Archive for the ‘Blog from Sam’ Category
Hi! I say any Monday can be Cyber Monday if we want to have a sale! And we wanna have a sale! Take 50% off all downloads at the Projekt Bandcamp store.PROJEKT’S CYBERMONDAY DIGITAL 50% OFF SALE
Digital-only 50% OFF sale at our Bandcamp store. Sale does not include merchandise (CDs+LPs+etc). Order refunded if you purchase merch. Use checkout coupon code "june2019". Sale ends Wednesday June 19, 2019, Noon EST.
❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ ☠️ ❤️ This month, Projekt reprinted 4 of Aurelio Voltaire’s releases; 5 of his 6 albums are now in earth-saving non-jewel box packaging. To celebrate, we’ve put his entire Projekt catalog on sale for $10; and Boo Hoo is a free download at Bandcamp to boot! Purchase here at the Projekt Webstore, or from our Bandcamp page.
Sale runs for one week, through May 6.
Artist interview > 2017
Unfortunately, the Red Bull Music Academy website is shutting down. We didn’t want to lose Ned Raggett’s in depth March 10, 2017 Steve Roach interview. We’re archiving it here on the Projekt site for posterity….
Synth Musician Steve Roach on Tapping into Currents of SoundA master of meditative soundscapes shares his creative philosophies
Following his enthusiastic interest in experimental electronic and progressive music as a young man in California in the 1970s, Steve Roach now stands as one of the core figures in the open-ended field. His daunting, astonishingly rich catalog of albums, covering solo work as well as a multitude of collaborations, ranges from cold, grim sequencer voyages through blackest space to warm, bright evocations of vast landscapes, often inspired by the Arizona desert where he and his family have made their home for decades.
While his landmark 1984 release Structures from Silence has received due praise in recent years, any number of other releases deserve recognition. His one-off collaboration with guitarist Roger King, 1998’s Dust to Dust, captures an eerily beautiful sensibility of the high desert, while the multi-volume Immersion series from the mid-2000s explores a series of detailed and sublime compositions measuring hours in length. A contrast can be found in 2012’s Back To Life, which is just as immersive but likewise feels free and open, a movement through space as much as time.
In February 2017, Roach released his latest effort, The Passing, an hour-long composition that was completed and made public on his 62nd birthday. In this career-spanning interview, Roach discusses his creative background and writing process, questions of time and language that persist in his work and advice for younger artists in the field.
photo: Adam Fleishman
If we could start with the creative impulse – what, where and when was your first sense of a particular creative or artistic accomplishment that you did in any field?
Before music I was drawn towards using my hands and painting, some sculpting and working with material. The compulsion to make something from nothing, I would say when I was a young teenager, became really at the forefront for me in terms of what I was drawn towards. I was starting to paint on my own and work with that kind of spontaneous expression with color and shape and form, in a nontraditional, completely freeform environment. I wasn’t taking classes or being instructed by anyone, I was just following these inner impulses to create something expressive.
At that time, I would say it was quite connected to a lot of time I was spending in the desert areas of Southern California, out beyond San Diego and the Anza-Borrego desert. There was something there that really opened up doors for me of this kind of space and this kind of creative process that seemed almost like a birthright, like something I was discovering through that process of doing it. Certainly early music from the early days inspired me – the early progressive music, the early music from the Berlin school, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream and early electronic music, Pink Floyd of course. The longer tracks, and tracks that had no vocals and were more what you would think of as sound paintings at that time, were already lighting me up in those ways.
(That was) setting the stage for when I then would first find an affordable portable synthesizer in the late ’70s. That would have been the ARP 2600, the first full-blown synthesizer that I saw in a local store, and combined with hearing the music from Europe, that whole progression became so powerful, so appealing and almost compulsive that I had to have it – to start shifting that sense of painting and shaping and working from abstract forms into forms that seemed more architectural, but formed and shaped in a way that I was almost tasting and seeing in visual form.
I had a lot of the aspects of the arts from a painting and sculpting state of mind, but sound – once I got my hands on those instruments, it was like I already knew the process. I had this sense of, “I know how to do this.” So I continued through my own process of teaching myself how to work with it, just a classic woodshedding story where you lock yourself in your little space for as many hours of the day or night that you could.
You’ve spoken in other interviews in some detail about tactile creation via your chosen instruments. Could you say a little more about the sense of physical approach and how you contrast it with what might be less fulfilling approaches?
