THE MELODIC HARD ROCK LABELS

by PAUL JEROME SMITH

Fireworks magazine


For our latest foray into the world of the record companies and their labels I am delighted to be able to introduce a specialist British label ANGEL AIR that mainly focuses upon heritage material, has been around for over ten years and whose releases have recently started to be reviewed in Fireworks on a regular basis.

They now have quite a formidable catalogue (available in print and as a download) of material, some of which is admittedly removed from the type of stuff that Fireworks readers are likely to be seeking, while at the same time including much that is likely to appeal.

So, it is my pleasure to introduce PETER PURNELL who has initially answered the usual set of ten questions as have appeared in each of the previous instalments of this series.

McCoy - Think Hard...Again

Angel Air's first release in February 1997

Hello Peter. When did the label begin and - briefly - how and why was it formed?

The label was formed back in 1997 after a discussion with one of our artist management clients (we have an artist management company called CeeDee Management with clients as diverse as Mott The Hoople members to ex- Saxon members) JOHN McCOY, (who had been a member of GILLAN) who we are proud to say licensed us our very first release (McCoy 'Think Hard..Again') and remains a client still today.

Prior to 1997 we had been working on behalf of a number of artists attempting to collect unpaid royalties on behalf of our clients and the idea grew from John's initial suggestion of creating an independent heritage record label where artists got paid and we split profits on a 50/50 basis after recouping initial costs which the label would fund.

My wife Shirley works with me in the business (and co owns it with me) and I wanted to create a record label than began with "A". Shirley came up with the label name and logo. Our initial mission was to release around 20 titles per year and share all profits on a 50/50 basis with artists. We already had a wealth of artist contacts and we were up and running. Out of over 400 releases over the past 15 years only 4 to date have never recouped and not made a profit.

The label just grew from there. We already had a publishing company (CeeDee Music UK) and we now publish over 2,000 songs. As the market has changed and evolved over the years our business model has changed to reflect those changing circumstances and our income now comes from a number of sources including sub licensing, sync licences, publishing, artist management, downloads, streaming to sales of physical CDs. We are proud to state that we have made a profit every year we have traded, have no bank borrowings at all, cash in the bank and pay tens of thousands of pounds every 6 months to artists as profit shares.

Our business model as indicated though has changed significantly over the past five years with more each year of our gross income coming from downloads, sync licences and sub licences. Quite fortuitously we entered the digital download market as far back as 2003 with Napster and now ITunes (the market leader) accounts for around 80% of our income from that segment with a growing additional income from streaming via Spotify.

How would you describe the genres of music that you have issued on the label?

In one word, Paul, eclectic!

Angel Air's roots are in metal, heritage rock and credible pop music and our output over the years reflects that. We have though moved into blues and country successfully over time.

We basically release heritage product or albums we like and we think will sell and this reflects why over the past few years we have also released albums from stunning new artists such as BLACKHEART .

How many people are employed by (or involved in) the label?

Our full time staff is three but we outsource as many services as we possibly can as a policy to make sure we strictly control costs such as web management, artwork, studio, filming and recording, DVD authoring, promotion and freelance journalistic input for sleeve notes etc.

At our Stowmarket, Suffolk, England base we have a 4,000 sq ft warehouse and offices from where we process and ship orders around the world to our distributors, carry out all administration, marketing and sales. We also carry out mail order back office for our web site www.angelair.co.uk. Our web site provides vital information on each of our releases, track samples, track listing and artist web site links and we get worldwide hits every day.

We uniquely involve artists in every aspect of our releases including having them oversee remastering as well as proof reading and approving their own artwork/design. Our releases normally have 8 to 24 page CD booklets with rare unseen photos, memorabilia and bonus tracks. Still to this day I get a buzz when an artist hands over their personal scrap book and allows us to "plunder" it for photos and press cuttings. Our company slogan is Where The Artist Has A Voice

Although fundamentally a heritage label Angel Air does offer media/DJ's the ability to interview artists or in some cases offer them to play live in the studio to support their relevant album releases. Also and uniquely for a heritage label we represent our artists for downloads, sync and sub licensing rights for the 5,000 plus audio tracks we now control. Our business model works and we also work closely with our artists supplying them actual product for sale at their live performances giving them a far greater financial return on their gig sales of CDs than traditional record labels.

