REISSUED MUSIC Finding gold in old recordings
Even less-popular artists can turn out to be profitable.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
HOLLYWOOD -- Bill Inglot has worked at Rhino Records for more than two decades, long enough to know that two years from now he'll probably be up to his ears in Monkees.
"In 2006, it will be the 40th anniversary of when the Monkees debuted and it'll be my 20th anniversary of working on Monkees reissues," says the 47-year-old producer, whose Burbank-based employer wrote the rules for marketing nuggets from the pop music gold mines. "I joke that I'll be reissuing my reissues."
When the compact disc was introduced in 1983, many music lovers worried that this shiny new computer disc represented the death knell for all but the hottest acts of the day. They feared that thousands of recordings no longer on the charts would simply disappear because record companies wouldn't find them profitable.
Fast-forward, and just the opposite has turned out to be true. Not only does virtually every significant recording of the rock era appear on CD, but many, as in the case of the Monkees, are now in their second, third or even fourth incarnations. And thousands of recordings from the first half of the 20th century that were never available on LPs have shown up on CDs.
The flame of the past has been carried by a band of music-loving producers who don't flinch at being called fanatics -- enthusiasts like Inglot and his brethren who, despite decades in the music business, still revel in going record shopping two or three times a week.
These professional music hounds typically have thousands of LPs, CDs, 45s and 78s in their private collections, and while it's true they're looking for clues to where their next archival strike might lie as they pore over music magazines, collectors' journals and Web sites, odds are that most of them would be doing the same thing even if it wasn't part of their job description. That persistence often yields tangible bonuses.
"When I did our B.B. King box, I went out to his house and played him a bunch of unreleased things, obscurities -- things he said he didn't remember," says Andy McKaie, senior vice president of artists and repertoire for Universal Music Enterprises. "But when he heard them, he not only remembered them instantly, he told me who was playing on them. That kind of information is priceless."
Sure, McKaie, Inglot and their peers live for the serendipitous discovery of a previously unknown track by the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, James Brown or the Velvet Underground, but it's remarkable just how fired up these professional fans also get by digging up an obscure recording by Julie London, Gale Storm or Peter Frampton to flesh out a reissue.
No one was surprised almost two decades ago when Capitol Records released every Beatles album on CD, or that the label subsequently culled dozens of previously unreleased Fab Four recordings for its "Anthology" series. All the Rolling Stones' albums and singles, not just greatest hits packages, also have surfaced on CD.
Major labels typically look for titles that can sell at least 10,000 copies, leaving less-popular projects to independents or custom Internet-only divisions such as Warner Strategic Marketing's Rhino Handmade label and Universal's new Hip-O Select imprint, which can turn a profit selling as few as 2,000 to 3,000 copies of some titles. (Royalties on reissues are typically paid at the same rate as when an artist is signed to a label, says a reissue executive at one major label.)
Companies have found reissues so lucrative that they have reached back for almost everything -- including hundreds of albums that never sold enough to reach the Top 200 sales list.
Who ever dreamed there would be a 73-track, three-disc box set by Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan, known primarily in the United States for 1972's "Alone Again [Naturally]."
"To be frank, marketing costs far less [on catalog material] than the cost of breaking new acts, so it becomes a cash cow for the industry and helps finance much of the new music you see today," says Bruce Resnikoff, president of Universal Music Enterprises, the division that oversees releases from Universal's extensive catalogs. "It's become an important thing to each of these companies."
In fact, even though two-thirds of total album sales are current releases, about one of every three albums purchased last year was at least 18 months old, and one of every four was three years old or older, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures.