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Unsavored, Should Be Favored, part 1


Fourteen tracks including music by Tony Williams, Azar Lawrence, and Djavan. The labels didn't promote these, now there's danger that they'll be forgotten as they slip out of the catalogs. Beautiful work to be cherished.

14 tracks
5 comments on Unsavored, Should Be Favored, part 1

I don't think in the new age of digital distribution that it ever makes sense to delete a piece of music from a record company's catalog. The cost of keeping a copy of the bits of an album in digital form on an Internet accessible storage medium is probably down to cents per copy per year. If the label makes one sale a year, they would be hugely profitable with respect to the storage costs.

The problem was that before digital distribution, music, when sold as CD and before that as vinyl albums, had carrying costs for the labels. There were actually jewel cases and shrink wrapped LPs sitting out there as inventory in record stores. If an album wasn't selling enough, just taking up space in a seller's store, they would eventually want to pull it off the shelves and send it back to the vendor, who would have to accept it back and store it. Not selling enough could mean that it wasn't selling at a particular location, or it could mean that it wasn't selling much compared to the latest American Idol confection. Either way, an album would be sent back for reasons of retail profit.

When the accountants for a label would detect that stock was coming back to them, they would say "the carrying costs for this stuff is killing us. Let's stop selling this item, since it's situation is not going to improve. We're not promoting it, it won't get better".

At that point they remove it from their catalog. If they're smart they retain the final master mix that they used to prepare the stamping plates for the CD's or vinyl that they were manufacturing. That mix tape is an intermediate production artifact though and sometimes they lose track of that. Also, many times a mix that has been tunes for LP play or CD play doesn't sound good when transferred to the highest resolution digital format.

The original session tapes or digital files captured in the recording studio are stored in a master vault at the record company. But once it's been allowed to lapse from the catalog and a new mix needs to be prepared, then there's a bunch of contention to get a competent recording engineer to remix the album (set the relative volumes of tracks, redo the tweaking that was done for the original release, set filters properly so that it sounds best) so that it costs tens of thousands of dollars to remaster lapsed recordings. Then it becomes a question of "if we spend this money, will we finally make a profit?". The companies will of course have some idea how this will go and prioritize appropriately. This means that if a recording has been pulled from the catalog, it can spend years sometimes decades in limbo, at the mercy of the backroom guys in the vaults who decide to throw away old master recording media because they need the space. It's a miracle that recording from 80 or 90 years ago can still be listened to.

What a wonderful grouping of songs. I especially liked "Baby Man", "Civilization" and "Bougarabou". Buster William's bass in both "Baby Man" and "Beast Beautiful" were outstanding. In my opinion, it seems that the African drummer has a more intimate connection to the drums than a jazz drummer does. That's not to say that it's better or worse, just a different feel.
Question: what criteria is used (and by whom) to determine what will be included in a catalog? Naively, I thought a catalog would be comprehensive.

Sweet call and totally magnamimous of you to include the Mary Lou, Dave. One of my favorite records of all time! HOW in the world could "Free Spirit" stay out of print? I think it's Mary Lou's finest work ever.