I've been complaining about the lack of good compilations of Frankie Valli/Four Seasons material[including bonus tracks] for some years and whilst it is easy to focus on The Four Seasons Partnership and a lack of understanding or action re this , it is not as simple as it sometimes appears. We often think THEY should relate to our wishes and design good compilations for us. But would we buy again when we have all the tracks on CD.?......and if there are not enough vaulted tracks to create a bonus to persuade buyers, is there any point in a release.? Music is after all a product.
Let's examine some of the fan views and some of the current music industry realities.
Here are some typical and understandable comments from fans.....”Frankie and Bob continue to not fully understand the true collector...their feeling is it doesn't have mass appeal and tracks need remastering or remain unfinished. The true collector DOES NOT CARE... a release of these songs would be for the true fans that have stuck with them all these years...once AGAIN another volume of BEACH BOYS unreleased tunes has hit the market with all the flubs,mistakes,false starts,studio banter instrument tuning, alternate versions and yes even unflattering versions. so Frank and Bob need to get with it, we don't care if someones voice cracks or they coughed or sneezed during a take or that someone was off tempo,these make the recordings even more endearing to us” said Jim Valenti in our facebook group. In response Chuck Walker makes a good point.......”Jim has a perspective similar to mine. How about a challenge....back in January of 1964 Frank and Bob responded to "Surfers Rule" with "No Surfin' Today. Is it time to respond today, but instead of redoing the redo's provide something which clearly shows the creativity of the group. Granted they may not think everything is the best, but how many of the 4 Season 'also ran' songs have become hits for other artists. "Like You" from the recent [Unreleased free bootleg] CD shows they had creativity long long ago and the Motown stuff continues in that vein. Or could it be that the bad taste left by those problematic years over powers all else.? I for one think some of the"unreleased" I have heard via Casey Chameleon's work is better than what was included in some of the released albums. Just one persons perspective.”...and Jim agrees....... “Chuck you are 100% correct about some of the unreleased that has made their escape out, Frank and Bob are using the argument about the material not being up to their standards,standards what standards when nonsense like "GYPSY WOMEN" and most if not all of the Romancing the 60's and Hope and Glory were considered up to their standards and worthy of releasing.......for over 40 years now since the 70's they skimped on LP tracks, most having only 10 songs but some having 8.. just on that short coming alone the fans deserve some extras”
Good arguments perhaps....especially when we see collections like this from the Beach Boys
“This release, mastered for fine sonics by Mark Linett, is a worthy successor to such similarly collector-oriented collections as Hawthorne, California, and more recently, The SMiLE Sessions and the 50th anniversary presentation of Pet Sounds. Conventional wisdom has it that Brian Wilson abandoned his ambitions following the demise of SMiLE, but this release reveals that he instead channeled his considerable energies and remarkable musical instincts into a different but equally valid direction: one of apparent, back-to-basics simplicity – which is often the most difficult and complex quality to achieve. The creatively fertile music by Brian, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow was in many regards out of time, existing in a vacuum removed from the other sounds of The Summer of Love – hence, the original, poor chart placement of Wild Honey. Yet this rootsy, rocking, soulful, and quirky yet still unmistakable iteration of The Beach Boys has aged well in the context of the band’s entire career. Aren’t you glad for Sunshine Tomorrow?” says the second Disc review and is targetted at a known and well researched 'group' of fans.
So there is evidence of well managed archive releases and major pop artists farming their back catalogue and master tapes. A body of work that represents your musical life....your 'art'. The economic model for collectors sets for record companies remains based on both short and long term sales.
The biggest set of 'unreleased' Four Seasons/Valli tracks remains in Universal Motown's [UMe]vaults and their policy, in recent years as CD sales have declined, has been to move away from product release themselves leaving 3rd Party record companies to lease tracks from the vaulted archive. ACE have been the most prolific over the last few years. But the level of competition between such companies seems to have reached a damaging level for the collectors. Anecdotal evidence suggests recent projects have seen ACE, Caroline Records and Cherry Red vying for release of vaulted tracks with projects switching labels but failure to progress to release. Rumours have surfaced that UMe have suspended 3rd party licensing and that the CEO of archive material [Harry Weinger}has moved to California to a new role[possibly for Universal mainstream artists] and a potential void in personnel, and projects of archive material is a fear for us collectors for the future.
The CD market today has shrunk so much many fear for the future of re-issues/vaulted material particularly as older collectors pass away. The economics of re-issue/vaulted material remains a fine judgement. Companies need to feel confident a product can sell at least 1000 units in the first place. Any growth could take sales to 3000 units which would mean a very successful project in todays marketplace. Compare this with the noughties when Cellarful Of Motown Volumes were selling 7/10,000 units. Such sales today of rare older material seems impossible.
But there is a clear market that could enable both UMe and the 'independents' to successfully utilise the vault. Todays Facebook groups related to Rare Motown material contain nearly 2,300 dedicated members [whilst the main Motown group has over 64,000 members] all potentially purchasers of good product. They regularly share You Tube tracks and discuss artists rarities and classic tracks. Record company execs would argue that You Tube access to downloads and CD sharing are too damaging to sales to risk some projects and that may be true in some cases and some artists. Most facebook group members would want a product rather than downloads. They are 'collectors' and NOT casual music 'consumers' like the younger 'streaming' subscibers. Their interests and markets are narrow but they are coming together into an information sharing environment. A name like Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is known to everyone today and not just Motown collectors. Many find it hard to believe no record company will tackle the subject. A fear that The Partnerships 'attitude' will be negative. But we believe that may not be the case as we speak to the 'inner circle' after concerts. The test of rare music sales we think will be the next few months as we see milestone releases testing the market and my personal theory re the future for archive and back catalogue material.
Cherry Red Records are about to release a 2 CD set of unreleased vaulted material of Brenda Holloway, a classic but little-known artist[outside Motown collectors]. This will contain properly re-mastered versions of poorer quality 'cheap' downloads recently issued. [a trend followed by UMe in recent years.]
The Motown Treasures Facebook group poll also found Cellarful Of Motown Vol 5 to be the most wished for release and rumour has it this is planned and that will, I believe, demonstrate that the best market for vaulted material is 'facebook groups'. Social media PR will I believe be the best avenue for sale of rare music wanted by collectors of classic 60s/70s material.
'Second Disc' the re-issue blog demonstrates the range of artists collections targeting such collectors. The problem remains the licensing of material and 'clearance' of such material for issue.
At UMe 'quality control' sessions review 'approaches' re potential compilations to assess their 'contribution' to the 'corporate' image and the available catalogue. This happens in both the UK and again in the US before any compilation can be put forward for approval. A lengthy process that needs careful management. Experienced compilers know this process is fraught with disapointment. And it seems to be getting worse! But what if The Four Seasons Partnership promoted the approach and if a leading music artist or producer championed such an idea?.... would the bureaucracy move better? I sometimes wonder if problem solving in the 'clearance' process is the real issue. When Harry Weinger stepped in in 2008 we got the Motown Anthology set.
The problem perhaps with the Four Seasons Partnership is that they have been locked into their Rhino licensing deal for so long and they appear to no longer have someone like Bill Inglot managing the masters and compiling collections. Compiling collections is in many ways 'an art form' and it needs a knowledge of your audience as well as your material. Thus the benefits of a social media group is vital to designing and compiling sellable CD collections as well as finding the best compilers who can manage the process.
In future blog posts I'll be revisiting how this nearly happened with the Motown unreleased and focusing on their best rarities collections in the CD era whilst trying to find an approach to generate a viable project for Four Seasons fans. Casey Chameleon.