Archive for the ‘Inside Projekt’ Category

Dec 30

Beginning a new decade

…and wrapping up the old one, and remembering even older days

(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

And a number of digital-only releases from Jarguna, Polly Fae & others.

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

Nov 30

What do I have to be thankful for? (A blog with reflections + 20% off sale + my new video)

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.)

– Sam

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.”

After you watch the video if you’d like more details and backstory, read my blog.

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.

Jan 06

10qs (with Sam)

10 questions for Sam from an old acquaintance who remembers fondly working together and truly regrets losing contact for so long. Pleases me beyond words to find you and Projekt still releasing material of outstanding quality. 

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!

Dec 03

Inside Projekt: The Future of What

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.

Oct 20

35 years of Projekt rec.

In mid-July of this year (2018), I was interviewed by Pavel Zelinka for the Czech Magazine UNI. The article was scheduled to be out in August, but it never came out; now the interview is published in Czech at sanctuary.cz. I was waiting to post the English version here at the site until they went live. However, re-reading my answers, I see that over the last three months some of my thoughts have changed. I’ve returned to what I said and updated a bit (in #9 & #15 specifically). This is the true-to-the-moment version of the interview.

This is two things. It’s a history of Projekt, and in the final answer it’s a statement of thoughts on revamping my strategy at Projekt.

35 years of Projekt records

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?

Free Sells! 

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.

Sam

Sep 09

Lycia: In Flickers /// Black Tape For A Blue Girl: To touch the milky way –and– Remnants of a deeper purity 2LP vinyl

  

Look at this! Two of Projekt’s biggest mid-90s band are releasing new albums (And yes, that’s right! LYCIA is back on Projekt.) We’re about two months away from the release of LYCIA’s In Flickers and Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s To touch the milky way. These new releases are available for preOrder. We also have a T-shirt for In Flickers. And now on preOrder, the repressing of Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s 2LP Remnants of a deeper purity  with a T-shirt option.

There’s bundle pricing at the Projekt website. These 3 releases (minus the shirts) kick off our collaboration with Projekt’s European webstore (more details below).

Here are links to preOrder

LYCIA: In Flickers  CD/LP/T-shirt at Projekt’s website or CD/LP/Download at Projekt’s Bandcamp page or for our European shoppers, CD/LP at Projekt’s European Webstore the Lycia LPs are limited editions of 150 per style, and they are selling quickly!

Black Tape For A Blue Girl: To touch the milky way CD/LP at Projekt’s website or CD/LP/Download at Black tape for a blue girl’s Bandcamp page or for our European shoppers, CD/LP at Projekt’s European Webstore Limited edition of 300, half reserved for the Kickstarter backers.

Black Tape For A Blue Girl: 2LP Remnants of a deeper purity  2LP/CD/T-shirt at Projekt’s website or CD/LP at Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s Bandcamp page or for our European shoppers, CD/LP at Projekt’s European Webstore< Limited edition of 150.

Shipping late October

 

 

 

Read about Projekt’s European website, here. The two main benefits for our European shoppers:

great shipping rates: GERMAN customers: flat € 1.99 shipping rate for all parcels – regardless of quantity ordered. EU customers: € 4.99 up to 500g; € 7.99 for up to 1000g (1 Kilo)

fast delivery< Orders placed weekdays before 2pm ship the same day

jarguna and Friends: TRAPPED Vol. 2 is name-your-price at Bandcamp. jarguna is Italian sound-artist Marco Billi: ethno-organic-ambient-electronic music in a mandala-like hymn to ethnic, tribal, ritual music. It’s a journey of sounds, feelings, contrasts, acoustics and electronics. From the first recordings in 1998, jarguna releases its 24th effort TRAPPED, a collaboration with like-minded creators.

Marco edited a video with excerpts from the album, and images of his collaborators. Watch it at YouTube.<

Sam comments: “Watching this video I’m struck by the dedication with which all of us musicians work to create the interesting sounds we imagine inside of our head. All the things we accumulate — the instruments, the recording gear, the keyboards, the gongs… the expenses! — to make something amazing for you, our listeners. It’s very wonderful to see your collaborators, jarguna!”

