Foster Reed of New Albion Records

6. Music and the World Wide Web

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, the future of getting this music out there is these interactive formats and working with the World Wide Web.

FOSTER REED: I think as a mode of distribution, its time is arriving. What we’re seeing now in the industry is a shakedown. The market will at some point identify a carrier and when it does all intellectual property will be on the Web.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now will that be on some future form of MP3, maybe MP7, MP8?

FOSTER REED: Yeah, something like that

FRANK J. OTERI: You’ll visit a site online, put in a credit card number and it will download directly onto a hard drive. The record industry is terrified of this whole thing.

FOSTER REED: Well, they shouldn’t be. It’s going to be a big shot in the arm for the record industry.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, what happens with booklets and the tactile quality of a recording. I love the whole tactile aspect of recordings.

FOSTER REED: Well, you can still go out to a store and buy one! However, one thing I’m thinking of is putting out these MP3 files and also making the booklet downloadable. It’s not the same quality as a CD manufacturer or a printer which we pay top dollar to get. But they’ll have the basic product. They can burn their own CD. They can give it away as a present. I think that’s what’s coming. I think it’s almost here. And I think that all intellectual property is going to be traded this way. But I also think there will still be stores. People will still want to go in and browse. At first, New Albion sat out sound, because it wasn’t very good and it took a long time to load. Since what we’re really about is sound and the art of sound, the poetics of sound, the art of composition, it didn’t seem appropriate to step into sound as it was being moved around the World Wide Web, because it just wasn’t very good, it was like lo-fi to the extreme. Now, my feeling is that it’s appropriate to do, recognizing that it’s not as good, but assuming that it’ll probably be as good within a measurable period of time. What I want to do is put up a 2 or 3 minute sample of a certain record, and to make the entire record available to somebody who wants to send us a credit card number, and then they can download the record, as well as the graphics. And then basically they bought the record. It’s no different than if they went to a store.

Scott -- New Music for Bowed Piano -- CD cover RealPlayer  [121 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
Excerpt from Stephen Scott: Rainbows
(from New Albion CD 004:
New Music for Bowed Piano)

FRANK J. OTERI: In terms of the music industry’s fear of MP3 and its eventual better-sounding descendents, you’re then competing with the record shop, with the distributor, with the chain…

FOSTER REED: I may be competing with it, but they never did a very good job of finding my 50,000 people. So I’m not actually competing with them. If those people who wanted to buy interesting things were going into stores and looking for interesting things because the store had interesting things in them, then this wouldn’t be much of an issue. But since, for the past I don’t know how long, stores have become increasingly focused on quarterly profit. A corporate model basically has no room for somebody like me who’s not involved in the paradigm of what success is. And so, basically, the music industry’s always been putting me out of business.

FRANK J. OTERI: I always find it interesting when sales figures come in for new music recordings, and there’ll be a huge blip in New York, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco. And they’ll say: “Well, that’s where the new music community is; there isn’t an interest in the rest of the country.” This is simply not true when you see the huge amount of activity. But what is true is when you look at the record shops, the biggest cities have the alternative record shops. Here in New York we have places like Other Music and Downtown Music Gallery. In San Francisco and Berkeley, you have Amoeba. You have stores that cater to specialized tastes, whereas in most of the cities in the country you don’t have that.

FOSTER REED: That’s true. And there are various mail-order operations that have sort of come and gone. Some are still around. But it’s as though the 2 coasts don’t really know that the middle of the country exists, whereas, in fact, the middle of the country does exist. So the record industry has never been able to get what’s interesting to interested people. So back to the Web. The fact is, the only people who are participating, the 1200 people who visit our website every day happen to have computers. They happen to have wanted to find out who John Cage was, or whatever crosslink happened, they stumbled into our Web site, and they either stayed and looked at a few pages, or left, or whatever. But somehow we’re connected to this thing where actually 1200 people every single day happen by the little virtual store-shop called New Albion Records. That didn’t used to happen.

FRANK J. OTERI: In terms of your Web site?

FOSTER REED: No, in terms of our consciousness in the world. You know, the other way to have done that would have been to take a print ad out for $800 or $900 or $1,000 and have it sit in a magazine and then an individual would pick up the magazine, and turn pages, and then see your company identity. It’s the only other way.

FRANK J. OTERI: But then, what magazine? The nice thing about the Web, you potentially can be in anyone’s home who has a computer. The question is how do they find you on the Web if they don’t know you’re already there.

FOSTER REED: That’s one of the questions. The next question’s going to be, it’s going to rapidly turn into who controls the sort of window, porthole of how you’re represented. That’s where you’re going to see, I think, I suspect you’re going to see the big, broadcast and majors, that’s where their battle is going to be. You have to think of it like a supermarket. When you step into a supermarket, what does your eye see? Who’s paying for what your eye sees? You didn’t see Tom’s Toothpaste up there right away back when it began.

FRANK J. OTERI: The nice thing about the Web as opposed to other media is that it still is at the point where it’s democratic, it’s controlled by anybody who can put together a Web site and put their information out there.

FOSTER REED: In the sense that the information’s out there.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s not like radio, which is very streamlined or television, which is even worse.

FOSTER REED: It’s becoming, I can’t imagine that democracy will prevail over the hierarchy of information. In other words, if it’s true that a place like Amazon.com gave favorable pagination, call it, from companies who were paying for it, over companies that weren’t paying for it, then you’re looking at an example of the medium being controlled. And so, that’s kind of easy to imagine on the value of what is a page. But if you apply that in the third dimension, or the virtual dimension of the value of how easy the information can actually get to you, what does it have to pass through before it reaches your computer screen? It’s still very democratic but I’ll bet you that it turns into something that the broadcast companies are going to try desperately to control.

FRANK J. OTERI: Already a lot of the radio stations have Web radio, and this has become a big bone of contention now with the passing of the Digital Millennium Act in Congress last year. All of the performance rights organizations and the recording organizations, like ASCAP, BMI, RIAA are all saying, gee, there’s all this music being put out here, which is essentially being put out without any royalties being paid. There’s a lot of piracy going on. And there’s a big scramble to figure out what to do about that. A lot of stations have taken a wait and see attitude. WNYC in New York has not broadcasted music yet on the Web because they don’t want to wind up being sued by these organizations although a lot of other stations are just doing it anyway.

FOSTER REED: It’s interesting because the people who are leading this are sort of de facto the anarchists, because they weren’t invited to the party to begin with. I must say, we have a very good distributor with Koch, and the industry’s recovering in some sense of the word, but in the 15 years that I’ve been doing this, I never felt like I was invited to the music industry. I never thought that the stuff I do was taken seriously, and I always thought that I had to pay for everything I got. So, and maybe you could say that New Albion is one of the established labels of its kind in the world, but I feel like a total outsider. And so, the people who are doing this, the reason why they are rebels is because there is nothing available; they weren’t invited to the party. Everybody feels the same way. If the music industry isn’t going to work with me and I can do something else, then I’ll do something else.

FRANK J. OTERI: And essentially that’s what we felt here at the American Music Center in creating the Web magazine. There was no outlet for new music. There was no outlet for American composers. And we felt it was really important to create a media venue so people can know about the new recordings coming out on your label and other labels with a similar mindset — labels like CRI, or Mode, New World, or Bridge or any of a number of labels that are devoted to new music that are not getting attention in the New York Times or in the recordings magazines where by and large the focus is either pop or mainstream classical.

FOSTER REED: I think that, you know, that’s a necessary thing to do. We were talking earlier about why the New Albion Web site mentions all the other records that somebody’s made and crosslinks to every organization we can imagine…

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, I was going to bring that up…

FOSTER REED: I think that the reason is because if what you do is good, or as good as you can do, then people will be interested in it. And the way they will find you is because they’re already interested in something that’s parallel. If they’re saying, well, you know, I want to find Paul Lansky, who’s over at Bridge, but we did a record with him, so you start, and you happen to be at New Albion, and you say, oh, he’s over at Bridge and you go over to Bridge and you find what you’re looking for, you feel better about New Albion.

FRANK J. OTERI: And there’s also a sense of community…

FOSTER REED: Yeah, there is a community.

FRANK J. OTERI: …which is really, really nice, and one of the things that I think killed the mainstream classical record industry is that there’s no community. You have all of these majors, no one knows what the other is doing, and you have all this duplication of repertoire. And when Nonesuch had the big hit with Gorecki’s Third Symphony, what happened? Everybody recorded Gorecki’s Third Symphony. Did any of them sell? No! Because people bought their recording of Gorecki’s Third Symphony.

FOSTER REED: I think that’s completely true.

FRANK J. OTERI: But you don’t duplicate repertoire. The record of Lansky that you have is not the same repertoire that’s on Bridge, and they compliment each other. Someone would want to own both the Bridge recordings and your recording.

FOSTER REED: Ultimately, I’d rather have Bridge carry Paul Lansky and sort of straighten out what their orbit is, what New World’s orbit is, what New Albion’s is, but we all sort of stumble through this and it’ll probably be done at a later date. There’s another thing about the Web and the idea of the virtual reality…A number of our records are about to go out of print. And so we have to ask ourselves if we can afford to invest $700 in manufacturing and print to bring in another 500 copies. Given the record industry and given what the record is, etc, economically, you can’t always justify that. There’s no way you can say this record’s going to earn itself back, and you would pay the mechanical, the accounting, you know, there’s a lot of accounting in the record industry…

FRANK J. OTERI: Is it a loaded question to ask what’s going out of print?

FOSTER REED: I couldn’t easily tell you because I don’t have the figures in front of me, but there are a number of records that are at that state. But then, if you put them on in the virtual reality, there’s no product. They’re not out of print. They just exist.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right. That was essentially our thought when we were putting this thing together. Doing a Web magazine versus doing a print magazine. When you do a print magazine, you’re forced to deal with distribution networks, you have to make sure you get your product at stores and have to print up an exact number of copies. Whereas, if you’re on the Web, you’ve done it, anyone can access it all over the world, it’s instantaneous worldwide distribution, provided someone has the machinery to download your site. Or, in your case, to download discs.

FOSTER REED: We haven’t posted the discs yet but it’s definitely something that I’ve convinced myself that I want to do.

FRANK J. OTERI: Getting back to this issue of New Albion’s site mentioning all these other labels, all these other links, do you find that the other labels are mentioning you and that it works both ways?

FOSTER REED: I haven’t actually paid attention. I’m gonna go back and pay attention. We paid a lot of attention when we put it together, and then, sort of in the thrall of the collapse of the record industry, our attention shifted away from it and now we’re going to kind of get back into it and sort of see what’s what.