I had not recorded under my own name since "GOT MY MENTAL" in 1996. Almost 10 years had passed, and during all that time, not a single record label had ever expressed any remote interest in me as an artist at all - and that included Japan as well. In 2005, when I felt that I could afford to self-finance a new album, I assembled the players and went in and recorded "THE GREEN FIELD." Once it was done, or at least mixed, I began to submit it to every possible label, major and independent, that I knew of here in the USA. That included labels such as: Columbia/Sony; Blue Note; Verve; RCA; Warner Bros.; Concord; and Palmetto. The album was rejected by all of them - and I knew people at each of these labels. The only label that expressed any interest at all was Zoho Records, but, when I met with the executive, he told me that my album would have to conform to "the look" of all of his other albums. I had seen that "look" - and I refused to place my record there under those conditions. In the meantime, I was lucky to have found a home for the album with my old friend and treasured associate, Hiroshi Itsuno in Japan for his new label, 55 Records. Likewise, I was able to place the album with Ulrich Vormehr and his ESC Records for Germany to be distributed, hopefully, throughout Europe. But the sad fact remained that I had no home for the album here in my own country!
Finally, bassist/producer Jimmy Haslip suggested that I contact Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records as he was about to launch a new "Fusion" adjunct to his principal label which was going to be called Tone Center Records. We exchanged some e-mails and eventually had some phone conversations, and though it was hardly the best 'deal' in the world - at the very least, the album would be released in my own country, the USA, and I would not be forced to have to become a record label myself - thus having to deal with CD Baby or Bandcamp, etc.! For me, that alone was a cause for great joy and relief.
As we began to prepare for the eventual release, and to work through the various details of a contract, we arrived at the big questions of: "What do we do about radio promotion?" And, "What do we do about press promotion?" After years and years in the business, mostly producing albums by the finest and fastest guitar shredders in the world, Mike Varney had arrived at a particular philosophy in answer to these two all-important questions - at least important to me! His philosophy was very simple. He doesn't believe that, for what he and his label sees coming back to him - in other words, INCOME - the investment of money in both radio promotion and press promotion is a complete and total waste of money! Period - Stop!!! On a certain practical level, I could understand, given the statistics, his statistics, just how and why he had arrived at this point-of-view. But, radio for shredders? In essence, there is no such thing - short of a college kid having his/her own 1-hour program at 2 A.M. in Any Town, USA one night per week! So, why invest in that. And, publicity/public relations? What was out there? A few guitar magazines remained, some bass and drum magazines - but that was the totality of the landscape. Why invest in having someone go after those publications and the new frontier of bloggers and the blog-o-sphere? Again, honestly, I completely understood this. But, in my case, we were not talking about any of these considerations - even though I am a guitarist. But, the music that I play is more closely aligned with Jazz, Jazz/Fusion, and Latin Jazz. So, there is radio that is specifically geared to those genres, and a few more magazines - though not too many, and that number was and is ever-shrinking.
Mostly, after the initial negotiations were done, I dealt with a wonderful guy at the label named Mike Jarrold, who was the vice-president - in charge of EVERYTHING else - in truth, he ran and managed the label. So, I made my arguments for hiring some radio promotion people, and after speaking several times with Mike Jarrold, I proceeded to make my fatal error. And here's how and why that happened.
With all my years of experience in the music business, and the Jazz business, I allowed myself to be talked into something, because I just wasn't thinking clearly and seeing the big picture. So, regarding radio promotion and the expense involved, Mike Jarrold sold me on the following - when he said:
your album will reach ALL of the basic stations and more - and it won't cost you or us anything."
Well, after having spent a great deal of my own money on "THE GREEN FIELD," this all sounded really good to me - and so, fool that I was, I chose to go down that path. And here is the all important aspect that I was not thinking of when I agreed to approach Jazz radio this way.
So yes, a mailing list is just that - no more, no less - BUT..... What a good radio promotion person or team does that separates them from everything else is this..... Once the initial mailing is done - your radio campaign is laid-out, much like a military operation, where certain tasks and goals are set for each week - and those elements can be, and sometimes have to be adjusted on the fly. All the while, these great professionals man the phones and are in constant touch with all the music directors at the Jazz radio stations across this country, and even in Canada. They begin by asking questions like: "Did you receive the new Steve Khan album?" Then, depending upon the answer, they will try to make certain that the music director locates the album and above all, listens to it - with some hand-picked track suggestions that might be best for that station's philosophy. As the weeks go by, the radio promotion people continue to follow-up and do everything possible to try to get the album played everywhere. And there can be stations who will refuse to play certain albums for their own reasons, and you can never bring them into the fold. In the end, this kind of personal contact and effort makes all the difference in the world from your album being forgotten about it, overlooked, or worst of all, thrown in a big brown cardboard box to be discarded. Just doing a mailing does not get you any of these things - and therefore, more or less - "THE GREEN FIELD" was a lost album for me - it really hardly got played anywhere - and I don't believe that it ever made the JazzWeek radio chart!
I can tell you that I then promised myself that, if I ever make another recording, I WILL NOT MAKE THIS SAME MISTAKE AGAIN!!!
So, as many of you would know by now, I returned to old friends and trusted Jazz radio promotion guys: Mark Rini and Josh Ellman of GROOV MARKETING. Between the three of us, we have a great and well-established working relationship, and my trust and faith in them is pretty much unbounded. There has been a gradual and reasonably steady progression from album to album at Jazz radio thanks to the efforts of Mark & Josh. It should not be forgotten that they are dealing with Jazz guitar as I hear it and play it, and Latin Jazz, as I hear it and play it - with the full compliment of Latin percussion! And that alone can be really difficult for some Jazz radio programmers. Some of them still seem to be so afraid of all the cowbells and the hand percussion. I wish that I could say that I was joking or fooling around, but I am not - I am deadly serious! As I have been saying and writing, the journey of each album is completely unique, and what happened or didn't happen for one of them could well have nothing to do with what will or won't happen for the new one. The journey of "PATCHWORK"(2019) has been completely and totally wild - a wild roller-coaster ride with incredible twists and turns. The most recent chart position of #8 with a bullet on the JazzWeek radio chart felt like yet another miracle to me, because the album, at one point, after rising to #9, had dropped down to #15, and to me, it seemed like the eventual descent was unavoidable. But no, that did not happen - somehow the album was to rise again, this time peaking at #7. Though I remain very much a realist, I still can't really forecast where it's going to end-up.
But know this, I am so grateful for the efforts of Mark & Josh and GROOV Marketing - and I know, in my heart and other places more rational, that this was money well-spent. For anyone and everyone reading this, especially if you are a musician who is about to make a recording in this area of music - I am trying to tell you that you CAN NOT just throw it out there - do a mailing - and think that the 'quality' of your music or your recording will speak for itself without any help or support. If that happens for you? Then you can consider yourself to be the most fortunate musician on this earth! As I have stated over and over again, your work on your album does NOT end when you sign-off on your mixes, or on the mastering job. It is only just beginning. So, if you really care about your recording - follow everything through, every detail until you have exhausted every possibility!!!
Though I believe that most recording artists, especially in Jazz and Jazz-related areas, know what I am about to share, but for those of you who are bothering to read this, it is something that you have to consider as any calendar year begins to find itself in late summer or autumn. One thing that you never want to do is to release your album too close to or during November!!! Why? Because you do not want to get even remotely near the Thanksgiving holiday - which becomes a lost week at radio for any album. Then, just one week later, you are in December, and Christmas and New Years are just up ahead. In essence, that period of time is completely lost at radio. You would have to be an incredible superstar to survive that. Most of us would not survive it. Beyond that, you have to also remember that, financially speaking, January is always a lost month! People, consumers have spent all of their money on X-mas gifts, and worst of all, January 15th is coming - and estimated taxes will be due! In truth, what I am saying here is that essentially from November through the end of January are all lost months. You probably would not want to release a new recording any later than late September. So, when you are assessing your options, it becomes what I am suggesting here, or you just have to wait until February to give yourself the best chance to compete. These things must be a part of your thought process. You have to fight for your music, your album, because no one is going to do it for you!
I might also add some of these extra points:  Think about simply adding 'radio promotion' to your projected budget. If you are lucky enough to have a record label, and they refuse to pay for radio promotion, don't whine and cry about it, just be prepared to do it yourself!  Think about radio beforehand! Study the radio chart, see what's getting played - even go so far as to listen to some of those recordings. Judge the music and the audio quality.  No matter what you see that's on the radio, or doing well - NEVER compromise your own personal integrity and aesthetics for radio play. Just because you record an album and all of the tunes are 4:30 in length - that guarantees you nothing!  Always try to make the audio side of your recording competitive with the best that is out there. There are far too many horrible sounding self-engineered and mixed albums - and then mastered by someone with a computer and some mastering software program where the prime directive is: "Make my album as loud as is possible!" In my opinion to do things this way is a recipe for disaster - saving money is NOT always the best thing! This is my best advice to you all.
A Final Note: What matters to most business people is, "Are you selling any CDs, have your sales gone up?" Well, I would answer this question this way, and in part, I am answering it with a question, because the most meaningful phone call that you would ever hope to receive would be a call from the record company that says something like this:
We just had to call the manufacturer and order 5,000 more!"
Going back to at least 1980, I can tell you with complete honesty that I have NEVER received such a phone call! NEVER!!! And you could probably question most artists, certainly Jazz artists, and you would undoubtedly hear the same thing. So, what does it all mean? It could be as simple as this, no matter what else might be going on with any recording - for better or for worse - to many, what I have just stated is the bottom line!
And so on that note......
HAPPY HOLIDAYS to one and all.......
New York, NY
December 12th, 2019