Archive for the ‘Inside Projekt’ Category
Here’s exciting news: Shea and I decided that all 2023 Projekt releases will launch as Name-Your-Price downloads at Projekt’s Bandcamp! Crazy! Unheard of! How can you do this?!?! While crunching the sales data on our 2023 releases to date, I discovered that through the generosity of donations from loyal fans (that’s you!) our Name-Your-Price releases do more business (income and downloads) then when I assign a price.
I know! It’s counterintuitive. We’re in the upside down. This is music business 2023!
Friday July 14 is Bastille Day, celebrating a major event in the French Revolution when a bunch of music fans stormed and seized control of the medieval armoury and overthrew the carts of capitalism (maybe I have some of my facts wrong? 🤔). We hope you will join us in celebrating our revolution by exploring the lovely new releases Projekt offers and chip in a little something when you can. Projekt splits your donation 50/50 with the artist; it actually adds up to money! How? ’cause you’re good people, and you support art!
Like you, we feel the lingering upward creep of prices — musical gear expenses and personal expenses — so we understand that not everyone can chip in when they download our music. That’s ok… it does all seem to work out in the end. Do what you can!
Here’s our pièce de résistance for the week: Round Trip was the 2nd cassette released on Projekt (1984) and my first solo album. It’s digitally remastered and Name-Your-Price right now on Bandcamp. On the 14th it will stream at Spotify, Apple Music and everywhere else. Watch this video I recently edited (using stock footage + some of my own shoots) for the synthwave track “Looking Glass.”
We can’t thank you enough for your support!
😘 Sam (and Shea)
Current Name-Your-Price titles:Sam Rosenthal: Round Trip (1984) • Bandcamp Genres: Minimal Wave, Electronic, Synthwave, Vaporwave. Influenced by John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream soundtracks, Soft Cell minimal synth, and sweeping romantic Jean-Michel Jarre electronics, Round Trip is future Black Tape For A Blue Girl founder Sam Rosenthal’s first foray into electronic music. DELREI: Desolation and Radiation • Bandcamp Post-Punk.com writes: “Bathed in mysterious, electric guitar twangs and spectral tunes dusted with age, DELREI conducts a Spaghetti Western symphony of the post-apocalyptic West. We hear echoes of the iconic compositions of Ennio Morricone, the brooding rock ‘n’ roll vibe of Chris Isaak, the atmospheric melodies of Angelo Badalamenti, the eerie dreamworld of David Lynch (particularly Wild At Heart and Lost Highway,) and the expressive guitar strings of James Wilsey.” Area: Radio Caroline (2023 remaster) • Bandcamp The Chicago Reader’s GOSSIP WOLF column writes: “In the late 1980s, Urbana-Champaign trio Area crafted glistening goth-tinged pop; in retrospect, the work of vocalist Lynn Canfield and multi-instrumentalists Henry Frayne and Steve Jones seems like an obvious precursor to contemporary dream pop and shoegaze. Thanks to a recent placement of the album’s track ‘Head Above Water’ on the Hulu show Cruel Summer, plenty of new fans should be finding their way to Area soon!” Nova Cat Purring Sounds: StellarPurr • Bandcamp Genres: Meditation, relaxation, ASMR, healing, new age. Goldmine writes: “On their second collaboration, Nova Cat and Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s Sam Rosenthal take the purrs to deep space… a symphony for contented kitty and darkly cinematic deep space drifting, through which Nova Cat might be the engines that take you where you’re going. Or might be whatever is waiting when you get there.”
5-minute read at Soundscape.
I talk a bit about Projekt’s 40th anniversary, running the label over the years, and not being worried about AI. Want to comment on Projekt’s 40th? Do you have a question? Please share your thoughts in the Bandcamp community.
What have been your most notable milestones or personal achievements running the label?
Sam: Surviving ten years, then twenty years, then thirty, [and] then forty. There are very few independent labels that have survived. Especially ones like Projekt where we were not bought or silently funded by a bigger company. I have discovered some really interesting artists over the years: LYCIA, Voltaire, Love Spirals Downwards, Mira… and also been fortunate to work with some of the pioneers of American electronic space music like Steve Roach and Michael Stearns. Being involved in all these peoples music is an achievement for me. I started as a guy with a fanzine who wanted to share music I enjoyed. And that is what I am still doing!
From Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal….
Happy winter solstice,
As the year draws to a close, and much of the country is about to be buried under a blanket of Brrrr!! I’m sitting on the edge of my chair thinking about what I’m thankful for. Well, the reason I’m actually on the edge of my chair is because Nova kitty is sitting behind me, hogging most of the space. My office is on what used to the back porch of my house, it’s a bit cold out here, and the chair is near the space heater, and Nova likes the warmth. One of the things I’m thankful for is Nova. She’s 17+ years old, and quite honestly I wasn’t sure she’d make it even two years when I adopted her the day after Xmas 2018. She’s been with me 4 years now! She’s a happy cat, even with her health issues. I released an album of her purrs a couple of weeks ago. I just told my son today: I’m more excited about Nova’s album receiving name-your-price donations than I am when my own albums get donations, crowdfunding & purchases. Not to say I don’t appreciate that too… but Nova’s never had an album before. And your donations are going to buy her favorite treats for months to come. Thank you! She appreciates it. She’d thank you herself, but you know how hard it is to get those little toe-beans aligned properly on the keyboard.
I love paying Projekt artists. It’s true. I love that I’m the middleman / conduit moving money around the world from your heartfelt donations, streams and purchases, into their pockets. There are only a few people on Projekt supporting themselves full time from music. The rest of us create music around our day jobs (my day job is running Projekt). Yes, of course everyone appreciates money! : ) Everyone appreciates being able to buy more gear, treats for their pets, and paying the rent. Whatever it’s going towards, it’s you who make it possible.
This year, Projekt has really gotten behind the name-your-price model on Bandcamp. Those donations often add up to a nice Paypal payment to one of your favorite musicians. You may have noticed that Projekt is bringing new artists to the label. It thrills me to connect you with great new artists and connect them with great new fans!
Right now I’m proofing the audio files on a new album you’ll be hearing very soon. It’s by a 23-year-old musician from Norway. Wow this is good! I can’t wait until you hear it.
I’ve been in COVID lockdown for three years. I have an immunocompromised family member I see regularly, and I would rather not risk it. It’s been nice to keep in touch with so many of you — and so many great artists — via emails and tweets. It’s nice to know you’re out there and that you care! I’m taking a couple weeks off work here, checking email for emergencies of course. On the break I’m going to remix my 1987 album, Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s Mesmerized by the sirens. There’ll be a vinyl / CD / MiniDisc release next year. Kickstarter coming in February.
In conclusion, you can be thankful that I’m not asking you to purchase something or grab a name-your-price. : ) This is just a message from me to you. I’d like to write more often, but finding the time. Ah! There’s the problem….. I will try. Stay warm, stay safe, wear a mask, have a great holiday…. I’m looking forwards to lots of new music in 2023… and better days ahead!
Ed Power from UK’s The Independent contacted Sam for a Friday December 24 2021article on non-traditional Christmas releases. One of Sam’s answers made it in. Below is the full interview.Available in remastered CD and LP editions.
The original Excelsis idea was conceived in 1995 by Projekt’s Promotion Director, Patrick Ogle. Pat ghost-wrote these answers and then Sam embellished. Excelsis ~ a dark noel has been reissued for 2021 in a remastered CD and LP edition.
1: What made you want to come at Christmas from a different angle?
Back in 1995 when the Excelsis ~ a dark noel record came out, most Christmas records were Bing Crosby and Sinatra. Nothing inherently wrong with that but it was sort of tired. The more modern things seemed to be joke versions — “a Punk Rock Christmas” where someone screamed “jingle bells” once or twice in a mocking fashion. We thought there was a place for an ethereal, gothic and darkwave-styled reimagining of Christmas songs.
2: Is it a challenge putting together music that has something “new” to say about Christmas
Yes and no. Some people just took the idea and ran with it. Others had a harder time. That is what a concept compilation comes down to really — the artists. We had a good group.
