. A few months later, a piano part I played in the studio felt to me like it was about ‘memories’ — those seconds of Mercy in the pool inspired the direction of the music and then the lyrics I wrote. It’s a character’s first person narrative thinking back to the summer when he was 23 and enjoying a nothing-special — and yet everything-so-special — afternoon with his lover. It moves me seeing the raw emotions Dan brought to his performance. How often do you see men cry in tv or film? In our culture, men are considered weak when they show feelings other than anger. It’s still not common for them to tear up and display their loss or sorrow. I like that we captured that; it gets to the core of the song.”
Next week I’m reprinting BlackTape’s The Rope T-shirt. If you’d like one, preOrder at the BlackTape Bandcamp page. Projekt 20% Off Sale. Enter BF19 in the coupon code field during checkout at projekt.com. Sale excludes pre-order & new category items. Sale ends Friday December 6 at Noon EST.
Hi, This is Sam from Black Tape For A Blue Girl — With 5 days to go on the Ashes in the brittle air crowdfunding campaign, we're 68% funded. 145 people have joined together to pledge $6172 towards the $9000 goal of creating an expanded 2CD & clear-vinyl LP edition! The remastered 11-track album sounds fabulous. Pledge at Kickstarter.
In 1989 I made a video for "is it love that dare not be? / ashes in the brittle air." It never was shown anywhere, and nobody has seen it in the last 28 years. I digitized it and posted on youTube.Is it love that dare not be? / ashes video history
Another piece of history from the archives! I had such a warm sweet feeling watching this video the other day, the first time in 28+ years. My college friends Kathryn (dancing) and Dimitri (her mostly immobile partner) swept across my monitor recreating the rolls they’ve played in my mind for the last three decades — for all of eternity. And me the viewer, knowing every frame by heart yet watching like it was the first time, excited for what would come next.
My patrons provided the funds to cover the cost to transfer some of my old 3/4-inch (U-matic) videos. This was the first clip the guy at the lab sent me; perfect timing.
From what I recall, I shot & edited this two-song video after the release of Ashes in the brittle air. The video had technical issues I wanted to fix back in the day, but couldn't because I didn't have good enough equipment. I never was sure about showing this piece. I've fixed those problems, at last!
Back in those days it would have been difficult for most fans to see this video, anyway, as we didn’t have the internet. Fortunately we do now! Everyone can enjoy the “is it love that dare not be? / ashes in the brittle air” video at youTube
Support the expanded edition of Ashes in the brittle air at Kickstarter . A download is a $5 donation, clear vinyl LP is $30, CD is $20. Everyone gets the 21 bonus tracks.
Originally released on vinyl in March 1984, Tanzmusik is one of minimal synth’s top Holy Grails. Recorded in the electronic style now known as synthwave, it was the first LP from Sam Rosenthal, founder of the iconic Projekt Records label and mind behind one of the most influential darkwave acts out of the US, Black Tape For A Blue Girl.
A historic work that deserves to be torn from oblivion, Tanzmusik was completely recorded at home on a four-track TEAC-2340 with a super minimal setup (Korg Poly-61, Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1, Boss Dr-110 and some effects). The ’84 vinyl release was limited to 250 copies with a tannish card glued to a white LP jacket; the re-release in 2012 was an edition of 500 on Italy’s Mannequin label. All physical formats are once again sold out, but the album lives on in the digital world, with a name-your-price-download at Bandcamp.
In 2012, The Big Takeover wrote: “Released at a time shortly before the forming of his band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, the listener might well be stunned by what they hear. Instead of the dark — some may call it ‘goth’ — sounds that he would soon become famous for, Tanzmusik is a record that is oddly upbeat, somewhat poppy in nature, yet with a prog-rock heart that’s equally undeniable. It’s not quite New Wave, it’s not quite progressive, it’s not quite darkwave — but it is an interesting compilation of the ideas of a talented young man with numerous ideas in his head about directions he could go. “
Recorded when Sam was 19, the album continued in the “electronic mood-music” tradition established on three earlier cassette-only releases. With the added intrigues of the drum-computer, Tanzmusik explored the realms of electronic music that critics at the time compared to Tangerine Dream, O.M.D., Brian Eno and these days also compare to Cluster and the first Human League.