It’s interesting, because I was just looking at some soft synth instruments that I was looking to explore, and I’m basically 99.9 percent a hardware instrument composer of electronic music. They have knobs and sliders and there’s a feel to them, they have a whole particular unique combination of aspects to them that you can identify with the same way a guitarist might identify with a Telecaster or a Stratocaster or whatever different guitar you’re drawn to.
But beyond all that would be the sound itself, the quality that one synthesizer at that time would make over another. The subtlety and the nuance that comes from the analog synthesizer and the analog experience is something that is the throughline through all of my work that exists all the way up to this morning, when I woke up and was carving sounds out on another hardware synth that I’m exploring and working with right now.
That connection to an instrument, where there’s zero latency and you’re not interfacing with what seems like a facsimile of a controller into a computer or something like that – they’re so sophisticated now, I know, and there are so many options there that are off the chart, and there’s a whole universe of comparisons that can be made now. But I tried to do that, and I just keep coming back – the experience of creating just doesn’t have that same kind of engagement and that same kind of flow. It’s just fun. It’s a real experience of just connecting with a synth that’s designed really well, and it has an ergonomic flow, and there’s no screen, and you’re not getting locked into the visual. You can get really lost in visual with the screen tracking everything. Then I find that you start to stop listening or hearing in the same way when you take away that element and you just are working through the sound field, meditating, staring, focusing intently on the space between the speakers with no screen. That’s a powerful place.Just a slight, tiny little adjustment of a few different knobs can make a universe of emotionally engaged difference and perception.
I do use the computer for recording and for arranging and for building my pieces; it’s invaluable. I couldn’t imagine not having a workstation for the nonlinear approach to building these worlds that I do. But in that way, I guess the parallel would be if you’re a filmmaker, then you’re out shooting scenes of things that are happening and you’re capturing performances between actors, you’re capturing light shifting in the afternoon with some occurrence that’s happening there, and you’re completely tuned into that as the experience that you’re capturing.
That’s how I record so much of my music, is more in that context where you’re capturing a living, breathing experience that’s happening right between your very ears and in front of your eyes, and you’re shaping it and carving upon it at the most subtle level that the analog stuff brings, where just a slight, tiny little adjustment of a few different knobs can make a universe of emotionally engaged difference and perception.
So while that’s happening, I’m recording all of this constantly in the studio. A lot of times it’s being recorded as a stereo file. There’ll be maybe 30, 40 tracks up on that board. I have a large analog mixing console to go along with all the different instruments. Then the board itself becomes a palette where the artist mixes his paint. So between the paint-mixing, the levels, the synth, the dialing in and tuning of all these interrelationships between the instruments while they’re running live, then the processing, the reverb, the hands-on aspect of the board itself – I mean, the board is one massive instrument. That’s really another big piece in my music.
For the way I have evolved as an electronic music artist and what remains important to me… To start at the top, the list would be just the emotional impact of the sound, and then right there, almost at the same level, is how you’re extracting it, how you’re tuning into it with your body. If your body’s an instrument, which I feel it is for me – it’s one of the first instruments – then the tools, the surgical tools of sonic surgery, just need to be something that I have this relationship that I’ve also built and developed over almost 40 years. So all of those are important things to stay connected to and to not give up.
How does the conception of time figure into the limitations of recording technology in this sense? You’ve seen everything from the specific limits in terms of how much music can be presented from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to now the theoretically infinite space online presentation can give you. Is there a constant struggle between where and how to draw the lines, or how to act as an editor of your own work?
The dynamic of the listening process, the idea that something is going on too long or not long enough – it’s still completely as vital as ever. Now we have the ability to have basically an eternal space where I can just broadcast it out. Let’s say I’ve set up a station on one of my sites, and I can have music and dronescapes and all that sort of things just going on from here ’til the end of electricity. That’s a world that I really love to live in, this whole immersion world, and the Immersion series I started years ago really grew out of wanting to not leave the sound current. I always connect to this sense that there’s sound running in this current all the time, all around me, and I’m tapping into it, reaching and grabbing a section of it for a while and shaping it and presenting it out into a form that captures a certain limited sense of time.