>thanks for supporting independent music

Dec 18

Inside Projekt: Catch up on so much catching up [lots of links!]

So much going on at Projekt!

From Sam Rosenthal: My life has been incredibly busy in the three weeks since Steve Roach received his Grammy nomination for Spiral Revelation. I’ve been contacting press and radio to spread the word, set up interviews, send out promo copies. I’ve also been preparing for Projekt’s switch to a new U.S. retail store distributor; on January 1st Projekt will be with Amplified who fullfill out of AEC/Alliance. I’ve been preparing spreadsheets, one sheets, and planning new releases and relaunches of end-of-2017 titles that kind of fell through the cracks at distribution. November was our Italian Distributor Audioglobe‘s best month ever for sales on Projekt titles! It’s really nice to see Europe coming out of “the crisis,” and buying CDs again. I’m now shipping stuffed boxes to Audioglobe every 6 weeks, half a decade ago it was every 6 months. This is great news! And even though I’ve often complained about the low rates artists get payed from streaming (Spotify, YouTube), it’s starting to add up, with streaming now over 1/3 of what our digital distributor pays. Well, that’s nice.

And over at Bandcamp, Projekt’s download store is very successful! I absolutely love that site, it’s my first recommendation when people ask where they should get Projekt downloads. And we do our occasional name-your-price releases, which bring a lot of new listeners to those titles.

I’ve rebooted the Black Tape For A Blue Girl patron page at Bandcamp. After the kerfuffle with Patreon changing their fee structures (and then withdrawing the #newfees when they realized how bad the idea was), I felt it was time to take the leap and move my patron site to a place where music is the priority. When you place your pledge, you get 9 free Black Tape For A Blue Girl catalog titles, plus an exclusive download of the new album in progress (instrumental mixes). The album is really coming along! My musical portion is nearly done, I have lyrics written for all the songs but one, I worked last week with Brian on drums for “All that I thought I wanted,” and Oscar & Dani are flying to Portland soon to record vocals; that’s thanks to my patrons who helped cover those plane tickets! If you like what I create: get a bunch of free music and show your support at at the BlackTapePatron page.

I have a folder in my email app where I file press, radio & sales that I want to inform you about. That information gets posted on our Twitter regularly, but the over-stuffed folder means it’s been ages since I’ve updated you by email. So here ya go!

Projekt’s Holiday sale at iTunes Canada: Excelsis Vol 1 ~ A Dark Noel | Ornamental (a Projekt Holiday compilation) |  Jill Tracy: Silver Smoke, Star of Night (In the Shadow of Christmas)

Echoes Radio posted a 50 minute interview podcast with Steve Roach, covering a wide range of topics from his recent Grammy nomination to insights from his long and winding life as an artist in sound.

The Best of Echoes 2017 is here! See the complete list including Erik Wollo Different Spaces.  Two weeks ago, Hearts of Space radio featured a track from Different Spaces  on their syndicated show.

Tracks from Jeffrey Koepper’s Transmitter played on Galactic Travels on WDIY 88.1 FM, Allentown and Bethlehem, PA. Also on Secret Music on WVKR, Poughkeepsie NY. Also on Alien Air Music on KXLU 88.9FM Los Angeles, CA.

Tracks from Robert Logan’s  Sculptor Galaxy played  on Galactic Travels on WDIY 88.1 FM, Allentown and Bethlehem, PA. Also on One World Music Radio, UK

Tracks from Steve Roach’s Spiral Revelations played on Contemplation Connection on KKUP Cupertino, CA.

Projekt act MIRA are playing a reunion show Friday December 29 @ The Wilbury, Tallahassee, FL. Facebook event page.

Projekt Greatest Hits sale at iTunes through the end of the year Black Tape For A Blue Girl: The Best Of (deluxe) 5.99 Steve Roach:  Rasa Dance $4.99 Dark Sanctuary: Thoughts $4.99 Trance to the Sun: The Finest Works of… $5.99 Thanatos: All I have Left $3.99 Erik Wollo: Vision… an introduction $3.99

Serenade For Falling Stars — Spotify Playlist An offering of exotic ethereal ghostly music for lovers, loners and dreamers. Created by Erick Scheid of Portland etherealwave band Mercury’s Antennae. Listen at Spotify.

Post-punk.com has a “40 years of Goth” post with the essential albums you should hear. Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s This Lush Garden Within is #38, and Lycia’s Cold is #40. They also have it a Spotify playlist, listen to a track from each album on the list.

The Story of Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence is a post on the Projekt site.

A Facebook comment about Projekt’s Excelsis holiday release: Excelsis is available at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. Because you’re a fan (and maybe already own a copy) you can get it for free (name-your-price) at Bandcamp!

Nov 27

Donating my profits / get a 25% discount (GivingTuesday)

Sam writes: On Tuesday November 28th, I’m donating my profits at Bandcamp to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation’s ARISE practitioners, working to heal the wounds of social inequity and discrimination. Plus you get 25% off your order! Details below.

Anger Work is Peace Work

CONTINUE THE LEGACY OF THAY AND DR. KING THIS GIVING TUESDAY

Be part of the #GivingTuesday initiative to raise funds to help mindfulness heal the wounds of discrimination and social inequity within ourselves and our society. ARISE (Awakening through Race, Intersectionality, and Social Equity) is a group of mindfulness practitioners and monastics in the Plum Village tradition who have come together with the aspiration to use the energy of compassion, understanding, and love to do this important work.

Read more, watch the video, contribute directly at the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation (if you would like to give direct at the source).

How to get your 25% discount

All day today, Tuesday November 28th, take 25% off at the Projekt and Black Tape For A Blue Girl Bandcamp pages. I will donate Projekt’s profits (after Bandcamp fee + artist royalties) to ARISE. To get 25% off, use code hanh when checking out at the Projekt Bandcamp page and the Black tape for a blue girl Bandcamp page.

This works!

In August, your purchases (through a similar donation/discount) raised $232.03 for the Transgender Law Center. It would be lovely if I can donate even more this time.

Final Results

$87.87 was raised for ARISE by way of your purchases at Bandcamp, so I rounded up and donated $150. Thanks to everyone. You can donate directly

Nov 13

It’s been a busy 2017!

It’s been a busy year for Projekt…. 2017 releases: AURELIO VOLTAIRE – Heart-Shaped Wound digiCD JEFFREY KOEPPER – Transmitter [limited] digiCD ROBERT LOGAN – Sculptor Galaxy [limited] digiCD MARK SEELIG+SAM ROSENTHAL – Journey to Aktehi [limited] digiCD + cassette LYCIA – Ionia [limited] digiCD + shirt + tote ERIK WØLLO – Cinematic digiCD STEVE ROACH – Long Thoughts digiCD + cassette FALLING YOU – Shine [limited] digiCD JEFFREY KOEPPER – MantraSequent [limited] digiCD ERIK WØLLO – Different Spaces digi2CD LORENZO MONTANA – Phase IX [limited] digiCD FOREST FANG – Following the Ether Sun [limited] digiCD STEVE ROACH – Spiral Revelation digiCD BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL – These Fleeting Moments [limited] 2LP

order them all: http://www.projekt.com/

Nov 06

The Story of Structures

For several months before actually committing the title track “Structures from Silence” to tape, I would live with the music throughout my daily activities. Often I would sleep and wake with the music playing (since it is stored in the computer memory, it can play indefinitely). This gave me the opportunity to fine tune the piece to a very sublime level. At the time I did not listen to any other music. I also spent much time in silence, a beautiful place. Feeling the music move through that space was vital in its development . . . For me the essence of this music is what is felt when it ends, a returning to the silence. Steve Roach, 1984

The return to vinyl

Thirty-three years after its release, Structures From Silence returns to its vinyl origins. Steve Roach talks with Ambient Music Guide’s Mike G about the sublimely meditative album’s creation and reflects on this bona fide ambient classic.

