Image Credits: Jochen Becker © Westfalenblatt
October 23, 2018
In 2003 Jochen Becker founded Zoho, an indipendent record label that in 15 years has produced over 180 records and has won 3 Grammys and 3 Latin Grammys. We had an interview with him.
Zoho was born in 2003; why did you decide to open a (indie) record label?
After a career in consumer packaged goods marketing, I have worked as an independent music marketing consultant since 1993, and started my first indie record label (Khaeon) in 2000. Reason for starting ZOHO in 2003 was my belief that I could launch a new indie label that was distinctive, unique, colorful, fun, multicultural and “with a New York vibe”. The original idea was to present fresh new music representing what’s happening in New York city jazz and latin music clubs.
The initial reaction of all of the constituents in the music business : distributors, retailers, music consumers, jazz journalists, radio programmers etc was very positive and encouraging, leading to ZOHO signing a distribution agreement with large, prestigious indie label distributor Allegro Corporation in Portland, Oregon in 2004, and winning our first Latin Grammy with Argentinian Tango Jazz pianist Pablo Ziegler in 2005.
We are living the streaming model era; is there enough space left for the records? Which are the difficulties a label must face? Are you positive about the future?
It is true that in terms of overall sales and label profitability, the general sharp decline of physical CD sales and their successive partial replacement by digital downloads and then streaming have had a negative impact on the entire recorded music industry. On the other hand a small, specialized boutique label with a “niche” target market (Latin Jazz) like ZOHO is not only subject to the “general” market dynamics. Niche categories like Jazz or Classical still do far better with physical CD sales than say “teenage” music categories like Hip Hop, Electronica, alternative rock etc. Also, some European markets and Japan are still quite strong physical CD markets. In terms of total physical CD label sales, ZOHO’s by far largest segment is gig sales by the artists themselves.
Typical indie label difficulties: from an accounting point of view, the biggest challenge indie labels face is to maintain profitable, not only year by year, but also month by month. Many indie labels don’t even try, and/or are frequently musician-run vanity labels which are supporting the performing careers of a single principal performing artist. Nothing wrong with that in principle of course, only distributors and retailers frequently shy away from these labels, as they cannot guarantee a steady stream of commercially viable CD releases over time. Maintaining financial viability of an indie label is hard. It requires careful A & R choices, effective marketing and distribution, cost controls, etc. ZOHO’s strategy has been to develop visually distinctive, instantly recognizable branded product which adds value to each individual release which in turn justifies premium pricing.
Yes, I am guardedly optimistic about the recorded music industry’s future. In my opinion, creative, distinctive, high quality indie label product will always find a market.
How do you choose the artists you will produce?
Having just passed the 15-year age mark in September 2018, ZOHO is lucky in being able to say that we receive a steady stream of finished masters and recording proposals by both established ZOHO artists and new artists to ZOHO every week. Even more importantly, we frequently attend concerts in the New York club scene to audition new artists and CD projects. We are taking a long term view on artist/label relationships and ZOHO is proud to have many artists on its roster who have already released between 6 and 10 CDs on the label.
Zoho has been quite successful, you have produced over 180 records in 15 years and won 3 Grammys and three Latin Grammys: which are your next projects?
We are already working on the next three CD releases of celebrated Brazilian guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, including one featuring a guitar concerto commission by the great Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. We are also starting a new artist/label relationship with German/American jazz violinist Gregor Huebner, one of them featuring Europe’s leading large instrumental jazz ensemble – the WDR Big Band from Cologne, Germany! We are also proud to continue our collaboration with multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner, producer Kabir Sehgal with projects into 2019 and beyond.
What would you suggest to a young artist wishing to be produced by a label?
My suggestions: first – secure the financing for the recording costs of your project plus funds for whatever release expense sharing you might negotiate with a label. Second: approach a couple of labels with your project idea before you go into the studio – to get their opinion on what you are trying to do. You might pick up suggestions that either lead to recording cost savings or that increase the commercial viability of your project. Choose your repertoire carefully – the best is usually a mix of your own compositions plus a few recognizable cover songs.
Reservados todos los derechos – All rights reserved – 版權所有 – 版权所有; An espresso with… Jochen Becker copyright Jazzespresso 2018.
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