Sam writes, “When contacted about a re-issue in 2010 by Alessandro Adriani at Mannequin, I decided to remaster the album for them. After getting the digitized recordings back from my mastering guy in Canada, I discovered it wasn’t the stereo 2-track mix at all but the actual 4-track recording. Wow! I thought the multis were long gone, but here they were in pristine digital form! I remixed the album in my studio, staying true to the original – while bringing back a few instruments that were buried in the '84 mix. Sonically, the current version sounds even more incredible than it did back in 1984!”
"Before I remixed the album, I had not listened to it in probably 15 years. In my memories of the album, I thought the ambient songs were the good ones, and the synth-pop ones were the weak link. But now I think I like the synth-pop ones — like “Alone” and “We Return” — more. On the other hand, I really like that sequencer at the beginning of “The Coming Fall.” If my Korg Poly-61 wasn’t dead, I would set up that patch again and write something new around it; I still have all the notes for my synth settings for the songs. Scary. Overall, I am a lot happier with the album than I expected to be. When Alessandro got in touch with me about releasing it, I was sort of skeptical, and procrastinated a whole bunch. But when I started actually working on it, I liked it. It’s quite a nice album. Schizophrenic, but that’s OK."
Sam Rosenthal is an American artist. He is the founder and leader of the band Black Tape For a Blue Girl and the record label Projekt Records (35th anniversary in 2018). He lives in Portland Oregon with his son and cat. Black Tape For a Blue Girl — begun in 1986 after his move from Florida to California — serves as a vehicle for Rosenthal’s musical vision. Its signature combination of gothic, ethereal, ambient and neo-classical elements explores existential themes of loves lost and passions yet to come. After releasing 9 cassettes and the LP of his early electronic work prior to 1986, he developed a full-fledged band whose members revolve around Rosenthal’s subtle electronic foundation. In the last few years he has also been releasing electronic solo work under the names As Lonely As Dave Bowman and Sam Rosenthal, as well as collaborations with other artists.
Click Here for the history of Projekt's out-of-print releases, and Sam’s early electronic releases.
There’s 2 weeks to go on my crowdfunding campaign for The Gesture of History, an ambient collaboration I created with violist Nick Shadow and synthesist Steve Roach. You can pledge to make this CD/LP exist. Backing there is sort of like preOrdering, it’s a lot like being a patron of the art. Your contribution goes to manufacture the LP (black or gold), the CD, a royalty for Steve and Shadow, mastering costs, shipping supplies, the fees, etc.
Yesterday I posted an update with info on two new premiums, and also a short conversation in which Steve asks me a few questions about running a campaign.
Listen to a track from the album at Bandcamp. A backer, Scott, wrote on the page, “A melodic immersion into an abstract emotional soundscape.”
We’re 52% of the way to the goal. Please contribute if you can, to help push us over the top. Thanks.
This is the $125 Fleece Blanket Premium | I ordered one of the blankets, to see how the image prints large. Looks nice. And boy oh boy, are they large! This photo is my almost-6-foot son holding one up. (Note: Sriracha sauce!)
These ten questions from deadhead of forallandnone.com (ex Music From The Empty Quarter) will be posted in three installments, beginning in November of 2018 and finishing in January of 2019. We’ll start with some Projekt-related questions where deadhead asks…
1 The obvious starting point after all these years is how the devil are you and what’s been happening in your life since we were last in touch in 1995 (when we were all full of energy and young!)? Being a daddy with a well established and highly regarded record label must be wonderful!
