The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

On the Right (Sound)Track

with 7 comments

Here at The Second Disc, there’s a lot of coverage of soundtracks. (For proof, check Joe Marchese’s recent exciting review of a few vault reissues by Henry Mancini.) Granted, not every fan of classic pop, rock and R&B catalogue releases is big on orchestral scores and whatnot, but it’s an integral genre in the wide, wild world of reissues and worth covering from an artistic point of view.

But recent revelations have shown that soundtrack catalogue comings and goings are worth covering from a business point of view, too. Last week, Variety filed a pretty captivating (if brief) article on the indie soundtrack labels and their continued success.

Perhaps the most striking facts were that this niche market – a bunch of labels catering to roughly 3,000 to 5,000 fans and collectors – are collectively enjoying an estimated $10 million a year. Mind you, that’s $10 million in CD sales. No digital, no vinyl, no promotion outside of message boards and a handful of fan sites. And these aren’t ultra-obscure releases, either. Between labels like Intrada, Film Score Monthly, La La Land Records and Varese Sarabande (to name just four), the scores to films like Back to the Future, Robocop, Caddyshack, Independence Day, The X-Files, the 1970s and 1980s Superman films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Goonies are just some of the recent or future releases in the past few years.

It’s an exciting time for fans; so-called “holy grails” seem to get checked off the list at a rapid pace. And the majors are willing to play along – rumors abound that La La Land, having founded a good partnership with Paramount Pictures, is developing a similar bond with Sony.

The question that arises from such a positive story on a part of the music business is this: what can the business of pop/rock reissues learn from these indie soundtrack labels and vice versa? I think there are a few answers, and you can read ’em after the jump.

  • Quality matters. The soundtrack labels are easily as passionate as the fans, too; the liner notes and remastering jobs are revelatory in an age of too-loud, too-boring modern discs. And the label heads are open and affable, posting on fan forums and personally answering e-mails. (The e-mails I got from Intrada honchos Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson thanking me for thanking them for releasing the Back to the Future score were astoundingly personable.) If they can do this stuff on a tight budget (tightened further by the fact that there are union dues involved with these releases), there’s no reason a major label act should have a spotty discography on the catalogue side of things.
  • Content wants to be free, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be limited. The fact is, these soundtracks do well because they’re not pressed with the intention to sell a million. A big ticket release is usually 3,000 to maybe 6,000 – more in exceedingly rare cases – which is a model well copied by Rhino Handmade and Hip-o Select (still not sure why Sony doesn’t have as firm a boutique label in place). Bold as it might be to say, I don’t see why there aren’t more limited releases even when it concerns the big-ticket names. Even something like The Beatles in Mono will not have lasting crossover appeal for most teens. Get their attention to classic music another way – likely some sort of digital means – and then hone and train them to respect quality content.
  • Keep looking forward. The soundtrack labels need to figure out their future business model, and they know this. No matter where that takes them – be it digital deals, vinyl (wouldn’t that be something) or another place – they’re at least aware of their surroundings. Everyone’s got to come to terms with this. The box set and nice packaging crowd aren’t going away hopefully ever, but that shouldn’t mean that labels shouldn’t look into all the angles.

What lesons would you teach reissue labels? Sound off below, as always.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 19, 2010 at 15:19

7 Responses

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  1. Sony Classical did a terrific 2-disc set with the complete score for “The Phantom Menace” (or “Star Wars Episode I” or whatever ), but apparently sales were poor, as no similar sets were issued for either “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith”–only abridged, single-disc editions.

    I don’t know what is more depressing–the notion that a Star Wars license is so expensive that niche items such as “The Phantom Menace” complete score apparently need to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in order to break even, or the evidence that Star Wars fans would rather spend billions of dollars on action figures and comic books than on the awesome soundtrack music of John Williams.


    April 19, 2010 at 17:42

    • The Ultimate Edition of TPM could have been done much better. The music in the prequels was cut up from so many cues, and presenting them in the same way on CD is distracting. And each track is barely over two minutes or less (I usually combine them into bigger chunks on my iPod). And Lucasfilm wonders why it didn’t sell well.

      Star Wars scores need to be treated with more love on disc. Sony and BMG reissued the same 2-CD sets for each original film three times in ten years (1997, 2004, 2007), which is no way to market product at all. And the prequels are so woefully incomplete that hardcore fans seriously extract audio files off video games to get more of the score in their possession.

      But that’s Lucas’ call, and as you said, such earth-shattering music apparently isn’t as much of a draw as an action figure of that one background character in that one scene of Return of the Jedi. Sad.

      Mike Duquette

      April 20, 2010 at 00:05

      • I would (respectably, of course) disagree on the issue of “Star Wars” track indexing; the “Episode III” disc, for example, contained a thirteen-minute track, titled “A New Hope and End Credits”, which stitched together several terrific cues and themes, each of which I would prefer to be able to individually access.

        For what it’s worth, the 2-disc “Return Of The Jedi” soundtrack is missing a cue from the film–an interlude ostensibly from the Max Rebo Band which (I believe) is heard as Jabba’s barge travels across the desert to the Sarlacc pit. As you’ve noted, the set has been reissued several times, but the continued absense of this one particular bit of music from an otherwise complete soundtrack continues to be a mystery.


        April 20, 2010 at 18:55

  2. I’d love to purchase the ID4 release, but can’t find it on the La La Land Records site. It’s supposed to be available today. Perhaps they’re still in bed out there on the west coast.


    April 20, 2010 at 09:34

    • It’s on sale at noon Pacific (3 for people like me on the East Coast). Hopefully their servers will handle the rush!

      Mike Duquette

      April 20, 2010 at 09:53

  3. Much agreement on the “shouldn’t be limited” quotient. Have been wondering for ages as to the reasons Bill Conti’s terrific score for THE RIGHT STUFF was never released, and went a-googling recently… to find out that it was put out. Last year. In a limited edition of 3,000. That now is going for well over $100 on eBay. Which is of course preposterous – nobody’s going to pay that much for the CD.

    This circumstance of being left out because soundtracks aren’t something I’m typically looking for news on is nothing short of infuriating. There’s no reason THE RIGHT STUFF score shouldn’t be available digitally, so that those who need their “limited edition” status have their physical product, but those who crave the music can still obtain it legally. All of which would benefit the labels in question and the artists as well — the long tail model of sales could keep royalties rolling in over the years after the initial sales spike at time of release.

    Additionally, if one of said labels would just reissue the CHINATOWN score by Jerry Goldsmith so that it stays in print, we’ll be set.


    April 20, 2010 at 09:57

    • Besides the need for a digital model, there’s at least the great relief that labels are at least willing to get certain titles back in print. Intrada’s recent reissue of Robocop comes only a few years after a less-expanded set from Varese, and the labels in general have expressed interest in getting stuff back in print so it won’t be so expensive on the secondary market (I still wince everytime I see a used copy of The Terminator, which is never less than $50).

      Mike Duquette

      April 20, 2010 at 10:21

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