With his distinctive mélange of analog and digital synthesizers, acoustic instrumentation and imaginative soundscapes, American composer Steve Roach is a giant in modern ambient music and one of the most respected electronic musicians in the world. Active since the late 1970s, Roach has an enormous discography of solo albums, collaborations and compilations; his range of styles and influence is vast.

1984’s Structures From Silence marked a move away from the sequencer-driven, kinetic Berlin-school trance of his earliest releases toward an album-length foray into beatless ambience. There are just three pieces – all extraordinarily delicate. The slow-motion melodic strains of the 30-minute title track, in particular, breathe with exquisite gentleness.

Roach’s music is part of a wider progressive, electronic-ambient movement that rose concurrently with the new age scene on America’s West Coast during the 1970s and 80s. Initially the pathway to the audience was neither through an artist nor a record label, but a radio show: Music From The Hearts Of Space. This groundbreaking public radio program was founded in 1973 in San Francisco by sound designer, producer and former architect Stephen Hill and the late Anna Turner. In 1983 it went national and is still on the air today. Although it was not the only radio show of its type, its influence and importance cannot be overstated – both its role in the development of American-based electronic artists and the part it played in bringing ambient styles to a wider audience.

By the 1980s this California-based scene was rich with adventurous musicians giving birth to an extraordinary new direction in music. It was within this creative ferment that Structures From Silence was birthed. Roach says, “That time was exciting. All that mattered to me was living inside this soundworld I was discovering and wanting to share with those who were open to it. I was creating from a purely instinctual place; I had no concern of genres or boundaries.”

Structures-era Timeroom Photos by Thomas Ronkin

On the air

Radio was the medium of the day and was crucial to the album’s initial success in America. Structures was originally a self-released cassette when it caught Stephen Hill’s attention. He heard the album through his friendship with Michael Stearns and Kevin Braheny, two accomplished West Coast ambient composers who were living near Roach in L.A. at the time and helped him with mastering and spatial enhancements on the album.

“I remember right after it was released in 1984,” Roach says. “Stephen came to my tiny bungalow in L.A. near the MGM film studios – to see what this guy was all about. Those little gingerbread-looking houses were originally built in the 1940s for the workers at MGM a few blocks away. There was a vibrant beehive feeling all around with fellow visual artists, film and music people. My early albums from Now to Empetus were all created in that Timeroom (Roach’s official name for his studio) or perhaps better described as the Timewomb.”

Hill describes the meeting, “I vividly remember visiting him in that bungalow in Culver City, where he was living a monk-like existence. It was a stucco motel-looking place. The main room had been turned into an early Timeroom, with all his equipment set up and purring out fat analog waveforms 24/7. I don’t recall seeing a bed – he was probably sleeping in the studio – but there were two folding wooden chairs so I sat down and he offered me a glass of water. We had everything in common artistically, and we talked for hours.”

Roach laughs on hearing this, “Well if I slept, it was standing up or sitting at the Oberheim. Pretty much the same as now.”

From that encounter, big things grew. “The music was perfect for Hearts of Space,” says Hill, “and we used it on the national radio program immediately. The track ‘Quiet Friend’ became a kind of closing theme song for a while. This was before we started HOS Records, so I recommended he contact Ethan Edgecombe of Fortuna distribution who was building his own label. Ethan put it out right away on vinyl and cassette. That release on Fortuna helped Steve establish himself as an electronic artist to pay attention to. His raw talent and awesome work ethic did the rest.”

#10 best album of the 80s! “Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence remains one of the most important ambient albums ever crafted… its enduring influence has been unmistakably visible in the three decades since its release. It has never been more relevant.”

– FACT Magazine

Breathing the deep

The pieces on Structures From Silence evolved outside of the direct influence of the 1980s time zone in which it was created.

“My life at that time was purely focussed on drawing out an inner voice that had been building over many years: a feeling born from my immersion in the quiet spaces of the desert environment. My connection to the profound atmosphere of the desert areas of Southern California – Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Death Valley, the Mojave Desert – was essential. I finally had my hands on the tools with which I could channel this feeling, this expansive atmosphere and blooming inner awareness. I was uncovering and discovering a palpable sense of stillness emanating from a soundcurrent of ‘silence.’”