Sam: Well, right! The first thought that entered my mind when you asked “what has been happening,” is that I have a son who is now 16. That’s far more interesting to me, vs. the highly regarded label or the music, honestly. Having a kid is a wonderful, humbling, self-revealing process. I guess anything can turn out to be a teacher; learning how to be a parent, and how to be comfortable with myself so I can be a good parent, is a process I didn’t expect to experience as part of fatherhood, but I am very happy for it.
As far as Projekt, at the end of 1995 the label had 62 releases, and now I am working on release 357. I’ve been busy putting out a lot of music on Projekt, and not quite alot of my own work, over the years. When we were in touch, it was before BlackTape’s Remnants of a deeper purity was released. That was the band’s 6th album and To touch the milky way is our 12th. It took 10 years to create the first half of the discography, and 22 years for the second half. Definitely having a kid in 2002 and putting my focus on him slowed things down. Now I live in Portland Oregon and my son’s a junior in High School; I have more time to make music. And less stress about money, because Portland is a great and reasonably priced place to live.
2 How has the running of Projekt changed since back then?
Sam: In 1995 I was in Los Angeles with around 4 employees, at the peak in 1998 in Chicago there were 11 or 12 employees, and now it’s just me working out of my house. That’s the way it was in ’93 when we first connected. It’s pretty nice not having to deal with managing a large staff. Shea helps out a bit with web-related stuff, and Joe runs the webstore out of Philadelphia. I have purposefully made my life simpler, by not trying to be a big label anymore. Being a realistically small label that afford me enough time to make my own art is a much better place to be.
Over the years, there have been 86 artists on Projekt, and there are over 400 releases still in print (a bunch of those are on the digital side label). And anyway, I’ve realized something I didn’t notice in the 90s: the top-5 artists generate about 85% of the income, anyway. Now I can work smarter, and focus on the success, which makes a lot of sense in the current record industry.
3 Do you actively seek new artists or just concentrate on your firmly established acts?
Sam: I’m no longer seeking new artists for Projekt. It’s not economically feasible to do what the label used to do: sign new bands, start new careers. It was great, a lot of great music came out in those decades. But nowadays I’m just working with the top-7 or 8 acts. That keeps me plenty busy.
4 With such a large back catalogue of quality material has it made sense to reissue and possibly update titles, especially with the resurgence of vinyl and Record Store Day?
Sam: Record Store Day, bah! Screw them! Just a bunch of hipster wankers deciding what they think is cool. No thanks. Yes, yes! I say that because they rejected Remnants of a deeper purity a few years ago, so I’m being a sore sport (laughs). But yeah, sure, it would be nice to reissue more things on vinyl. The problem is the cost. Most albums were created for CD format, they can’t fit on a single LP. That means making a 2-LP set, and then it’s got to be nice and classy. And boom! I’m investing $5000-$8000 into a release. That’s a big risk. For me, personally, I Kickstart BlackTape vinyl releases. This way I know I have enough people interested in the album to make sense doing the vinyl.
Stay tuned for Part two, with more questions about Black Tape For A Blue Girl…part two
5 Black Tape For A Blue Girl, your own project being such an integral part of the label, does it provide you personally with an essential creative outlet?
Sam: Yes. BlackTape is the creative outlet that matters to me. I love the acts I work with at Projekt and I love their music, in the end running the label is the day job, and making my own music is the way I express myself. I’ve been making a lot of music the last few years, though I always feel I should be making more. The new album is finished, and I’m really excited that it’s getting out to everyone now, and I am taking a bit more time to read the reviews, and savor the comments from people who are writing me, to enjoy this part of the release as well.
6 The process for each BTAFBG release must be extremely stimulating; writing, playing, photography/artwork, having total control of the whole project? How do you decide on which vocalists and additional musicians will work with you on specific works?
Sam: I look at it like I’m a film director: I have the script, I have an idea in my head of the character and how they should tell that story, and then I look for who best fits that roll. That said, I like working with the same people album to album when it makes sense. Sometimes there’s a drastic change in style and the band is all new, and sometimes people continue on. It’s really about what makes sense for the album I am working on.
