It’s been 7 years since I recorded my last studio album. Now that I have a new one in the can, I find myself back at a place I don’t love: hunting for a record deal.
I remember chasing Eli Wolf (Blue Note’s head of A&R) with dozens of emails to prompt him to finally check out the record. His eventual response was that it was “compelling and fresh” but they were going to pass.
Here’s the final rejection email:
From: “Wolf, Eli”
To: ‘Bob Reynolds’
Subject: RE: Thoughts
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005 13:20:49
Firstly, let me apologize that I have not gotten make [sic] to you with a definitive answer up until this point. A confluence of factors explain the delay.
We all listened to the demos closely and found them compelling and fresh but have decided to pass given all on our plate at this time.
With that said, please send me the finished album when you have it as I am curious to hear the finished piece.
Best of luck with you musical pursuits.
1. Yes, I saved all the rejection emails.
2. Notice how after all that he still wants a free CD. 🙂
The landscape was shifting back then (~2005) but record labels still meant something. At least to me. I’d make a great record and I didn’t want to just put it out myself. Mind you, this was pre twitter, facebook, bandcamp, etc., and I didn’t have any fans beyond my local supporters in NYC. I *needed* a proper label to distribute and promote the record. That way, I would get press, and higher profile gigs, and reach more eyes and ears.
Or so I thought.
In the end I practically gave the record to Fresh Sound New Talent Records, an indie jazz label based in Barcelona, Spain.
I did this for a few reasons:
- They were the only ones who said yes! I’d reached out to at least a dozen labels and was turned down by all of them. Marsalis Music, Sunnyside, Criss Cross, Concord, Nonesuch, Verve, Blue Note, Savoy, MaxJazz…none of them were interested in my music. At least not enough to release it.
- I felt it was important to pass through at least one filter, one gatekeeper, someone in the record biz who would validate me to separate myself from the gillions of other folks releasing self-produced recordings.
- Lots of artists I admired released their early recordings on Fresh Sound New Talent; several went on to major label recording careers: Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel. It was good company on some level.
- At the very least, being that the label was based in Spain and Europe was a big jazz hub, I presumed they’d help me organize and/or promote some concerts or tours.
I was wrong.
An “Existential Crisis”
The guy who ran the label, Jordi Pujol, told me he was having an “existential crisis” over whether or not to release my music. Why? It was just so different from the type of jazz he normally released. He was terrified that my music didn’t fit his brand and concerned his customer base would be turned off by it.
In the end we made a deal. Not a great one for me.
Fresh Sound got my record, an album I’d not only poured my heart and soul into, but also years of effort and more than $15,000 of my own money (thank you credit cards), and I got a check for $6k and the opportunity to…wait for it…buy my own CDs back from them at a cost of only $7 a unit. Add shipping from Spain and it came to closer to $9.
But at least then I could sell those CDs on CDBaby! Right?
CDBaby charges $4 per CD sold to cover their costs. So now I had a record that cost me $13 which I was selling for $14.95.
I know what you’re thinking: “Whoa, sweet deal!”
But before you get all excited about that $1.95 pre-tax profit margin, keep in mind this left me with over $11,500 in unrecouped expenses (I’d hired a publicist to work the record at a cost of $2,500. No, the label did not do any promotion.)
So…more than 7 years later I’ve never seen a royalty check from the label, no radio play or promotion from them, no tour support, no inclusion on festivals. Nada. In fact, their website doesn’t even stock the CD.
And, let’s do the math here: based on production and promotion costs and my $1.95 profit margin, I would have to sell 5,879 Can’t Wait for Perfects on CDBaby to recoup my initial investment.
Since putting Can’t Wait for Perfect on CDBaby in January 2007, my all-time sales of physical CDs are………85. So I still have a ways to go. 😉
The point of this post was not to start a pity party or bum you out.
The point is if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re familiar with my music. And while I make you wait for the new album to become available, I thought it only fair to talk about why you’re waiting.
What about you? Does this surprise you?