One of the album’s extraordinary qualities is the sense of natural breath in the music, an organic quality not easily realized with synthesizers. These diaphanous chords and suspended harmonics would become the DNA of Roach’s music as he sought to release his machines from their mechanical moorings.

He explains, “I wasn’t hearing this quality in electronic music at that time. With an acoustic instrument you have to be 100% there to make a sound. Traditional instruments draw from the physical body’s interaction. With synthesizers emerging in the 80s, it was clear that you could almost stop breathing, lose the body connection, sit disconnected in a chair, and still manage to make sounds. This realization was a big piece of my entire waking and sleeping focus. I worked to deepen and nourish the connection to the essence of sound, body, mind and breath awareness when creating with synths. This was directly translated into Structures From Silence – conscious breathing, the sigh and the expansion of this place in-between. Creating from within this present moment, and playing that state through the analog warmth of the Oberheim OB8 was a sacrament of sound. The intention was direct and pure.”

The Oberheim OB8 synthesizer – the source of the resonate voice of the title track – had recently been designed and built in nearby Santa Monica, California. The new synth could play up to eight notes at once, making it the gold standard for polyphonic analog synths in the early 1980s. By his own admission Roach became utterly obsessed with owning one. Priced well beyond what the young sonic aspirant could afford from the wages of working at a local record store, he eventually secured the instrument with a very high interest loan. This consequential move would prove to have a long lasting impact in his life’s work.

The OB8 remains in regular use in his studio today. “You can buy a software version of this instrument now, but it’s like comparing a Formica-countertop laminate and a rich exotic wood. You can’t match the original in terms of texture, warmth and emotional impact, not to mention the fact that it’s a beautiful hardware instrument I feel drawn to today, in the same way as in 1983.”

“Structures From Silence is like riding the perfect wave in slow motion… as if sculpting liquid, Roach carefully shapes his sounds into a stately crescendo for an eternal dawn.”

– John Diliberto, Echoes Radio

The listeners speak

Structures From Silence is the album that brought Roach’s work to a global audience of listeners, radio broadcasters, fellow composers, music fans and deep listeners alike. The album has been praised over the years by magazines, fanzines, therapists, Yoga practitioners, and medical MDs; it continues to appear in best of polls, often topping current lists of all-time ambient albums. It struck a chord with a diverse cross-cultural audience from varied backgrounds. The epiphanies of Roach’s formative years of inspiration drawn from the desert and nature’s dreamtime found its way indelibly into his work and his unique personal voice. The stories continue to come in from around the world on how the album breathes life with original and new listeners.

In 2014 the Quiet Friends tribute was released with sixteen electronic artists creating Structures-inspired pieces in honor of the album and timed to the remastered 30th Anniversary 3-CD re-issue.

Top-40 Best Ambient Albums of All Time “Contemplative bliss, full of purring drones and high notes that shimmer and fade. Like a desert mirage, these structures hover forever at the horizon, an oasis from the din surrounding it.”

– Pitchfork.com

Then and now

When asked how he sees the album today in 2017, Roach reflects, “It’s like looking at a picture of home from years past – one of comfort and peace, warmth and safety. The emotional and personal resonance of the pieces remains connected to my core and part of an uninterrupted continuum from that point to now.”

This limited vinyl edition has been remastered at high-definition 24bit – 96kHz and sourced from the master analog reel-to-reel tapes, highlighting all the subtle detail and harmonic content always present in the studio recording but not fully realized in the original vinyl release.

As Echoes radio producer John Diliberto says, “I think the more important aspect is not when I first heard it, but how resonant and undated it sounds 33 years later.”

Whether you were there in the 80s or discovered the album later, Structures From Silence continues to resonate – across time, cultures, and musical genres. In creating the album, Roach infused the music with yearning emotions and a powerful sense of stillness. Like timeless art from any genre, a rarified expression of humanity is present in this work. That, perhaps, is the key to the enduring appeal of Structures From Silence.

Steve Roach Photo Gallery