On To touch the milky way, I think Michael pushed himself out of his safe spot, and took on some songs that he wasn’t entirely sure about when I first sent them to him; but it worked out wonderfully, I always thought he could do it. I had imagined that sort of monochromatic color for the melodies, they’re subtle. And Michael does that subtle really well. So once he dived in, he was golden!
7 It must be costly recording and producing Black Tape material, do Kickstarter campaigns provide the necessary funding?
Sam: The recording & producing itself is not costly, because I record at home. I don’t have to pay a studio for those hundreds and hundreds of hours of studio time. However what is costly is my time. I need to be sitting in that chair for those hundreds and hundreds of hours, and time is money that I am not earning working at Projekt. My patron area brings in some income that goes towards the recording, in so far as buying plane tickets, paying the musicians, fixing gear. But to actually create the deluxe packaging I envision for Blacktape, I crowdfund through Kickstarter. I have to tell you that it’s really rewarding to know there’s these people out there who like what I do enough to contribute money up front so that I can make the album. Their trust is really wonderful. I’ve run 10 Kickstarters so far. Contrary to what people say, crowdfunding is not seeing diminishing interest. Each one I’ve launched has new people backing the projects, as well as regular supporters. I love it!
Stay tuned for Part three, with more questions about Projekt, streaming & the future of the music industry…part three
8 Since I’ve been out of the sales loop for many years, am interested to hear how the label’s sales compare with back when only physical material existed and the rough percentage levels between cd, vinyl and downloads?
Sam: Oh lord! Are there even CD sales anymore? What I see is that a band that used to sell 5,000 CDs is lucky if they sell 300 these days. There are some artist who do a lot better and some that do a lot worse. The industry is all about streaming these days. Streaming is around 70% of digital income, and digital income is between 65% and 95% of what I pay, based on the artist. CDs and LPs are a very, very minority part of the income.
Back in the early to mid 90s, CDs were 100% of the income. I only did LPs on the first two BlackTape album. There were some CD + Cassette releases, and I think 1989’s Ashes in the brittle air might have sold in the 800-1000 range on cassette. But that was the peak. I think the last cassette was in 1996 or 1997. The last LP was in 1987. Until the rebirth the last half decade.
8a Streaming? does that actually pay?
Sam: Yes. But it takes a lot of streams to add up to money. Projekt had over 70million streams in 2018! A few artists on the label get millions of streams a month, and that adds up to. It’s not much per stream however, so for smaller bands it doesn’t add up. That’s always been true. Small bands don’t make money, large bands do. It’s up to the band to get a hold of their career, and decide what to do to get more people interested in their music. I think that’s the problem, though: we like fringe music. Most people in the fringe don’t think about strategies to get people to hear their music.
8b Could you give an idea of how you promote each release? Do you have certain strategies, online and offline?
Sam: I think every day you have to re-envision the music industry. I feel that I am at a transition from some old thinking, to some new strategies. But I don’t know if anything is good enough to really discuss. I like talking with people from other labels, to brainstorm. To ask hard questions, and see if they have interesting answers.
9 Finally, how do you envisage the future of the music industry and will your own creative being thrive live long into a ripe old age? I hope so.
Sam: Thanks. Honestly, every year for the last 10 years has had less income coming into Projekt. I was pretty sure the music business was ending. I was kind of looking forward to that, “Ah! More time to make my own music now!!” But then 2018 turned things around and it’s the best year since 2011. And that’s because of streaming. So I have to recant all my bitching about streaming being so bad, and killing the music industry (I spent a lot of time talking about that in the early 10s). The top two artists — Voltaire & Steve Roach — are still generating 66% of the label’s income. That feels even more dramatic now, because the label has so many more releases than 10 or 20 years ago and you’d have thought more artists would be in the 10 or 20% range by this time; ie: the label’s royalty payouts more evenly dispersed. But nope.
For me, I’ve decided to stop releasing small bands I enjoy; it takes time and doesn’t bring in enough income to make sense anymore. I would rather refocus that time and energy on making more of my own music. ‘cause we’re all gonna die one day, and when I get there what I will remember (aside from my son, and people I love) is art that I created.
I worked with a lot of cool artists over the years, and Projekt released a lot of cool music; success! Now it’s time to focus on priorities.
Which is a bit of the theme of the new Black Tape For A Blue Girl album: questioning the life you’ve been living, checking in and making sure you haven’t gotten off onto a tangent away from the priorities that make you feel like yourself. So yeah, I’m looking to make more of my own art, while still working with the top artists at Projekt. And yeah, sigh, probably releasing more vinyl.
It was nice to catch up with you again after all these years!
1 First question – why the name Projekt and why with K except C?
My mom was Swiss German, I like to say it has something to do with her being from Zurich; but honestly I saw the word “Projekt” with a K on the back of a Peter Baumann LP, and I found that cool and interesting.
2 Many articles say that you set up Projekt as a way to release your own solo music. Is it true? If yes, when did you open the label to other bands and projects and why?
Projekt started in 1983 by releasing a couple of cassette compilations of local artists from South Florida where I lived, followed by my own solo electronic music. In 1986 and 1987 and 1988 they were LPs and then a CD from my band black tape for a blue girl. The first other band was a Best Of from England’s Attrition in 1989. The “why” is I created my own label so that nobody would tell me how to make my music. I had talked to and read interviews with many bands, and the idea that record-label-guys would poke their fingers into my art was really unappealing. I was going to make what I wanted to make. And when I began to get interest in my music, I thought I could offer that opportunity to retain control to other artists. I had been friends with Martin from Attrition for a few years already (we met via my fanzine), and I thought it would be great to introduce people in the USA to his music, via my label.
3 When did you start to think that running a label should be your daily job and when it happened in reality?
When I started the label in 1983 I was going to college, in 1986 I moved to California for college, in 1988 I graduated and I started working in computer graphics. I never thought Projekt would be my job. The label was able to afford to release CDs because of the good money I was bringing in from the graphics job. However, it got harder and harder to run the label, because the job took me out of town two to six weeks at a time. This was back before the Internet, it wasn’t possible to keep up on the label work during those long periods away. I had to shut it down for a month at a time. It became necessary to quit the day job — which was paying quite well — to focus on the label fulltime That was around 1991 / 1992. When I released the debuts from Lycia, and Love Spirals Downwards. Along with black tape for a blue , the label’s bands were having a lot of success, and I just couldn’t go away anymore.
I’ve been doing the label full time for 27 years! That’s a long time. Most labels don’t even last 5 years.
4 From the beginning you focused on darkwave and ambient music. Why just those two genres?
Almost all of the early cassette releases were electronic music. Then black tape for a blue girl was born as a mix of ethereal and electronic and goth, it led the label into that direction. The label always followed what black tape for blue girl was doing. With my band releasing albums in the darkwave genre, and setting up networks for distribution and publicity within those genres, it made sense to add more artists to the label that would appeal to the same audience.
5 What about similar recording companies in USA/Canada? Was there any competitive fight between Cleopatra/Middle Pillar etc?
I really don’t believe in the idea of competition. I think that’s just a story people like to create to make things sound more interesting; really we were all doing our own thing. I am much more about collaboration, rather than competition. Not necessarily with those two labels, but I worked a lot with Matt and William at Tess Records. And I still like helping out other bands. Ultimately, it never felt like Projekt was in competition with Cleopatra or Metropolis, it was not about success at the expense of the other.
6 You started to collaborate with Steve Roach in, let’s say, early stages of Projekt life. How did that happen?
When I lived in Florida in the mid-80s, I had already heard of Steve Roach, I think we might have exchanged some mail. When I moved to California in 1986 I saw him play live. Then in 1988, Steve produced the album from my roommate, Walter Holland’s Transience of Love. That’s when we started talking more often. He contributed a track to Projekt’s 1993 compilation From Across this grey land No. 3. The first album I released from Steve was his 1995 collaboration with vidnaObmana, Well of Souls. Since that time, I’ve released about 100 of his albums on the label. We talk almost every day, working on so many different projects together.
