2. The CD Revolution
FRANK J. OTERI: The founding of New Albion happened right before the advent of CD, and you probably only had about maybe 7or 10 titles…
FOSTER REED: We went to number 8, I think, when we made our first CD. And then we made a few more LPs, and then the CD wave became apparent.
FRANK J. OTERI: I know that a lot of other labels at the time, a lot of smaller labels, were really hurt by the switch in format, especially fringe new music labels. But New Albion came into existence right before it so you didn’t have too much of a back catalog to transfer over so it wasn’t as difficult.
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RealAudio sound clip
Excerpt from Ingram Marshall: Gradual Requiem
(from New Albion CD 002:
FOSTER REED: No, the difficulty in those days was that it was an eight dollar pressing charge per CD. In the very early days of CD manufacturing, it was incredibly expensive and furthermore nobody knew if anybody would buy it simply because it was a new format. And there was this big argument about the sort of character of the sound of the CD because it was a new technology and people hadn’t learned how to work with it yet. It was a sort of brittle. I always wanted to put out the best that was available in terms of resources, production values and graphics. To me it didn’t really matter if it was 78’s, vinyl, CD, or whatever, because what you’re really talking about are the ideas behind the music, and the medium that it’s carried in is kind of irrelevant. Unfortunately, though, the CD transition was very risky and difficult financially. There wasn’t this instant boom sitting out there for new music on CD.
FRANK J. OTERI: The boom seems to be happening now with a lot of new music getting issued on CD labels. For a while, I remember bemoaning the advent of CD and thinking it was really eliminating a lot of new music, a lot of smaller labels couldn’t keep up with it. I remember here in New York we had New Music Distribution Service…
FOSTER REED: …Oh, I knew it well…
FRANK J. OTERI: …which was a remarkable way of getting music from very small labels out there to a lot of people. And they were killed by the change to CD.
FOSTER REED: Well, they were killed before that but, yeah, that was probably the last thing that happened to them, or nearly the last thing that happened to them.
FRANK J. OTERI: And they were stuck with all this vinyl, and there was suddenly no market, Tower and all the other major retailers didn’t want vinyl…
FOSTER REED: Well, one of the worst things about, well, there’s a number of horrible things about the CD. The container it comes in is absolutely abysmal. And then the graphics are so small, you’re really selling small boxes of soap, whereas the 12×12 format of vinyl was more like a poster in scale, so you could do more poster art than you can on a CD.
FRANK J. OTERI: I go into a record shop, look at vinyl LPs, read the liner notes on the back and say, “hey, I’ve got to hear this,” and then I buy it. But with CDs, the liner notes are inside the booklet, you can’t read them … In other words, the CD isn’t selling itself…
FOSTER REED: Right.
FRANK J. OTERI: The record was its own review, with the liner notes on the back. So how can you combat that?
FOSTER REED: Well, you don’t.