3: To what extend did you want people to see Christmas from a different perspective?
It turns out they wanted it because the Excelsis ~ a dark noel record came out in November of 1995 and within a year it was the best selling record (up to that point) on Projekt. For 2021 I’ve reissued the CD and also put it out on vinyl for the first time. The ’99 follow-up Excelsis ~ a winter’s song did quite well too.
4: How important is sincerity in a Christmas record? There are twinkling of Christmas spirit throughout the project – was that something you were keen to include?
Honestly? We didn’t mention sincerity to the artists at all. We tried to get across the notion that this wasn’t a “goofy greats” record making fun of the holiday but rather embracing it. Does a song from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” require sincerity? Or religious fervor? No! But you have to embrace the song and the season to do it well… and the same is true with the traditional songs.
5 Christmas can be challenging for many people – did you want to address that with the record?
Music can help people get through hard times in their lives and when most musicians stop to think about it they probably HOPE that someone takes something from their music — that it helps the listener in some way. Even if that is just making them happy for 3 minutes. That said there was no set motive to chase away Christmas depression (something I’d add that wasn’t talked about much 25 plus years ago). I certainly hope these records helped people who were feeling down over the holidays.
Dear Musical Friends,
The release of a new project is always a huge moment… This one is particularly special because of the way the mix developed in the studio. It brings out the sound of the Bansuri in a way I have recently heard it in my head.
I have to thank my dear friend Byron Metcalf for his unwavering support, his mixing wizardry which made it possible to accentuate specific qualities of the Bansuri, and for his gift of rhythm that he brought to this project.
Further musical thanks go to Vito Gregoli for contributing drones and tabla, to Paul Casper (Frore) for mesmerizingly beautiful soundscapes, and to Dashmesh Singh for his own signature drones.
It is with gratitude to all of you that I excitedly share this new CD… Your love of my music keeps inspiring me! It is not like I have an intention to go and produce a new CD… It is more an emerging and intuitive reception of sound that I somehow ‘hear’ in my being that, after some time, makes me feel I should put what I hear inside into a song. Then I sit at home, try things, and when my beloved wife Gabi says, “hey, this sounds great,” then I expand on what I came up with.
Some of these tunes eventually find their way into the recording studio with Byron. We sit in the high desert of Arizona, get into the musical zone, and the project takes on a dynamic of its own… a fascinating process that often has more to do with getting out of the way of what wants to emerge, than willing something to happen.
This Disciple Trilogy is a musical offering to the Spirit of the Native and Indigenous traditions of the world. I have them to thank for deep inspiration, healing, and gratitude for the gift of life.
A portion of any financial proceeds goes to the Lakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
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.
(Soundtrack for this blog, a new piece from Forrest Fang: And A Quiet New Year)
I received an email a few weeks ago (in response to my Thanksgiving blog) from a guy I know here in Portland; he thanked me for all the music Projekt brought into his life over the years, and for releasing the music of friends in town (Soriah with Ashkelon Sain). With the never-ending flow of emails pouring into my Projekt inbox it is easy to overlook the positive messages of appreciation — the on-fire problems are always screaming for attention. Thank you Cedric for your message — it is wonderful to know my work at Projekt has been part of your musical life for all these years.
Releasing music on Projekt started as my passion and evolved into my career. From my fan-side I think about a label that brought a lot of music into my life in the 80s — 4AD. It was so exciting that Ivo collected those great artists and released their music for us to discover. Very nice! That’s what I’ve been doing here at Projekt for the last thirty-six-plus years: gathering interesting music for your discovery of sounds you might not otherwise have heard. Projekt has always been about taking that (financial) risk and supporting the music I am into – the music I want to put my money and time and effort behind.[ As an aside, I love paying royalties. I love writing checks (or sending Paypal) for my friend’s creative work. At the end of the 90s, Projekt fell behind on paying royalties to the artists. I decided, enough of that! I downsized to just me and Lisa, got out of $180,000 debt (owed to pressing plants, credit cards, etc). I switched it around; these days Projekt pays the top artist’s royalties in upfront installments. It makes things so much less stressful for me to have that money out the door and in their hands. I like knowing it’s taken care of! ]
Yes, Projekt once had a staff, in the mid-90s through the early 2000s there were a number of other people involved in the label. Primarily Patrick Ogle, who I recently mentioned on Facebook as the elf who deserves 97% of the credit for Projekt Records’ holiday series. I grew up in an atheist/marginally-Jewish household; holiday songs were never my thing. Pat had the idea for the Excelsis ~ a dark noel (Bandcamp or Spotify) compilation, and we made it happen.
