On Recording for Major vs. Independent Labels Connie Crothers



Connie Crothers
Photo by Alison Gordy

In today’s market-driven, commodity-oriented record business, the desire to release music that truly fulfills the musician is one of the most important reasons to choose the independent path. In 1983, Max Roach and I recorded duo. When no one was interested to produce the record, he asked me if I would want to form a record company to release it. New Artists was the result. Our record, Swish, got a four-star review in Down Beat when it was first issued on LP, and another four-star review in Down Beat when it was reissued to CD, inferring the value of the music to the general jazz audience.

Soon after, Max worked out an independent-producer agreement with Soul Note. Richard Tabnik, the great alto saxophone player, asked me to record on the label with him. I thought of the idea of forming a cooperative record company. My concept was that each musician would own an equal share of the company and receive 100 percent return on investment on any project. With the label identity being jazz improvisation, I wanted all musician-owners to have creative independence. The owners would share yearly expenses and ongoing work. At present, there are fifteen of us. Because we have not had to consider what a producer would think is marketable, our only criterion for selection is the music. The result is that there is a lot of variety and originality. It is exciting, often deeply surprising. I also feel that some of the greatest music on CD is on some of our releases. On this label you can hear the incredible pianist Liz Gorrill.

When considering whether to record for a commercial record company or form your own, any musician might consider that any commercial release is paid for entirely by the musician. As good as it gets is an advance on royalties. Then, after the record company has recouped its production costs, the musician can receive, perhaps, 10% of any money that comes in from sales, providing that the company is honest. Besides that, unless you lease your music, the record company owns it. They can take it out of print. They can refuse to release it at all. When you own your own production, you have creative control, and you can get 100% of the money that comes in. The major problem, of course, is distribution. We have a shifting picture here. I believe that distribution over the Internet, while it will dent profits, will eventually augment the availability of original music. Perhaps, in place of such an emphasis being placed on profits from CD sales, the emphasis will go over more to performance, with people able to find their way to musicians who would be passed over by the commercial companies.