7 You are collaborating with really important names for American gothic scene as Lycia, or Voltaire. Both with not typical Goth sound. What was the reason that you started to work with them?
The simple reason is that Projekt released records from bands I enjoyed listening to.
Mike from Lycia sent me a lot of demo tapes over the course of a year or two. When he made new songs, he’d send them over. At some point I said, “OK this is really good! We should release an album!” That became 1991’s Ionia.
With Voltaire, I had heard his name somewhere, and then he opened a show for black tape for a blue girl in New York City; he performed most of the songs that became the first album. We talked after the show, he’s a great guy, charismatic on stage and in person. I enjoyed his sound and humor, and it was obvious that there was an audience for what he was creating. He recorded the debut album without any Projekt involvement; whereas with bands like Lycia, SoulWhirlingSomewhere or Love Spirals Downwards I was more involved, either with the mixing, or song order, or album cover art. Voltaire’s The Devil’s Bris was released in 1998. 20 years ago!
8 Over the years the ratio between darkwave music and ambient sounds prevailed in favor of ambient music. Why?
Honestly that’s because people still buy ambient-electronic music.
On the darkwave side, only Voltaire continues to sell really well. Most of that is digital. (addition: Projekt is releasing the new LYCIA and BlackTape, and there is a lot of interest in these releases, so the preceding sentence might need to be updated).
However it seems fans of ambient-electronic are still willing to pay for music. I focus on where the money is, right? I’m running a business here!
9 I remember longer ago, when you have blogs on your web side with slogan: I love mp3. How it happened and is it your relationship with this format different from those days?
I honestly don’t even think about the format anymore. It’s whatever people want to listen to. I don’t remember loving mp3s. I remember the audience loving MP3s. As a business, it’s smart to provide what the customer wants. For a decade they wanted digital downloads. But now, if it’s MP3 or FLAC, or streaming, it’s all the same to me.
I suspect your question is more like, “What is your attitude towards digital music these days?” The answer is digital is about 72% of Projekt’s income, so I love it because it’s how people are getting music. Streaming is doing amazing for the bigger artist; it brings in a lot of our income. Even though personally, I love tangible objects, I love album covers, I love album artwork. Yet I have accepted that the majority of the audience has moved away from caring about the physical object. Frankly, I rarely take out a CD to listen to music. Sure, last night I listened to five CDs from the 80s, four of which were from Harold Budd.
In my office, I stream music like everyone else.
10 I know you had a really complicated relationship with streaming platforms such as Spotify and others. Is it because of their financial behaving to musicians or you don’t like that way of consuming music?
My relationship is not complicated at all anymore. Spotify pays money and I take that money and I pay the artist their royalty!
As a business I think Projekt has to go with what the audience wants. Wherever people are doing their business, Projekt has to be there. Yes, it would be nice if streaming paid more. But it doesn’t, and it won’t.
For years and years I griped that streaming didn’t pay a fair rate, and it was killing the music industry. Well guess what? I was (sort-of) wrong. Yes, it still doesn’t pay a decent rate, but streaming has actually turned the music industry around. It’s now half of what most labels bring in, even with the low rates per play. I was speaking to a guy a few days ago, a musician who still has the attitude that streaming is horrible, and it’s the death of the industry. I can’t agree. I know that small bands don’t get enough streams to add up to much money. But for the more popular bands, it’s really a lot of income.
I cannot complain about it. If fans want to stream, and I can write nice checks to the bigger bands on the label, it seems that listeners are getting satisfied.
I talk to artists (on other labels or on their own) who won’t put their music up on streaming. I think that’s absurd because so much of this industry is about streaming. News articles say it’s pretty much just streaming & vinyl. Download is dying quickly. CDs have pretty much died already. Streaming is where people hear music. It would be unwise to say I’m am against streaming nowadays.
