Varese Sarabande under new ownership + Soundtrack Reviews

January 15, 2013 | By

The New York Times reported last week veteran soundtrack label Varese Sarabande was purchased for $100 million by the Cutting Edge Group, a British company with a portfolio that includes music rights management, repping composers, and underwriting the production costs of film scores.

Apparently Varese had several interested buyers over the past few years, and the final sale was an effort to ensure the company’s continued existence in a market that’s both highly niche, and been affected by the whole morass of illegal downloads, and dwindling CD sales. Not singled out in the Times piece are two other factors worth considering:  an aging generation tired of re-buying music in different media guises; and a younger generation disinterested in older, more ‘classic’ works from the 40s thru the 60s.

Shifting demographics are a key point, and the old illegal download villain is arguably a minor player when there’s a generation less interested in buying physical media and more accustomed to sampling if not acquiring albums gratis.

Unlike the major labels who first feared digital media and held out far too long before embracing the technology used to satisfy consumers with a hunger for portable, immediate acquisition (and perhaps more fickle manners), the soundtrack labels were perhaps better equipped to deal with the changes because their market were collector-based. The downside to sticking to CDs, printed booklets, and everything physical was perhaps a longer wait time to recoup costs, if not a slower realization that exclusive CD editions may limit the sales of any given title.

With most collectors working on tight budgets, the increasing costs of shipping has made CDs a commodity that mandates second and third considerations before clicking on that Complete Purchase icon. While not the fault of distributors, or the labels handling the sale of CDs themselves, it’s an added cost that limits the success of a CD’s full potential. My preference is still for a disc (and the occasional vinyl platter), but undoubtedly a physical disc has come to represent the audiophile format for connoisseurs with broader budgets.

What does that mean in the long term?

At least the inference of the Times piece is that the Cutting Edge Group has bought a brand name with solid clout that might be malleable to different streams of exploiting its vast catalogue, and using its brand to sponsor concert venues and related events – perhaps even online broadcasts – to ensure the art of film music goes wide(r).

Another quick point: the Times also uses the success of The Bodyguard album as an example of a 12 million copy success story compared to Twilight franchise. It’s a poorly drafted comparison, and ignorant of what most non-film music writers fail to realize: a soundtrack album doesn’t always contain film score material.

The 1992 Bodyguard album featured primarily Whitney Houston songs and one score cut. Now, this is not a score soundtrack album, but a classic ‘music from and inspired by’ creation typical of a bygone era where labels larded albums with songs in and not used in the film, plus a token score cut, and for every high-profile success story, there were plenty of delete bins  littered with failed concept albums which were likely ground up and recycled when they’d knocked around for years.

Varese’s exclusive specialty is the score album, which includes the Twilight films, which themselves are different animals from a song album, and will never sell 12 million copies. It’s like comparing U2’s Rattle and Hum – a classic, 1988 best-selling concert soundtrack album – with Captive, a 1987 score album composed & performed by U2 guitarist The Edge and Michael Brook which itself littered delete bits. (Yes, there was a song performed by Sinead O’Connor, but the largely instrumental LP and CD also ran a hair above that dreaded short 35 minute running time.) These are both soundtrack albums, but different animals aimed at different markets in spite of sharing the same function: offering music from movies.

As Varese evolves under its new owner, the coming years may yield significant changes in the way film music is marketed, sold, and distributed, but hopefully the dedication that’s been strong at Varese won’t weaken. In addition to the composers, film scores involve a tightly knit group of creative minded producers, administrators, and personnel who often work across several labels, and Varese has worked with the best since its creation in 1978.

The company’s corporate talent pool essentially created the template of how to run a successful label featuring a soundtrack catalogue and new music often ignored by its owners – studios, music labels, and publishers – and they’ve weathered a lot of changes, and perhaps their own maneuvers were valuable lessons for some of the smaller labels which have similarly evolved into major players.

It’s also important to distinguish Varese a little from its competitors / allies, because each of the veteran labels – especially Intrada – have juggled the challenges of reissuing classic albums, restoring scores for expanded releases, coughing up huge rights to release new studio product, and re-recording classic scores using their own funds. With the exception of La-La Land Records, few have maintained a consistent release slate; even Film Score Monthly eventually folded because of the frustrations in spending years to get an album out, and the odds a CD may not even sell well 5 years after its release.

Moving on.

The Atli Orvarsson podcast will be up Wednesday – construction work next door kind of fubared the recording of intro / outro material – so I’ve uploaded a pair of reviews meant to run in tandem: Orbital’s Pusher [M] (Silva Screen), and Ramin Djawadi’s Red Dawn [M] (Sony Classical).

I’m currently getting through a set of Twilight Time Blu-rays, as well as Synapse’s Hammer House of Horror (itself turning out to be surprisingly good). Coming up in a few days is a review of John Huston’s worst film, the 1980 CanCon stinker Phobia which, as is typical for our home and native vintage cinema, has yet to appear on DVD.

Scorpion Releasing? Code Red? You gentlemen seem to be the most ardent supports of our tax shelter classiques. Any interest in this fragrant hunk of fuzzy green fromage?



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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