Cohen - 1999
The Indie Music Business and Manifesto's Tribute CD
members of “Room 109, Pleasant Street” have been discussing
the idea of a cover album of Tim Buckley songs since May of
1999. Sixteen months later, the idea has become a reality.
Cohen, CEO at Manifesto Records is responsible for the release
of both the “Live At The Troubadour 1969” and the “Honey Man”
Live CDs. Manifesto is also the distributing label for the
very successful “Dream Letter Live In London 1968” CD.
to the dedication and hard work of Evan Cohen, “Sing A Song
For You” tribute to Tim Buckley is now available to all Buckley
enthusiasts at Amazon.com. This seventeen-song/two-disc compilation
is priced at a very reasonable $16.99.
asked Evan if he’d be interested in talking with us about
the independent record label industry as well as the new Manifesto
tribute cd. He graciously accepted our invitation and what
follows is our two part interview.
Manifesto has an interesting catalogue of artists. You can
check it out yourself at manifesto.com.
interview was conducted by Jack Brolly and Don Goudy
back to our forum, Evan. It’s always fun to talk to you and
find out what’s going on in the world of Manifesto.
you tell us when it all begin for you in the recording business?
Many of us are aware that your dad was involved in the music
biz and of course your uncle Herb managed a very large stable
of artists including Tim. When did you decide that this is
what you wanted to do with your life?
been involved in the music business since 1982. I became a
lawyer in 1985, and over these fifteen years I've represented
many other songwriters, composers, musicians (especially when
they get thrown out of bands, it seems!), record labels, music
publishers, production companies (in music, as well as animation
and film), and authors.
Would you say that Manifesto and your previous labels were on
the cutting edge when the idea of distributing the music of
independent artists became a viable way for new un-signed groups
and individuals to get their music circulated?
think the premise of your question is out of step with the
condition of the modern world of distribution. There are terrible
distribution problems currently among independent labels.
I would say to any label or band, you can be as cutting
edge as you want to be, but you have to deal with the
real world, that is, promotion, marketing, and how records
get into stores, or not. Then again, with the Internet and
digital distribution, things could get a lot better, or a
Manifesto actually record artists or do the bands have to
bring you their finished tapes in hopes that you will distribute
done it both ways. Weve licensed albums from other companies,
like the whole Wedding Present catalogue, basically, from
BMG in London. But weve also recorded a lot, like Screamin
Jay Hawkins, The Rugburns, our Tom Waits tribute albums, etc.
Licensing finished masters has a certain lure, though.
many Independent record labels are out there now and how can
a new band (thats ready to record) approach your company?
Or is it the other way around? Do you have scouts (so to speak)
with their eyes and ears open; just looking for talented bands
Jack, there are literally hundreds of independent labels,
large and small, and all of them are looking for different
things. We dont have scouts, or anything like that.
We just keep ourselves informed about whats going on
and whos doing what, and we find things that we like
to put out.
elaborate on what I said above, there is a glut of new product,
of bands, and of labels. The viable commercial outlets for
all of that product, worthwhile or not, are diminishing rapidly.
Retail chains are consolidating and cutting back, and the
number of different titles that stores are willing to carry
is declining. It seems like when I started the independent
distribution of our label in 1993 (we had been with Enigma
and later Rhino up to that point), you would be reasonably
sure of shipping at least a few thousand units of any title.
Now it just isnt that way. Many independent labels can
only get a few hundred units out there of new artist
titles, even if they have national distribution.
Ive said before, perhaps distribution will get better
with the Internet, that is, CDs do not have to be anywhere
for people to find them and buy them. But I wouldnt
get too excited, because people still have to have to know
about a release before they can decide whether they want to
buy it, and that takes money and resources, which a lot of
independent labels dont have. And, there are so many
releases, most of the time not even money will help
its not widely known, but its quite common for
a major label to spend a few hundred thousand dollars (or
more) on a band and sell 1500 units, or less. It happens every
to answer your question directly, it is an extremely difficult
commercial environment to even attempt to sign an unknown
artist or band.
does Manifesto represent at present and whose music do you distribute?
have the Tim Buckley catalogue (five albums), two albums by
Tom Waits, five albums by The Wedding Present (and we will
release the new album by Cinerama, which is fronted by David
Gedge of The Wedding Present, next month), three titles by
Screamin Jay Hawkins, three by The Rugburns (Steve Poltz
is now on Mercury), our two Tom Waits tribute albums, and
a new album by Preacher Boy, who is a blues/roots/Americana
artist who used to be on Blind Pig.
mentioned earlier that you are a lawyer. Is that the norm
nowadays for a record company executive and/or distributor
to be well versed in corporate law?
dont think its the norm for a lawyer to do what
I do. I would say it helps, if youre running a small
company, to be a lawyer
.I mean, I can take care of all
of the contracts, licensing, negotiations, etc., while other
labels would have to have a business affairs person or hire
Manifesto look for a particular sound or style in its recording
we have to like it, if thats what you mean. It gets
really depressing to come to work every day and promote music
that you dont like. Im really into the British
indie sound, as you may have noticed from Sing a Song
your personal taste in music come into play when choosing
course it does.
difficult is it for a small label to get rack space in the
big music retailers?
say there are different levels of difficulty: difficult, extremely
difficult, and impossible. It depends on what youre
selling. If we have a new Tim Buckley album, for instance,
at least theres a place for the album to go,
so to speak, that is, theres already a Tim Buckley section
in the store and the buyers have heard of him. So they might
bring in a couple of units.
if its a new band, forget it. You just arent going
to get your CD in the chains. Theyve never heard of
it, it doesnt mean anything to them. Also, it depends
on your distributor and your label. If your label has a reputation
for putting a lot of support behind your product, like advertising,
touring, radio promotion, etc., then that would help. Thats
why you really have to plan these things carefully and do
as much as you can to educate the retail community.
the increase in the number of Tim Buckley web sites, and the
growth of membership in both this forum and the Starsailor
Onelist, it seems that interest in Tims music continues
to grow. Since your last interview with Jack, has Tims
popularity in terms of sales grown or stayed the same?
really dont know if hes more popular, sales-wise.
I mean, if I told you that the catalogue sold less in 2000
than in 1999 (and Im not saying thats the case),
what would it mean? You could argue that fewer sales means
that there are fewer new fans, or, in the alternative, you
could argue that everyone has those CDs already, and everyone
who buys Dream Letter is a new fan. Its
just too hard to say.
with the new forums and sites, at least we can all talk about
Tim and his music. Look at how things have changed for the
better. Just a few years ago, say, 1994, before the Internet,
we all didnt know much about who likes Tim, where they
live, what albums they like or dont like, etc. And we
were at the mercy of retail stores to supply music buyers
with albums. Now we have the opportunity to exchange ideas
instantaneously from anywhere in the world. And we can buy,
sell, or trade whatever we want, without the CDs having to
be anywhere. Thats quite a change. We should
all feel lucky.
next for Manifesto?
have a few things were working on for next year, but
its a bit nebulous right now.
rewarding is it for you to be involved in the music industry?
think that all of us in the creative side of the business
have always been hardcore music fans since our teen years.
Its great to be able to put your favorites out there
for people to hear.
1999 Jack Brolly/Room