I asked Pat for his recollection on the genesis of Excelsis, and he wrote:There were two things. First… I do like Holiday music… and what made me think of doing it was that ALL the holiday music out there was like… Sinatra and Bing Crosby and stuff like that… There really wasn’t any sort of “alternative” Christmas LP out. I don’t know if this was the first of that but it was certainly the first “goth” or “dark music” one (make no mistake there WERE goth holiday songs! Siouxsie did one). SO, in addition to my liking holiday music? I thought it would sell and people would like it… and I think it worked out that way…!… I remember you were pretty iffy about it at first but came around…
So there you are, the history of Excelsis from somebody who was there. Back in 1995, Projekt was based in Pasadena California on the 2nd floor of a building that once was a fire station, and at the time we were there had a bar downstairs (when I visited Pasadena in August for Steve Roach’s concert I noticed the building was gone and the space seems to be part of a parking garage.) Projekt had five or six employees in Pasadena, Pat’s desk was right outside my door, which meant all day I listened to Pat on the phone talking with journalists and stores, promoting the Projekt label.
Serch Pofy posted on that Facebook link:
I remember (Excelsis) like yesterday… There was a place called Mix Up (a record store) in Mexico City some December in the night. A beautiful music started to be heard: dark, melancholic, quite different than the music in those places. Asked for the band, some told me: Really don´t know, it’s from a strange christmas album, the name is DARK NOEL, of course purchase it right away!!! It was not my first Projekt album, but I became more hooked with the company!!! Cheers mate!!!!
How cool is that!? Pre-internet, the music made it around the world and had an affect on your life. That’s a reward for doing it, right there!
I kept busy in 2019, with 12 Projekt physical releases: Forrest Fang: The Fata Morgana Dream Byron Metcalf & Mark Seelig: Persistent Visions LYCIA: Fifth Sun (CD) LYCIA: Quiet Moments (CD) LYCIA: A Line That Connects 2LP & CD LYCIA: 4 (4CD box set) Alio Die & Lorenzo Montanà: The Threshold of beauty Unto Ashes: Pretty Haunted Things Sam Rosenthal with Nick Shadow & Steve Roach: The Gesture of History LP & CD Steve Roach: Bloom Ascension LP & CD Steve Roach: Trance Archeology Forrest Fang: Ancient Machines
In production for early 2020: Black tape for a blue girl: Ashes in the brittle air (2020 remastered expanded edition) 2CD & LP Aurelio Voltaire: The Devil’s Bris (Remastered) LP
At the moment I’m finishing up the mix of a new Mark Seelig album, and then I’m wrapping up the mix on a new Thanatos album – my first full-length collaboration with the aforementioned Pat since our 1995 album An embassy to Gaius.
Ram Dass passed away last week; here’s a quote to contemplate:“I encourage you to make peace with death, to see it as the culminating event of this adventure called life. Death is not an error; it is not a failure… it is like taking off a tight shoe.”
There’s a new decade barreling towards us. This is a time for new beginnings or to replicate the problems and uncertainty and unhappiness of the last decade. I personally vote for new beginnings. Change. New ways of looking at things, new solutions for old problems, and optimism. Yeah, I know, that’s something odd about me: even with our past history of problems, I’m still an optimist. I think there’s always tomorrow to do something different. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with another quote, this one from Ram Dass’s collaborator in his pre-Ram Dass life, Timothy Leary:If you don’t like what you’re doing, you can always pick up your needle and move to another groove.
Happy 2020! Sam
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.
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.