Monday , September 21 2020

Natalie Now Her Own Merchant

Natalie Merchant is taking the plunge into the indie world: she has left Elektra after 17 years, started her own label, paid for her own recording, and is releasing her new record via her website. Jon Pareles has the scoop:

    When her Elektra contract expired in August 2002, she chose not to renew it or to seek a deal with another major label. “I would make a big-budget pop album, followed by a year of touring and promotion and then some downtime for recovery,” she said. “I don’t even know if I was writing music that was appropriate for that mold.” Instead she will release her next album, a collection of traditional songs called “The House Carpenter’s Daughter,” on her own label, Myth America Records. It is to be released June 1 through Ms. Merchant’s Web site, nataliemerchant .com, and July 1 in stores.

    Recorded on a modest budget, marketed primarily to existing fans and not relying on radio exposure, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” breaks free of the commercial pressures that have turned major-label releases into risky gambles that can cost a million dollars in promotion alone. In contrast, Ms. Merchant’s transition suggests the model of a sustainable career for a musician who is no longer eager to chase hits.

    “The business is going one way, and Natalie’s going another,” said her manager, Gary Smith, also the general manager of Myth America.

    Ms. Merchant has little to lose. “I’m in a privileged position,” she said by telephone from Hawaii, where she lives part of the year; she also has a home in upstate New York. “I’m beyond financially independent. I had a lot of success, and I gathered together a very large audience. And I was in a rare position, because my material was unorthodox as the pop-hit mold went, but I was able to sell multiplatinum albums and have relatively large hits.” [NY Times]

And this is the key to the story: Merchant has a built-in audience awaiting her next move, she merely has to tap into that audience and draw them to her. When you know you have an audience, you can do it yourself.

    Recorded on a modest budget, marketed primarily to existing fans and not relying on radio exposure, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” breaks free of the commercial pressures that have turned major-label releases into risky gambles that can cost a million dollars in promotion alone. In contrast, Ms. Merchant’s transition suggests the model of a sustainable career for a musician who is no longer eager to chase hits.

    “The business is going one way, and Natalie’s going another,” said her manager, Gary Smith, also the general manager of Myth America.

    Ms. Merchant has little to lose. “I’m in a privileged position,” she said by telephone from Hawaii, where she lives part of the year; she also has a home in upstate New York. “I’m beyond financially independent. I had a lot of success, and I gathered together a very large audience. And I was in a rare position, because my material was unorthodox as the pop-hit mold went, but I was able to sell multiplatinum albums and have relatively large hits.”

Cutting out the middle man is very appealing and greatly reduces the “nut,” but as Merchant admits, she is in a privileged position. The vast percentage of recording artists out there can’t even sell her break-even 50,000 copies.

    Ms. Merchant paid for recording and packaging “The House Carpenter’s Daughter,” including the $3.50 manufacturing cost of an elaborate box for the first 30,000 copies. (The CD will sell for $16.95.) The special package “was printed in America for three times the price in Hong Kong,” Ms. Merchant said.

    “It’s just not in keeping with American business practice right now,” she added.

    Even so, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” needs to sell only 50,000 copies to break even, less than 15 percent of what “Motherland,” her last album for Elektra, sold.

    “We’re not trying to recoup some enormous debt,” Mr. Smith said. “The economics of making this record are very prudent. When we sell 200,000 copies, we’ll be standing on our chairs, hollering.

Although she has changed the scale and needs to sell far fewer records to make money, I am concerned about the high price she is charging, even with the bonus packaging.

For major label artists, it is time for many to make a virtue of necessity: the labels are expected to slash their rosters by another 30-50% in the next year – they will be on their own whether they choose to be or not.

Much more or her new album, marketing, and plans to set “medieval Latin liturgical texts to music” in the article. I am interested to hear what she does with covers of traditional music on her new release, but so far I liked her a lot better with the Maniacs than solo. Will all of this artistic freedom make her better or worse?

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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