As a fan of music it is extremely satisfying to work with such great artists. Not withstanding the changes that are taking place in the music market there continues to be a rock solid demand for what we release both physically and digitally and we just enjoy daily what we do.


By the end of December 2011, how many albums will the label have issued?

We will have released approx 375 albums and 30 DVD's. We normally release thee albums a month so our total output since 1997 has been over 400 releases. We have made the UK Top 30 twice: firstly with a CULTURE CLUB 20th Anniversary Concert at The Royal Albert Hall DVD and a GO WEST live DVD both of which we filmed.

We plan to release around 35 titles in 2012.

2012 is our fifteenth anniversary and we have some ideas as to how we can celebrate that milestone achievement-watch this space!

Stackridge - Extravaganza


Could you please select five releases on the label of which you are especially pleased? Briefly explain your choices.

This is the hardest question you have asked me as we are pleased with all of our releases - each and every one is special to us otherwise we would not have released it

Those that have sold particularly well though are

MOTT THE HOOPLE - 'Two Miles from Live Heaven' 2CD set
McCOY - 'Think Hard Again?'
AFFINITY - 'Affinity'
STACKRIDGE - 'Extravaganza'
FOGHAT - 'Not Live At The BBC'
MAGGIE BELL - 'Queen of the Night'

Sorry, Paul, I know that is six?.!!

Are there any albums that caused unforeseen problems, which given hindsight you might have handled differently?

BAD COMPANY - 'Live From Albuquerque' 2CD set. We sold out of the initial pressing of 2,000 copies on the very first day of release. The album was withdrawn for legal reasons even though we licensed in the masters from Bad Co founder member Mick Ralphs who oversaw the mastering and artwork. Any copies in circulation currently change hands on eBay for 150 a time making it by far the rarest and most sought after Angel Air release?

How widely are your label's products distributed, and are you looking to extend the coverage?

Overall we are pretty well covered all over the world with distributors in USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia through to Europe and have some distributors such as Fenn Music in Germany and Bertus in Benelux who have traded with us from day one. Emerging territories such as India and China we still find challenging, though, and currently rely on exporters to service those markets for us.

As a policy we do not ourselves release our product on vinyl (UK market for instance last year had in total only 200,000 vinyl sales and 10 Million CD's) but instead rely on our extensive network of sub licensees in countries as far apart as Italy, Korea, Russia and Germany to service that very important market segment. For example over the past 12 months we have sub licensed vinyl albums from ATOMIC ROOSTER, MOTT THE HOOPLE, AFFINITY, ANDROMEDA, STONE THE CROWS, to ANCIENT GREASE for release on 180grm vinyl.

John Du Cann - The Many Sides Of

Please tell me about your forthcoming release schedule for the next few months?

We normally work around three months in advance so as we are in September replying to your questions we are currently planning for January 2012 and have the following releases scheduled:

OLIVER DAWSON SAXON - 'Motorbiker' - absolutely stunning new album from the band and which in my opinion is far better than anything the band has ever released before

CHRISTIE - not yet titled - Jeff Christie is still working on it - but tracks from the 70's that have never been released before from this much loved chart topping band

JOHN DU CANN - 'The Many Styles of' which really is an anthology of John's creative output over the past 40 years drawing tracks from his bands ATOMIC ROOSTER, ATTACK, ANDROMEDA, BULLET, HARD STUFF and his own solo career. This guy was a legendary guitarist/songwriter much lauded around the world. Sadly John died suddenly in late September but not before he had chosen his track listing and front cover artwork for this release. He will be sorely missed

Are you able to reveal any longer-term plans for releases?

We really only work three to four months in advance so can not give you many more details of our longer term release plan for 2012 apart from details of the releases that are planned for February / March 2012:

AMMO - a 2CD set from legendary songwriters

ANDY COLLINS - 'Closure' first ever solo album from STORYS singer/guitarist

TOMMY JAMES & The SHONDELLS - 'Live At The Bitter End, New York' -classic live pop history

RUPERTS PEOPLE - '45 RPM' - much sought after pop tracks from the 60's

All other parts of our business have deals that will bear fruit in 2012 including vinyl licensing and album sub licensing.