Somehow the CD became a 74 minute medium, and now through different ways of presenting files, compressed or whatnot, you can have things extend for a long time or, like I say, a live broadcast of something running off into infinity. But the idea of composition and the way I work with time, and the way I work with sonic motifs – when I say “motifs” I’m moving beyond what would be a melody or a harmonic chord structure, but it’s something that’s so prevalent in electronic music, these episodes of sound that become signatures, and they can be completely abstract or completely unique to themselves. But there’s still an aesthetic to them that you can connect to and listen to and engage with. At a certain point you have to know when it’s overstayed its welcome, for example, or when something has made the statement and it needs to shift into the next place, or that sometimes something cannot sustain or breathe long enough to let you settle into the space and let your body engage with it.
There’s a big piece of the music that emerges from body awareness, and there’s the conscious mind awareness, and then there’s the subtle energy awareness of something that can play forever. I would learn early on I would have certain pieces that would be too short, essentially, and I would hear from listeners that it was too short. “I wanted to hear it for another 45 minutes.” [laughs] And I would agree with that in some cases.
But especially in the days when I was moving away from the influences of the European electronic music, I was consciously interested in shortening pieces and making a point and then moving to the next place, and evolving that to where the statement is made within a seven or eight minute space, which would be a shorter time frame when you grew up listening to 30 minute sides of an album.
Eventually I would return to the longer forms, and that’s probably what my preference is now, to have these movements happen within these longer forms to that sense of altering of time, where you’re slowing time down, where you take markers of time out of that space, where you’re in this continuous amniotic fluid and you’re almost floating in a womb-like state that’s not just ‘tape some keys down on a keyboard and then make lunch and come back.’
The sustained drone zone music, if you’re fully engaged with it, there’s a whole thing happening down at a molecular level with that stuff, way down inside, where movement and interaction and layers all work together in the way that, when you see large-scale abstract paintings that have a vibration and a frequency, there’s this compelling, magnetic quality to them that pulls you in and lets you experience yourself outside of normal perception and enhances your perception and expands your boundaries of your perception at the same time.
The new piece I just released called The Passing came together pretty quickly. I like to release a piece or do a concert or do something to mark that moment in time when I happen to have another birthday, and so this one, through Bandcamp, finishes up the thought with your sense of when something goes on too long, or “what’s the timing on it” or “too short.” It’s this theme I created in the mid-’90s for a compilation, and at that time it just felt so truncated and unrealized. It was really like a sketch that normally I wouldn’t have let out into the world. It had so much energy to it and had this emotional resonance to it that felt like it needed to just completely be allowed to breathe and develop. So it took a lot of years later, but that inspired me a few weeks ago just in terms of the emotion in the piece.
Album and song titles, by default, provide a linguistic context to your work that otherwise has no such element, in terms of there not being any lyrics. Do you struggle with the “right” titles for albums or songs, or is it more casual or random or easy than that?
I wish it was casual, random and easy. It is that, sometimes. But it’s still having a title that has a very significant and profound connection to the piece. Let’s say I’m working on a piece that’s come through just from the direct experience of all these different influences that are bringing me into the studio and creating the desire to go in this direction or that direction. It can be spontaneous, it can be completely unconnected to what I thought I was going in to do, but ultimately the titles are so important in the music in terms of the reflection that they can shine upon your perception when you hear the title and then you see the cover and then you hear the music, and then those things can work together for me.
It’s like a door that has three locks on it, and all three of those locks can have even more impact if those words resonate with the feeling in the music and the cover image is also connected congruently to that. So you think of Structures from Silence, or (1988’s) Dreamtime Return, for example, at a certain point the words will start emerging, shaping and carving the album into shape.
If nothing’s come through by the time that I’m at the mastering stage, then I just put full focus on listening, sometimes all afternoon into the evening, and I just keep going deeper and deeper into the place that the music’s taking me without any engagement of technical aspects like EQ or mastering. I’m just listening to it in a way that’s active and stimulating the mythic imagination, let’s say, and letting the music take me to the places that I’m hoping that it takes the listeners to.
Sometimes it takes quite a while to birth the title after the music is complete. I’ll have that discussion with Sam (Rosenthal), who runs Projekt (Records), and we’ve got everything ready – we might even have the album cover ready to go, and there’s no titles on anything. It’s sitting there waiting for that stage. I can take it that far into the birthing process of finding that. But I’ll always have working titles, or usually have working titles or words that convey the feeling. If I’m talking to visual artists, then I’ll use those kinds of descriptions to help draw material through visually. Or else I’ll take photos myself, or do whatever it takes. Really, it’s a complete engagement, and it’s way more complex than I think a lot of people would be aware of from the outside, where they just think, “Well, he’s having fun cranking out some music, and now he’s got this album out.”
