The Second Disc

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Requiem For A Heavyweight: Film Score Monthly, The Label, Bows Out

with 6 comments

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall sent shockwaves through the film score collectors’ community with a blog post yesterday morning announcing the end of the Film Score Monthly reissue label.

Having recently released the label’s 240th and 241st titles (the second volume of music from “Johnny” Williams’ score to 1966’s Not with My Wife, You Don’t! and a Nathan Van Cleave “double feature” of The Space Children and The Colossus of New York), Kendall confirmed plans to bring the curtain down on the label he started roughly 15 years ago.  The FSM line will draw to a close with No. 250, due in Spring 2012.  Kendall promises that the thriving Film Score Monthly website (literally the epicenter of the film score collectors’ world) will continue to operate, including its popular message board.  He also stressed that he would continue to preserve classic titles on CD for the various other specialist labels.

That said, Kendall’s announcement was nonetheless tinged with sadness and in part motivated by some harsh truths.    Film score reissue labels have faced a different set of problems than the music industry at large, with these labels’ business models largely based on limited edition CD releases.  Kendall astutely noted, “For one thing, something strange and a little sad has happened in the last two to three years (since the ’08 recession): ’80s and ’90s scores are the only sure sellers, Silver Age scores sell like Golden Age scores used to, and Golden Age scores barely sell at all.”  This was one of many factors in what likely wasn’t a decision made lightly.

Film Score Monthly began in 1990 as The Soundtrack Club, a pamphlet sized publication maintained by Kendall.  The following year, he renamed it Film Score Monthly and by 1996 had relocated its base of operations to Los Angeles, close to Hollywood itself.  Around the same time, FSM revamped its format, introducing a slick, comprehensive magazine style.  This change was concurrent with the launch of the record label in 1996 as the Retrograde line with soundtracks from David Shire (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), John Barry (Deadfall) and Maury Laws (Mad Monster Party).  The FSM label proper began with 1998’s Volume 1, Number 1 with Jerry Goldsmith’s Stagecoach and The Loner.

In 2005, the magazine transitioned to an online-only format, although the physical CD line remained strong.  (Kendall remains a proponent of physical media: “Film score CD documentation and packaging has never been more elaborate. I like to think I had a hand in that development as well.”)  Hit the jump for more, including the complete text of Kendall’s statement!

With “holy grails” arriving with greater frequency than ever before, the demise of the FSM label hardly means the end of soundtrack albums on CD.  Labels like Intrada, Kritzerland and La La Land all produce soundtracks as true labors of love, with uniformly high standards of quality.  Still, it’s difficult to fathom the film score fan and collector circle without Film Score Monthly.  But Kendall is aware that he’s left fans in good hands, writing that “the state of recorded film music has never been better. People used to circulate ‘gag’ new release lists on April Fool’s Day, containing ‘Holy Grail titles’—Alien, Back to the Future, expanded James Bond scores, Star Trek movies, etc. The joke was we’d never see these in a million years. Nowadays, we have most of them in our collections!”

Though a number of titles are still to come in the months ahead, this certainly marks the end of an era, even if it also means that another chapter is beginning for Film Score Monthly.  The Second Disc extends all best wishes to Mr. Kendall, and despite the demise of the FSM label, there’s little doubt we’ll be seeing his name here many more times in the years to come.

Lukas Kendall’s entire blog post is reprinted below:

I have decided to end the FSM CD label with our 250th album (coming in spring 2012). FSMCD Vol. 14, No. 14 (Not With My Wife, You Don’t! Vol. 2) is album #240, which means there are ten to go. Look for some big Silver Age thrills and surprises in those last ten CDs!

This column is what you’d call “breaking the news” so I want to do this briefly, and reassure you of two things:

1) The FSM website is not going anywhere—I intended to keep it, and the message board, as a “legacy” product, paid for by sales of the FSM inventory.

2) I am not going anywhere either! I love film music, I love working with it and preserving classic scores on CD, and I will keep an active hand in producing and co-producing titles for the various specialty labels. (Hey, I need to eat!)

So why do this? I have grown tired of “feeding the dragon”: coming up with 20 albums a year (at least), from conception through licensing, production, design, QC’ing (quality control), and the interminable paperwork…contracts, purchase orders, and especially royalty reports.

As our catalog has grown, so has the back-end administration: repressing titles, tracking down boxes of old booklets, filling out quarterly sales reports to the licensors. It was a chore 12 years ago—nowadays, I loathe it.

A few months ago, as I was managing the catalog, I counted up our albums to date (including the Retrograde titles and box sets) and saw that we would hit #250 in around nine months (now, six months). It seemed like a good place to stop.

There is one overriding reason I feel comfortable in closing the label: the state of recorded film music has never been better. People used to circulate “gag” new release lists on April Fool’s Day, containing “Holy Grail titles”—Alien, Back to the Future, expanded James Bond scores, Star Trek movies, etc. The joke was we’d never see these in a million years. Nowadays, we have most of them in our collections!

I flip through my iTunes and play The Omega Man, Predator, Days of Heaven, The Black Hole, Bullitt…it’s insane. These things were fantasies for us to have—or at best, we’d trade noisy cassettes through the mail. Nowadays, they all exist on my computer—probably yours too. Hot damn.

(I keep the physical packages on CD racks—and towers, and shelves, etc.—for easy retrieval. Film score CD documentation and packaging has never been more elaborate. I like to think I had a hand in that development as well.)