What are your hopes and concerns for the next five years?

Having just reached the ripe old age personally of 60 - to stay alive, be happy and for Angel Air to continue to grow and release some great albums over the years ahead?

Do you have no abiding concerns, Peter?

No, Paul; none whatsoever!

Thank you for this fascinating insight into your company, Peter. It is really wonderful to hear of a really successful British label. Indeed, I think that ANGEL AIR is the first to be covered in this series that has had a book written about it: 'Angel Air Is Ten' by James McCarraher. To quote from this:

"Angel Air has earned itself a deserved reputation as the Indiana Jones of the music world, rescuing classic albums from a bygone era, dusting them off and releasing them with copious sleeve notes and a wealth of bonus tracks.
Often however, the label can be found releasing recordings that have never seen the light of day, including delightful demos and lost live sessions, to the delirium of life long fans."

What is the key to setting about performing your Indiana Jones rescue work?

Word of mouth and contacts are fundamental - we receive approaches every week with release propositions. We "pass" on over 70% of all submissions for a variety of reasons - too new or too obscure are two basic reasons that spring to mind. We as a principle release either known heritage product to which we can add bonus tracks or new product from artists with a known pedigree and fanbase

One for Shirley to answer, please:

Peter has told me that you suggested the label's name. It is very unusual?  Can you still remember how and why you came up with "Angel Air"?

Peter wanted a label beginning with "A" so when he attended music industry events like Midem the label would be listed at the top of all other labels. Angel Air is in my view an ethereal name for music and once we had the name agreed it was relatively simple to instruct our art studio to design the logo. To keep the label personal we use my names as label prefixes for all releases - I am Shirley Joy Purnell - hence all of our audio releases carry a "SJP" prefix.

To what extent do other UK-based reissue/heritage labels such as BGO Records, Cherry Red, Esoteric, Rev-Ola and Repertoire impinge upon the activities of Angel Air and of your plans to release particular albums?

What Angel Air does in the market is fairly unique in that we do not license in masters from the major record companies (like the labels you have mentioned, Paul) instead we license in from the actual rights owners and we then control all rights for the world and solar system! Subsequently we control not only the masters for CD production but also digital downloads, Sync licensing, ringtones and sub licensing etc.

This simple business philosophy has allowed us to grow and prosper in what is in my opinion now a very difficult market if you are just selling CD's like most re issue labels. What we are is an ant that operates like a beetle!

Blackheart

Blackheart are one of the few genuinely "new" bands on the label

Are you hoping to release more completely new albums from current artists such as Blackheart?

We are planning to release a brand new album by Blackheart "Songs From A Satellite" in 2012 as well as the first ever solo album from Andy Collins "Closure" which has a number of his colleagues from The Storys guesting on. Quite simply in both cases the tracks are great music that need to be heard and we are in the fortunate position in that we have the vehicle in place to deliver to market.  However we have no plans at all to just release new product and will continue to release rare gems from the past as the label's main source of output

Finally, Peter, your label seems to have embraced digital media from a very early stage. Some of the other labels that have been included in this series have really bemoaned the negative effect of illegal downloading upon their trading position and profitability. What is your view of this?

As stated earlier it is our business philosophy of controlling the tracks we release for all income sources that has underpinned the business especially over the past five years as the market has changed and evolved to what it is today.

Take Spotify for example: we identified straight away that there was a possible source of income from track streaming and made available our catalogue for Spotify's customers. Over the past month we have for example licensed tracks for ringtones in Asia. (the "normal" reissue label does not the have the rights to do this sort of business)

I see nothing negative happening in the market today except possibly that we as a company have to work three times as hard to achieve CD sales of a release say compared with five years ago BUT all the other income streams now make up and exceed any shortfall from declining CD sales.

The illegal download situation is unfortunately part of business today. I focus on the things I can do positively rather than reflect on the negative things I can not control. Having said that we are members of trade organizations BPI and AIM and we support 100% their efforts to ensure those who created the music get paid.

Well, Peter, it has really been quite refreshing talking with you about your label. You seem to have been incredibly shrewd in the development of your particular business model and have developed a fascinating array of CDs and DVDs.

This interview first appeared in Fireworks magazine, issue 49.  More information

 

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