Then, the details that go in behind the scenes with the mastering and the subtlety that goes on there – I’m really having some great success working with Howard Givens, who owns the Spotted Peccary label with partners. His whole setup is ultra high-end, analog front-end mastering tools. It’s making a big difference for me. I can hear it and I can see it in the response, also. So between Howard and Sam with that end of the production, we’ve got a great team, and I’m just really grateful to be working with those guys at this point.
If a younger artist in any field approaches you and asks for advice or even a simple suggestion about what to keep in mind for the future, what would be your response?
I would probably first ask them questions about their creative process to get a sense of what it is that they’re drawn to, what they’re aiming to express. Then I would have to ask them if they’re coming to me and they’re interested in what I’m doing, regardless of their age or my age, or just the art form itself. I would share the techniques that we’ve talked about in this interview thus far, and I would talk about their connection to yourself as a person before you approach any instrument or any tool. It’s just getting your intention and your clarity and getting a wide view of what it is you’re wanting to express.
Even if you don’t quite understand it enough to articulate it with words, finding that emotional landscape to draw from, and then trying to stay connected to what really feels right for you, for the artist, rather than being seduced by all the newest, most recent innovations in technology or the flavor-of-the-month stuff. I know it’s quite affordable, and you can build a whole studio’s worth of material inside of a MacBook Pro, but it doesn’t take much to bring in a few hardware pieces that just give you that hands-on subtlety. Really listen and draw from the things that inspire you. It could be musically or non-musically, but find the pulse inside of that.
I just also remind younger listeners when they respond to some of my classic titles like Structures or Dreamtime that those were all created on what would be considered very archaic, very simple equipment at that time. There’s this sense that I wanted to defy the technology all the way along. It really didn’t matter what I was using; I would use things that people would come back around and say, “You used that? To create that? Recorded that on a four-track or a cassette player?” I have a lot of pieces that were recorded on a Nakamichi cassette player, and captured at that level. That’s basically the multifaceted question towards a younger composer of today.
I’ve printed a new Projekt mug, limited to 36 per color. I really love the design because it’s just a bit shorter than a standard coffee mug, so it easily slips under my espresso machine’s portafilter. Matte black finish on the outside with glossy logo, and glossy color on the inside. Available in Red, Sky Blue, & (Stealth) Royal Blue. Set of 2 with 1 bonus for $20, or single mug (your choice of color) for $12.
Sorry about this note to export customers… while I *could* ship these outside of the USA you’ll see that postage is just too expensive to be worth your while.
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!)
Tucson-based electronic/ambient pioneer Steve Roach received his second Grammy nomination with 2018’s Molecules of Motion album. Chosen in the Best New Age Album category, it follows last year’s nominated Spiral Revelation.
For Molecules, Roach calls upon an expansive 35-year legacy at the forefront of electronic music creation on a masterful album with roots in the Berlin School and a foot in the transcendent unknown of the future flowing into the present moment. Shimmering, pulsing, moving, emotional and engaging, the album is a sonic marvel: a tapestry of sequencer-spun patterns floating upon an atmosphere of lush emotive textures alive with a vibrant, life-affirming glow.
Always reaching towards what’s next on the horizon, Roach refuses to be tied down in any one stylistic direction. His worldwide audience continues to grow, and his innovations continue to inspire new and long-time listeners. Listening to a Steve Roach album, you hear the momentum of a lifetime dedicated to the soundcurrent, an artist operating at the pinnacle of his artform, with dedication, passion and an unbroken focus on creating a personal vision of electronic music.
Roach’s hypnotic meditations upon elegant motion and electro-sensual space makes Molecules of Motion unlike anything nominated for a Grammy this year. It’s just one facet of the multi-faceted soundworlds that are paramount to his work.
Contact sr.projekt@gmail for a download code; or stream at: https://projektrecords.bandcamp.com/album/molecules-of-motion If tweeting, please @ProjektRecords Steve is available for phone or in-person interviews Image download: https://www.projekt.com/store/assets/artistphoto.html
Visit the Steve Roach Photo Gallery. 2018 Steve Roach bio: welcome to the vortex. Steve talks about his career and second consecutive Grammy Nomination in Tucson Weekly!
Congrats to Steve Roach!
Projekt Records’ Steve Roach was nominated for a GRAMMY for the 2nd year in a row! His 2018 Molecules of Motion has been nominated for Best New Age Album of the year (the Grammys don’t have an “electronic music” category, so a wide variety of styles are placed within New Age). Around this time last year, we were telling you about Steve’s 2017 Spiral Revelation getting nominated for the Grammy! It’s a wonderful second opportunity to claim the prize. The award ceremony is in February.
There’s a Steve Roach article in Psychology Today: 2019 Grammy Nominee Is A Synesthete.
Steve talks about his career and second consecutive Grammy Nomination in Tucson Weekly!February 7 2019 addition from Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal:
Steve Roach is nominated for his second consecutive Grammy Award, for the album Molecules of Motion; it’s in the Best New Age Album category. Steve travels to Los Angeles for Sunday’s Premiere Ceremony. Over the weekend he will post updates on his Facebook page. I’m really quite curious what it’s like when an independent artist goes to the Grammys!
I talk with Steve all the time, discussing his albums that we have in production for Projekt and Timeroom, albums that he’s started working on, the music business, creativity, and so much more. Getting nominated for a Grammy was never on the list of things we talked about… until last year’s nomination for Spiral Revelation. Well, that was interesting, I thought. Then nominated for the second year in a row? As Steve says, lightning struck twice.
Steve has dedicated so many years to his art, I totally think he should have a Grammy! And so do his listeners! I regularly get emails and read facebook post from people who were monumentally touched and affected by Steve’s music. I know there’s love out there from all of you. But from the music industry? I know the biz is very focused on big sales, and flashy promotion…. Though Steve did get to the final-5 twice, so that tells me the voters are listening and know Steve’s work. Winning an actual Grammy award!? As I said, it’s was never on our radar. Sunday afternoon! Let’s see what happens!
There are over 80 categories in the Grammys; most awards are not televised in the primetime event. Instead they can be watched in the streaming afternoon ceremony.
Their website says: Kick off Grammy Sunday, Feb. 10, by kicking back and streaming the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony on GRAMMY.com. Starting at 3:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. CT / 12:30 Pacific, host Shaggy will lead us through the festivities, with all-star presenters such as Lzzy Hale and Questlove and can’t-miss performances by Ángela Aguilar, Natalia Lafourcade, Sofi Tukker and more.
Steam on-line, or check out Steve’s Facebook page with updates from the weekend.
– SamGrammy Reflections February 2019, from Steve Roach:
After last year’s surprise nomination for Spiral Revelation — and with this year’s nomination for Molecules of Motion — a lightning bolt hit the tree again. Last weekend’s award ceremony in Los Angeles presented a nearby adventure to visit what felt like another planet.
It’s a planet I know well, having lived on the front lines in LA, the city of ambition, for 10 formative years from 1979-1989. Throughout the Grammy weekend the flood of memories was constant. From my first drive up from San Diego in 1979 in an old yellow VW Bug with the seats removed and filled to capacity with synths, to the endless concerts over that decade throughout SoCal, to jobs at record stores on Sunset Blvd and Wilshire, to a stint as a microbiology lab tech — these were just a few of the threads woven together to support my dream of creating this music day and night. Regular trips to the Joshua Tree Monument to feed my desert soul were vital and helped birth Structures From Silence, Western Spaces and Dreamtime Return. These were just some of the things coming up while sitting in the Microsoft theater for the afternoon Grammy award ceremony, surreal and resonate on many levels.
The idea of the Grammys connected to my music has never been on my radar. It all started with confidant, long time friend, and mastering-guru Howard Givens, a voting member of the Recording Academy; in 2017 he quietly submitted Spiral Revelation for consideration. Sam Rosenthal at Projekt and I knew nothing about this until the morning in late 2017 when the emails about earning the nomination started pouring in. With the January 2018 awards in NYC — and my concerts gearing up around that time — the priorities were clear about going to NYC: not possible. Sam became a voting member last year and submitted Molecules Of Motion as a “why not try this year and see?” and that was that, I was nominated for the second consecutive year.