So life is good, and life goes on. In the coming months, we’ll reminisce about some of the behind-the-scenes adventures of making the FSM catalog. We’ll announce plans to delete many titles, while keeping others available for, hopefully, years to come. (What’s the point of releasing Days of Heaven if it doesn’t stay available?) You’ll see my name on CDs from the other labels (those who have looked closely have already noticed). And we’ll roll out the last ten albums—including some must-buy Holy Grails.

There will be time for extended thank-yous to the many people who have helped us—especially you, the listeners. But to start, I need to thank one person in particular: Craig Spaulding at Screen Archives Entertainment, our distributor since 2004. Some time that year (it’s a blur), I decided I had had enough of mail-order fulfillment and called Craig: “Hey, will you take this stuff?” He said yes—pretty much this quickly—I sent him the entire inventory on pallets and that was that.

(When we had the inventory on pallets waiting for the truck—on the curb at La Cienega Ave. and Washington Blvd.—a blind neighborhood gentleman walked down the sidewalk, cane in hand, heading right for them.  Awkward!)

The last seven years, Craig and his colleagues have handled all of FSM’s fulfillment and, more than that, have bankrolled all my crazy projects…no questions asked. Seriously! Like this:

Me: “Hey, we’re doing five CDs of David Raksin scores no one has ever heard except Manderley on the FSM board.”

Craig: “Great, when’s it done?”

Me: “I don’t know, maybe two years, but I need you to send a thousand dollars to some guys tomorrow to transfer acetates that might or might not have anything we need.”

Craig: “Sure! What’s the address?”

That’s pretty much the process. Can you imagine? I produce what I want to produce, and they pay for everything. No business plan! And that’s we sold 550 copies of The Wreck of the Mary Deare by George Duning…which I love.

I am not necessarily an easy person to work with—on the one hand, I am maniacally detail-oriented and smart, if I do say so myself. However, I am demanding and expect people to read my mind, then complain when they do not. So Craig and his team have the patience of Job, and it is because we believe in “The Mission”—no, not the Morricone score, or the Williams Amazing Stories score, but the mission of making film music available. All of it.

SAE has offered such a dream arrangement that I have had to think long and hard about walking away from it—but the time has come. For one thing, something strange and a little sad has happened in the last two to three years (since the ’08 recession): ’80s and ’90s scores are the only sure sellers, Silver Age scores sell like Golden Age scores used to, and Golden Age scores barely sell at all.

I no longer trust that I can pick an Elmer Bernstein score out of a hat and sell enough copies to make back Craig’s money—let alone an obscure George Duning one—so I’ll step aside and let other parties take those risks, and do what I can behind-the-scenes to help them out. (After 15 years of doing this, I know where all the bodies are buried…cue maniacal laughter.)

But that’s a topic for next time. For now, digest the news, ask questions on the board, and look forward to the next six months of going out in style. Thanks!

P.S. Do you have our CD of Wait Until Dark by Henry Mancini? You should, it’s one of my personal favorites. Check it out!  [JM: Unequivocal seconding of Mr. Kendall’s recommendation!]

Written by Joe Marchese

September 16, 2011 at 10:22

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks

6 Responses

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  1. Dear Lukas,
    With great astonishment i read your blog about leaving the business of
    Original Soundtrack Reissues. It will be a great loss for all the Collectors
    like me, but many things are changing a lot these days. (the Recession Flu)
    probably hit many alike.

    Nevertheless thanks for all these years of excellent business to our community

    We hope you can further give advice or work with other Companies in the
    Film Soundtrack world.

    Hopefully we should hear from you someday in the near future

    Take care and have and much luck in the next years

    regards,
    a r leten , a fan from Belgium

    Roger Leten

    September 16, 2011 at 10:56

  2. It,s a REAL shame but I understand his decision; it’s tough work and if you’re not enjoing it anymore it’s a moot point. I wish there were another way (like delegating to other people) because without FSM we wouldn’t have so many gems out there, including that AMAZING Superman boxed set. A huge loss, for sure, but all the hard work is greatly appreciated by we motion picture score fanatics. It’s quite the legacy! :):):)

    The Thorn

    September 16, 2011 at 13:10

  3. I think it’s a shame, too, but I totally understand his reasoning. It’s a LOT of hard work and it must be a burden on him sometimes. For us collectors, we get to sit back and enjoy the results, whereas Kendall pours blood and sweat into the very things we enjoy. When I hear stories like Kendall’s, I am more appreciative and grateful of the collector CDs I own. In this day and age, where everything is digital and on notepads/tablets/phones, I appreciate the efforts of individuals who cater to collectors like us, not to mention how beautiful these reissues look. It’s interesting how in age of dwindling CD sales, we get some of the most lavish CD releases. Thank you for your hard work!

    Tom

    September 16, 2011 at 13:34

  4. Very Sad

    kjudyg

    September 18, 2011 at 21:51

  5. I only have one FSM release, the soundtrack to Bullitt. That release perfectly demonstrates my feelings for the label. I previously owned the CD version of the LP release and Schifrin’s re-recording, neither of which was satisfactory. I didn’t think anyone would release a CD of what I was actually hearing in the film.

    And then they did.

    This is sad news. I just hope the non-limited releases stay in print.

    plasket

    September 19, 2011 at 16:12


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