Being in the music business is tough these days. Ask Randall Frazier, who, as reported yesterday, recently shuttered Massive Music America, a fairly successful independent promotions firm he launched in 2003. "The digital music/iPod world that we are now living in has greatly changed the music industry," he declares. "Five to seven years ago, I was getting work from Sony, Universal, Verve, Beggars Banquet -- you name it! They were paying crazy amounts of money back then for promotion... it kinda boggles my mind to think about it, actually. As digital downloads began to take over, I'm sure everyone will remember all the freaking out about Napster and all of that -- it was because the labels were losing a lot of sales to downloads and CD sales just weren't happening."
Frazier readily acknowledges that the imprints that have adapted, the ones that have embraced digital music revolution, are the ones that are still standing. Just the same, their promotional needs -- particularly those of the independent labels -- has changed in direct proportion to their steadily decreasing sales.
"People, in general, don't have to rely on that medium to get music out," Frazier points out. "So in the indie/unsigned world, you now have this option to release stuff without a physical product, and you can even deliver this content to lots of places -- blogs, writers, etc.
"So, to an extent, the entire concept of Massive and that method of promotions is sort of becoming obsolete," he admits. "I will say that it isn't entirely gone -- you still need to do real physical releases to do most of the bigger publications -- and most radio isn't really set up to take and archive MP3 submissions, or CD-Rs, which degrade and go bad in a couple of years.
"So, in reality, you still need to do real promo/real manufacturing of some sort," he continues, "but the indie/unsigned world isn't really accepting that right now. So basically, there are less people to hire me from the indie world, and not enough label support to keep us going and make it worth our time. It's a changing world; that's for sure. I'm fully capable of doing all digital marketing, which we have been doing, but the return isn't the same. You end up doing a lot more work for a lot less dough."
"It's hard to pay the bills with digital marketing alone," he adds.
Indeed. And as demand for his promotional services decreased, demands on his personal life increased, which only added to the overall stress. In 2006, Frazier added a new member to his family. Raising a son and running Massive, along with his many other obligations, simply became a bit overwhelming for Frazier.
"I had over 150 record labels under me for digital distribution, which was a nightmare to manage, and again for very little return," he says. "I was constantly having to chase down new business, on top of being a stay at home dad, a live sound engineer, a studio engineer, a band, and a record label. Something had to give, and Massive was looking the weakest. Or, more to the point, Massive wasn't cutting it!
"All of this was having a great strain on my family, and also creatively tapped me," the Orbit Service frontman confesses. "I wasn't writing music anymore, or really enjoying anything -- and ironically, my band was how i got into this in the first place. In a way, the business was killing the artist in me. I was just trying to survive, and that wasn't cool at all. i kinda went off the deep end for a bit."
So at the end of the summer, Frazier sold most of his gear to Brian Gerhard, who had been working with Massive and at Frazier's Helmet Room studio. Gerhard and some friends promptly launched Audioloom Studios, while Frazier put money down on a house in the mountains. Around that same time, he took over for ace soundman Ron Gordon at the Walnut Room and added the title of production manager to his resume. "Now I have a really consistent gig there," he enthuses, "which has helped a lot with my sanity and is allowing me to focus more on my own music, and really focus on being a dad, too."
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As mentioned yesterday, Frazier plans to continue doing some promotion work under the Helmet Room Recordings banner. But this time around, he's only working with a few select artists and labels, such as the Legendary Pink Dots and Beta-Lactam Ring Records. As far as his imprint is concerned, Helmet Room is actually growing, with forthcoming releases pending from an array of local acts such as Sunset Curse, Sarah Marcogliese, Bela Karoli, the Tanukis and Kal Cahoone.
Frazier was in the middle of tracking records by the last three outfits when he decided to sell his gear, which sent Cahoone to finish her disc with the esteemed Colin Bricker at Notably Fine Audio. The Tanukis, meanwhile, are working with Gebhard at Audioloom, as is Bela Karoli. Bob Ferbache is set to mix the last two records, which will then be released on Helmet Room. For his part, Frazier is still doing quite a bit of mixing and mastering from his mountain home, including new music from Edward Ka-Spel.
Even without the promotional side of things, between raising a family, doing production at the Walnut Room, running a label and making his own music, it sounds like Frazier's workload is still pretty massive.