While the Grammys mean something or nothing to different people, the fact that these albums were voted into the top 5 nomination list twice — with absolutely no campaign on our part — speaks of a real beating heart inside the Recording Academy / Grammy organization. I had no expectations of the outcome this year. Just grateful for the wider recognition and awareness the nomination brings to my music and life’s work.
The weekend was really about feeling the momentum of living life on the creative edge for the last 45 years. There is no winning or losing in this realm. It’s about being fully present, embracing the moment and tuning into what’s next as it’s happening with grace and courage. I have been so blessed to share every molecule of all this with Linda Kohanov since 1989.
Gratitude abounding to the community of soundcurrent friends around the world who have been with me on this journey of one which includes so many.
All my best! Steve February 16, 2019 (64 years on this planet today!)
After decades of making music, influencing multiple genres and crafting a discography spanning more than a hundred hours, ambient/electronic pioneer Steve Roach might finally be hitting his stride. The Tucson-based musician recently received his second-ever Grammy nomination for his 2018 album Molecules of Motion, after receiving his first Grammy nomination only last year.
“It was like lightning hitting a tree twice, when you don’t even expect it to hit once,” Roach said. “But it’s cool to have this new attention. I just keep doing what I do.”
Read the full article at Tucson Weekly
Please retweet: https://twitter.com/ProjektRecords/status/1091038489167233025
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!
If you’ve ever wanted insight into the business side of Projekt Records, then check out my interview on The Future of What Podcast. It’s a weekly podcast / radio program about the music industry for insiders, outsiders, and outliers; I talked with Portia (of Kill Rock Stars Records) for 45 minutes about my 35 years running Projekt. It’s an informative conversation with lots of behind-the-scenes on staying in business through all the changes I’ve experienced. Cassettes to LPs to CDs to digital, back to LPs, crowd-funding, connecting with fans. If you’re in a band, running a label, or just a fan who wonders how it’s possible I’m still here putting out this great music for you, give it a listen.
After my interview, Steve Roach is on for great insights from his side of the music world. He’s been at it even longer than I have; he’s been through the same experiences, but from a different perspective. Steve also talks about his creativity, which I find really intriguing.
I don’t usually listen to my interviews, honestly, but this one turned out so good that I streamed to the whole thing. A really interesting conversation.
Do check it out.
It’s the current episode of The Future of What.
Cyber Overload. Sheesh! I got so many Cybersale emails in the last week. I am sure you’ve been flooded by them as well. My apologies for adding one more to your in box. Then again, I know you’re a fan of Projekt music; you’re on this list because you’ve purchased from our webstore, our Bandcamp page, or you signed up somewhere else over the years. Thanks for your interest. So far this week, 346 of you have taken us up on the Cyberdigital 50% off sale, and 8 of you have taken the Cyerphysical 15% off coupon. I guess that’s a pretty good indicator of how digital has taken over the music business. I was interviewed yesterday for The Future of What podcast (it should go live within a week.) We discussed the changes in the record business. Each podcast features one record label person in a 45-minute interview about the record business. It was great to talk with another label owner about Projekt’s 35+ year history, and the changes we’ve seen over the years. The one thing that doesn’t change is that fans of the music keep the label alive. Giving a bit back with a discount is my way of thanking you for your interest in the cool independent music on Projekt. So for you, a few more days of our cyber specials:PROJEKT’S CYBER DIGITAL 50% OFF SALE
Digital-only 50% OFF sale at our Bandcamp store. Sale does not include Merchandise (CDs+LPs+etc). Order refunded if you purchase merch. Use checkout coupon code “cyber18”. Sale ends Friday Nov 30, Noon EST.PROJEKT’S CYBER PHYSICAL 15% OFF SALE
Get 15% off the entire Projekt webstore, excluding pre-order & new releases. Use checkout coupon code “cyber18”. Sale ends Friday Nov 30, Noon EST.WEBSTORE: FREE CD & PIN
Every $10+ order placed here at the Projekt webstore gets a free copy of the Projekt 2-CD Holiday compilation Ornamental. (That’s $10 in merchandise, before shipping) Yup! Free CD for you. Every order over $40 also gets the Projekt enamel pin for free. Both of these offers are while supplies last.
If your order total (before postage) doesn’t get to $40, you can purchase the Projekt enamel pin for just $5.
Sale does not apply at Projekt’s European webstore. However they offer fast, inexpensive shipping that might more than make up for the % difference.