11 You’ve had some success with the Kickstarter/crowdfunding model; what are your thoughts on the way artists and musicians have utilized the various platforms that exist?
I have done 10 successful kickstarters and I think it’s a great way for artist to connect to their audience. I don’t think creators can afford to stick to the past and try to focus on strategies that don’t work anymore. Crowdfunding is a great thing for artists. However, it is hard for a new band to succeed at crowdfunding because they don’t have the name recognition, and they don’t have the reach to get fans involved. Black tape or a blue girl had albums in the heyday of the music industry in the 80s and 90s, so I’ve got a lot of fans out there. For me, part of each Kickstarter is reintroducing fans to my music, fans who have forgotten about the band, or didn’t realize I was still active. It’s been a great way of spreading the word, and funding my art. So I like it!
12 What do you foresee as the future of this model, at least with regards to you and your artistic pursuits?
It’s definitely the biggest part of the way I fund my own music nowadays. I’m not suggesting any other artist should feel required to do it, if they don’t want to. Crowdfunding is a lot more direct and driven, and you have to really be willing to ask your fans for money. Some artists just can’t do that, they don’t like that taste in their mouth. I think all artists are putting out a hand and asking for money, it’s just what method they chose to use. And how they feel about being direct about it, rather than subtle and sticking to the old model (CD sales). For Blacktape — and my solo electronic music — it is definitely the way to go. I really like it because I connect to the people who love my music and I talk with them and get to know them. I love it. I find it to be a nice exchange with the people who care about what I do.Sam Rosenthal a 35 let Projekt records: “Hudba zadarmo vydělává!”
13 You are putting a lot of Projekt music out on Projekt’s Bandcamp portal for free. Why?
I know that sounds contradictory, but the fact is that putting music up for free gets a lot of music heard by the audience, and some of those listeners donate a few bucks, and that adds up. I did a comparison recently for an artist with two albums seven months apart. Guess what? The one up for free for a week and the subsequent paid release brought in exactly the same amount of money. The difference is that free was a viable way to get a lot of people to hear the music. People are into this.
For many musicians it is more important to get their music heard vs. making money on the release. Because — sadly — very few bands in these genres make money on their releases, anyway. Getting people to download and listen to their album helps builds a fanbase, who maybe later will support with a purchase. That’s a big maybe, mind you.
14 Projekt is not only pure recording company, but also distributing platform for European labels, via your webstore. How important for you is, to be also re-seller of another Gothic related labels?
It’s really unimportant to me to be a reseller of other Gothic related music.
Joe (who runs the webstore along with many other music-related businesses out of his shop in Philadelphia) continues to sell other labels at projekt.com, but sales are nothing like what they used to, because people just don’t buy much on CD anymore. At the peak of sales — in the mid 90s — Projekt must have sold 1000 copies of each of the first two Faith & the Muse albums, released on Tess Records. These days for non-Projekt releases, if we sell 25 copies of an album… that’s amazing! Americans just don’t buy a lot of CDs anymore. It’s unfortunate, but I am realistic about that. It’s a nice service having those albums in our webstore, and Joe enjoys doing it. If I had to run the webstore out of my house, I wouldn’t add all the extra work and headache.
So thank you Joe for still caring about this music!
Update: The new Dead Can Dance album has sold extremely well in the webstore, as do Lisa Gerrard albums. So there is one place that the webstore is still doing well with non-Projekt artists.
15 How it happened that Sam Fogarino from The Interpol worked for you as an employee? Was he big fan of Projekt music?
Ha ha that’s a funny question, because I don’t remember (laughs)! Sam was friends with Patrick (of Thanatos who used to work for Projekt as my publicity manager in the 90s). Pat got him the job for a few weeks or months. I don’t remember? I don’t know if he liked Projekt’s music.
