The Tim Buckley Archives


Evan Cohen - 2000

The Indie Music Business and Manifesto's Tribute CD

The 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.

Evan 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.

Thanks 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 This seventeen-song/two-disc compilation is priced at a very reasonable $16.99.

We 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

This interview was conducted by Jack Brolly and Don Goudy

Jack Brolly

Jack…Welcome 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.

Would 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?

Evan…I’ve 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.

Jack… 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?

Evan…I 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 lot worse.

Jack…Does Manifesto actually record artists or do the bands have to bring you their finished tapes in hopes that you will distribute their cds?

Evan…We’ve done it both ways. We’ve licensed albums from other companies, like the whole Wedding Present catalogue, basically, from BMG in London. But we’ve also recorded a lot, like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Rugburns, our Tom Waits tribute albums, etc. Licensing finished masters has a certain lure, though.

Jack…How many Independent record labels are out there now and how can a new band (that’s 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 and singers?

Evan… Jack, there are literally hundreds of independent labels, large and small, and all of them are looking for different things. We don’t have scouts, or anything like that. We just keep ourselves informed about what’s going on and who’s doing what, and we find things that we like to put out.

To 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 isn’t that way. Many independent labels can only get a few hundred units out there of “new artist” titles, even if they have national distribution.

As I’ve 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t have. And, there are so many releases, most of the time not even money will help – it’s not widely known, but it’s 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 day.

So, to answer your question directly, it is an extremely difficult commercial environment to even attempt to sign an unknown artist or band.

Jack…Who does Manifesto represent at present and whose music do you distribute?

Evan…We 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.

Jack…You 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?

Evan…I don’t think it’s the norm for a lawyer to do what I do. I would say it helps, if you’re 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 outside counsel.

Don…Does Manifesto look for a particular sound or style in its recording artists?

Evan…Yes, we have to like it, if that’s what you mean. It gets really depressing to come to work every day and promote music that you don’t like. I’m really into the British indie sound, as you may have noticed from “Sing a Song for You”.

Don…Does your personal taste in music come into play when choosing these artists?

Evan…Of course it does.

Don…How difficult is it for a small label to get rack space in the big music retailers?

Evan…I’d say there are different levels of difficulty: difficult, extremely difficult, and impossible. It depends on what you’re selling. If we have a new Tim Buckley album, for instance, at least there’s a place for the album to “go,” so to speak, that is, there’s already a Tim Buckley section in the store and the buyers have heard of him. So they might bring in a couple of units.

But if it’s a new band, forget it. You just aren’t going to get your CD in the chains. They’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t 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. That’s why you really have to plan these things carefully and do as much as you can to educate the retail community.

Don…With 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 Tim’s music continues to grow. Since your last interview with Jack, has Tim’s popularity in terms of sales grown or stayed the same?

Evan…I really don’t know if he’s more popular, sales-wise. I mean, if I told you that the catalogue sold less in 2000 than in 1999 (and I’m not saying that’s 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. It’s just too hard to say.

However, 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 didn’t know much about who likes Tim, where they live, what albums they like or don’t 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. That’s quite a change. We should all feel lucky.

Don…What’s next for Manifesto?

Evan…We have a few things we’re working on for next year, but it’s a bit nebulous right now.

Jack…How rewarding is it for you to be involved in the music industry?

Evan…I think that all of us in the creative side of the business have always been hardcore music fans since our teen years. It’s great to be able to put your favorites out there for people to hear.

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