Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

A successful composer, pianist and ensemble director preparing to mark the 20th anniversary of his ensemble, North/South Consonance, Max Lifchitz would hardly seem to have needed to take on the mantle of record company impressario. But the label he started in 1992, North/South Recordings, was not intended merely as a repository for the music performed by his ensemble, but rather, as a means of coping with the difficulties of drawing audiences to concerts of new music.

“The label is actually best seen as an extension of the activities of the group in terms of its concerts,” say Lifchitz. “It’s obvious that in the ’90s things have changed in terms of concerts and of getting music out to an audience. Then CDs became quite popular, and it was easier to send a CD around than to have people come to a performance.

“The label features the ensemble,” he continues, “and it also features some of the composers that we have championed in the past. Many other labels were not interested in these composers. I think things have changed somewhat now… the world changes very fast!… but I think at one point many of these composers would not have found another outlet.” Among the composers represented on the label so far are Larry Bell, Bernard Rands, Joel Feigin, Bruce Saylor and Marilyn Ziffrin. Naturally, Lifchitz is also represented as composer and pianist, but the bulk of the catalog is dedicated to others.

As with all small upstart labels, the sheer amount of product released in a given month can be daunting, to say the least, and it becomes that much more difficult to target the audience for North/South releases. “The market wasn’t as crowded when we started the label,” Lifchitz says. “Things are getting very crowded now; there are so many releases, so many labels.” Things that help the label find its market include a smattering of advertising in likely magazines such as Fanfare and American Record Guide, radio broadcasts abroad (though seldom here in the United States), and a Web site that features streaming RealAudio sound samples from each of the recordings.

There are currently 18 titles in the North/South catalog, with up to four more projected by year’s end, including a recording of North/South Consonance in music of a variety of American composers including Elliott Schwartz, and another featuring Lifchitz at the piano for a collection of music by Nancy Bloomer Deussen, Mark Albuquerque and others. Lifchitz feels that four CDs per year is a good number for the label.

Of the recordings already in the catalog that Lifchitz most highly recommends to newcomers, he particularly likes …in the Receding Mist (1003), a collection of works by Bernard Rands, Aurelio de la Vega, Roque Cordero and Bruce Saylor. “It really is a North/South Consonance, in that it features two American composers and two Latin American composers. I also have a recording of piano music of Mexico (Mexico – 100 Years of Piano Music, CD 1010) that I particularly like. The two CD set of music by Joel Feigen performed by Musicians Accord (Transcience, CD 1011) is especially good and important, as is the CD of cello music by Larry Bell (River of Ponds, CD 1018) featuring Eric Bartlett of the New York Philharmonic. But of course, you know, I would like to recommend all of them…”

From Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels
by Steve Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox