The Perspective of a Tiny Jazz Record Label

I run a tiny jazz record label called FreeHam Records, which recently released new albums by Zaxariades (“Mr. Z”) and Charmaine Clamor (“Searching for the Soul”).

Hundreds of individuals like me dedicate much of their life (and most of their savings!) to jazz music, with no realistic expectation that it will ever earn a penny of profit. We want musical directors and disc jockeys — as well as the many musical artists who make jazz — to know how the tastemakers can personally improve something we all care about.

Here’s the straight dope:

+ In early-January, FreeHam mailed out one-sheets and complimentary CD copies of our two new releases to approximately 360 music directors and individual disc jockeys. This costs a lot of money. 

+ We hired one of the best radio promotion companies in the business, Groov Marketing. This costs a lot of money.

+ We bought advertising in DownBeat, Jazziz, All About Jazz, and JazzWeek. This costs a lot of money.

Now, despite these ridiculously expensive efforts to differentiate our releases from the dozens of others radio stations are inundated with on a weekly basis, more than 250 people who got our package still report that the records are “Out for Review.” This is 10-11 weeks later!

We’re not here to whine about radio adds or the lack thereof. Indeed, of the 100 or so outlets who bothered to listen to Zaxariades and Charmaine Clamor, more than 90% chose to put them on their playlist, and their listeners are thankful they did. We’re here to tell you that the general lack of response makes all the money spent to get a response — a simple “yes” or “no”, and perhaps a brief explanation of what you like or don’t like — an enormous waste.

We know programmers have huge piles of material through which they must sift to find the gems. We understand what a challenge it is to cull the grain from the chaff. We understand how little airtime is available for so much worthy music.

Conversely, here’s where FreeHam (and all the other mom and pop operations) are coming from: We can’t afford to keep paying to ask programmers to get hip to these records. Our promo budget is busted. Meanwhile, some DJs excoriate outfits like Verve for only caring about creating commercial home runs, not meaningful music. Realize this: letting releases from FreeHam and other tiny independents like us disappear into a vacuum — or, shamefully, selling them unopened to second-hand record dealers — plays right into the hands of the heavyweights the DJs mock. We can’t compete with their marketing budgets; we can only compete with the quality of the music we produce.

If music directors don’t offer a response — positive or negative — we’ll eventually fade away, ignored and irrelevant, and everyone will be left wondering where all the new, unheralded artists are, and why no one has the courage to give them a record deal.

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