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In fact, Crystal Clear has seen so many almost-finished albums that require only a final master--to give a recording what Paulos calls the "punch and glisten" that make a CD sound bright and immediate--that they've built a room onto their facility solely for that purpose.
"There's still a big difference between a pro studio sound and what you can do at home," Paulos says. "But where you spend a lot of money for a finite amount of time in the pro studio, at home you can take all the time you damn well please."
Indeed, in the late '70s, anybody with a four-track deck was regarded as a budding Brian Eno--or a technician at the very least. Now, it seems that almost everybody has at least an eight-track deck, and many folks boast garages or guest bedrooms with 16- or 32-track capabilities.
"There are three parts to making an album," Paulos explains. "Recording it, manufacturing and distributing it, and promoting it. You really can't distribute an album yourself, but the more of the other two parts you can do, the more likely an album will be profitable. The more sophisticated artists get, in terms of making their albums themselves, the more acts labels will be able to put out, because each label will be able to devote a smaller investment to each product. However, all that smaller portion will go to promotions--to working the record--because they won't have to spend in order to make the recording in their studio. Ultimately, labels will be able to have more artists and do more for them."
"More and more," Dennard says, "unless they're trying to reach a much larger audience, bands are getting to where they don't necessarily need record labels as anything but marketing entities, but the labels still end up with their name on the finished product."
Dennard also points out that the national and international environments are changing--growing leaner. "I was reading that last year there were something like 17,000 albums released," he says. "Only a tiny portion of those made any money. The average sales for a rock album was something like 15,000 units, which for us is cause to break out the cheap champagne. For the majors, however, that level doesn't even begin to pay the bills, but the majors have Michael Jacksons and LeAnn Rimeses and Led Zeppelin catalogs that can carry them through tons and tons of misses."
For smaller labels such as steve and Dragon Street, albums coming to them almost ready to press provide the answer to the music environment's increasingly narrow margins of error. "We'll still have contracts; we'll still have bands that we do a lot for," Paulos promises, "but there won't be as many. More frequently they'll just be licensed--or simply invested in--and hopefully, as a result, we'll be able to put out more music. I think that before we got into long-term contracts and paying for everything [at steve], we probably were both more successful and more profitable. We'll still get bands that are good but just can't make an album that they can deliver to you; however, we can enter into partnerships, like with a Rainmaker, a One Ton, or a Last Beat--people we already do manufacturing for."
Rather than cause for moaning and groaning about the sorry state of the music business, Dennard sees the changing situation at Crystal Clear as the next stage.
Jack Ingram agrees. "I don't think it's a sign of anything falling apart," he says, noting that Dennard still has his Dragon Street Records and that Crystal Clear's streamlined profile should benefit both the label and the local scene. "Nobody's gonna care about my music more than me, and nobody wants to lose money on something that's not so certain. I think it's gonna help Sam [Paulos] do even more good, put out even more music, 'cause he'll be working with people who care enough to come up with something worthwhile in the first place."
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