16 A statistical question for you: which Projekt album sold best?
The best selling CDs were compilations that we did with the Hot Topic chain here in America. The new face of goth and Projekt: Gothic. They sold for $4 on the counter of the Hot Topic store in the mall. That doesn’t exactly count in my book, because people didn’t necessarily buy them because they knew the music. They bought them because they were in a Gothic store in the mall! And that’s cool because I think a lot of people discovered the label that way. They sold around 25,000 copies each.
The best selling album from an artist was black tape for the girl’s 1996 Remnants of a deeper purity. It keeps selling to this day. Voltaire’s albums are the top-4 sellers every month from our digital distributor, and then a lot of Steve Roach rounds out the top-10.
17 You are recording the new album of black tape for the girl, To Touch the Milky Way. Are you plan to put some rough mixes from studio out and are you going to release also on vinyl?
The album is finished and is coming out at the end of October. I funded it via Kickstarter, raised $12,278 to make the deluxe vinyl and CD edition. It’s amazing and beautiful, and I hope everyone takes the time to give it a listen when it’s available.
18 You also run seven successful Projektfest. How important for you was it to do this “music gathering” and are you planning more for future?
I will never do a festival again, sorry.
The fests in 1996 and 1997 in Chicago were amazing, with over 1000 attendees. It was really successful, and fun to have so many of the label’s bands in one place so I could meet & listen to everyone. The fests were also incredibly stressful, logistically and monetarily. Patrick and Lisa and Charles did a lot of work to make those a success. They deserve a lot of the credit. The fests after 2001 had low attendance. Post-9/11, people in the US don’t have the mentality like in Europe about spending money to travel to a darkwave festival.
If somebody wanted to put up the money and do half the work, I’d get behind the idea. But I’m not interested in taking the risk anymore.
Better would be if the WGT would put up the € for a Projektnight in Leipzig. I don’t think there’s much chance of that, though.
19 What are plans for Projekt Records for the future?
Projekt is consolidating and focusing on the top-7 artists. I aim to have less record label work, and more time to make my own art and enjoy my time (hang out with my son, and my partner Mercy, and read, and pet the cat). There was a time in the 90s when I worked 60+ hours a week at Projekt, I had 11 employees. It never was easy for little fringe labels back in the day, I was $180,000 in debt at the end of the 90s, and I’m never going back to that stress again. No more!
Looking back at the last 35 years, the label succeeded!
I want to give a high-five to all the artists, and all the employees over the years. We did it! But what was “it?” In retrospect I see my mission was to release a lot of unknown music, develop bands, and introduce the label’s fans to great records they might not otherwise have heard. That worked and some of the artists I discovered became well known in these genres. The label did a wonderful thing and had nice successes along the way, as you’ve mentioned.
But realistically, over the last ten years the old strategies stopped making sense for a lot of the music I wanted to release. I can’t continue to put out new artists that people don’t want to buy, and end up with mountains of unsold CDs in the storage space. That’s not working anymore. These days people discover bands and then stream the music, which is great from an enjoying-music perspective, but not so great for bringing in the income to pay the small artists (and cover my costs).
My plan for Projekt now is to refocus and have a new mission. Or rather, refine the mission to focus on the top artists.
As a creator, I’m good at change, adapting, discovering the new path. That carries over into life and into business. It is extremely rare that a business survives 35 years. And even more rare that a small underground label like Projekt survives without a big hit (Projekt’s variation on that is having two artists who continue to bring in new listeners to their music: Aurelio Voltaire & Steve Roach). I appreciate all the years of your support, that’s why I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I’ve been fortunate to earn my living for the last 27 years from Projekt. Thank you.
Many of the people reading this still buy new music and support artists they love. We’re all grateful for that. However there are a lot of people I hear from (on Facebook, etc) who are only into the 90s-era of the Projekt label. It’s great to know the music from back then had a positive effect. But I want to point out that most of us are still here making music and when people purchase or support our new work, shows, etc, we can pay our bills. So please support the artists you love. Not just the ones on Projekt, but all of them! Thanks for caring, and thanks for putting some of your hard-earned cash towards your favorite bands.
And thanks for the interview and letting me talk about these things.