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Acrobat Music

 



 


 

 

Acrobat Music - specialising in collectorsí and re-issue CDs across just about every genre of music

 

Acrobat Music

 

Here, Digger talks to John at Acrobat/Trapeze Music. Knowing that there is demand for specialist, niche and collectors' music all around the world, their strategy is to ensure that artists and recordings in genres which are often not given priority by the major companies are as widely available as possible. 

 

   
  
  • America's Greatest Hits
  • Blues
  • British Hit Parades
  • Christmas
  • Classical
  • Country
  • Comedy
  • Doo Wop
  • Easy Listening
  • Fabulous
  • Folk
  • Gospel
  • Instrumental
  • Jazz
  • Jukebox Hits
  • Pop
  • R&B
  • Rock
  • Rock 'n' roll
  • Soul
  • World Music

 


 

Digger: Hello John.

John: Hello David.

Digger: Did you manage to get your tasks out of the way before I called?

John: No. Itís all to do with digital. And everybody says how wonderful digital is but itís a pain in the proverbial.

Digger: Why?

John: We have a big digital business and have been doing it pretty much since day one so weíre ahead of the game. But ití still difficult to keep up with the technology.

Digger: Itís all moving so fast, John. I watch Click on BBC 24 and sometimes I struggle to understand what they are talking about and I come from an IT background. In those days they always moaned about how we were using jargon that Joe Public couldnít understand but nowadays thereís so much technology and jargon around that people are expected to understand. I sort of understand what theyíre talking about but itís just moving so fast.

John:  The problem with this is not so much what we understand or donít, itís their ability to cope with what weíre throwing at it in terms of mastering and getting things down a line. And actually, when it gets down to it itís actually going through relatively small lines and taking a long time and it never does what it says itís going to do.

Digger: Do you think the way the music industry has dealt with digital is similar to the way that the big movie studios treated the advent of TV in the fifties Ė when they refused to accept that it was here to stay and wouldnít let their actors appear on the new medium?

John: No, I think actually the music industry, although it messed it up to start with, and royally so, it has actually got itself back on track I think. That side of itís okay and our understanding as old timers is probably ahead of the game. But we still struggle when it comes to Facebook and Twitter and Twatter (Digger laughs) and whatever else it is that youíre supposed to do. And my eleven year old son can do it better than I can.

Digger: Thatís the problem, isnít it? I think itís because theyíve not got any preconceptions and so they just dive in and absorb all the new stuff. Whereas we worry about what will happen if we do that or donít do this.

John: Yes. I think from our point of view it just unfortunately comes with the territory and so we have to get on with it. And because we keep our overheads down there being just a few of us I keep on doing that and Amazon which are both time-consuming.

Digger: Can your please tell us about your background and the background to the business?

John: My background is that I started in a record shop in the sixties in Hampstead which was, in fact, the offices of an independent record company called Transatlantic Records. So I joined Transatlantic as a salesman in the sixties. At the beginning when they had three or four albums, I think.

Digger: Who was on their roster?

John: They ended-up with acts like Bert Jansch , John Renbourn, Pentangle, Billy Connolly and it ended up as equal to Island as the largest independent.

Digger: We have an interview with Shel Talmy who produced Pentangle.

John: Yes, Shel did a load of stuff for us together with Hugh Murphy and Gus Dudgeon and various other people. So at the time it was a pretty hot label. I left there to go to EMI where I was for a good while and left there to go to Motown where I was MD of Motown outside of America. Then MD of Arista UK and Iíve been on my own ever since for the last thirty years.

Digger: Have you written a book yet?

John: People keep saying that but I find it really boring so I donít bother.

Digger: I donít think other people would Ė it sounds like a fascinating life.

John: Well, thereís been some interesting things and continue to be interesting but not when Iím sitting in front of a screen hoping to nut it! At my age, I would have hoped to have had someone doing it but it doesnít work like that.

Digger: Yes, remember the days when we had typing pools and secretaries and helpers?

John: Yes, not only could we not afford it but thereís very little point because Iím quite capable of writing my own letters and sending emails. In fact, I prefer to do it. In my last incarnation I had a PA, but she did other things and didnít really do my typing for me.

Digger: I could use somebody to help me with the back office so that I could focus on what Iím best at.

John: Yes, the trouble is not only do you have to pay them but you have to manage them. We have really stretched it here so weíre actually looking at bringing on apprentices in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And we do management training but you do end up spending a lot of time on that sort of thing. The business has changed anyway and, ironically, and people donít believe you when you tell them, that digital is a longer and more labour-intensive process to get things up than ordinary CDs. We can do ordinary CDs without even flinching. Also, whilst I like digital in the sense of it being a distribution method, I still think people will want to swing back to CDs.

Digger: Like there was a backlash to vinyl wasnít there? Suddenly after everyone has been encouraged to ditch their vinyl and go for CDs they were being told vinyl was a purer format and a better medium.

John: I donít subscribe to that. I think vinyl was crap but on the other hand it was better than tape and that was really crap.

Digger: Itís funny how we have to re-build our collections every few years.

John: The problem is, of course, and what has hurt the record industry in particular, is that people havenít had to do that for a number of years. Because the great boom in the record industry was people replacing their vinyl with CD. Of course that has now gone and you donít really replace your CD with digital Ė you either duplicate it yourself or you buy things downloaded. My opinion is that singles will be the medium that digital will go ahead on and collecting music will remain on CD. I know this from my young children who buy CDS, they donít download.

Digger: I was always moaning about the demise of vinyl where you had great sleeve notes and album artwork and something tangible and big. But now I would prefer to have a CD rather than a rather intangible download.

John: Yes, exactly and all of my children like CDs Ė itís what they enjoy.

Digger: Is it not more likely though that in a few years rather than have anything stored in our houses in whatever format weíll just go onto some machine and stream items down when we want to listen to them or look at them?

John: Yes, you can do that but I think people are collectors - we donít sit on uncomfortable sofas and generally we collect and get something for a long time. I think in the end if youíre paying £10 you want something in your hand, donít you? Saying that, Iím an advocate of Kindle, so again I use that for my ordinary reading, not for Ďposhí reading.

Digger: Thatís in addition to wanting to have the tangible books as well isnít it?

John: Yes, I would want them but the problem I found was that I couldnít do anything with the books afterwards. I certainly wouldnít go back to a novel and re-read it. Itís not like an album that you will live with forever. I canít imagine ever going back to a book. I was bringing them in here and they may have got used here but not very often.

Digger: Iíve got a huge collection of books but youíre right, unless theyíre reference books I very rarely go back to them. I just like having them.

John: I didnít mind having them but I couldnít store them so there had to be a choice somewhere along the line. Of course, it is impossible to do reference books on it and itís not a good medium for that. What it is a good medium for, though, is reading a novel. Thatís the equivalent of a single, I suppose.

Digger: Youíve got a very large and broad catalogue there. How has that evolved?

 

 

 

 

John: Well Iíve been around 100 years as have the rest of the team here but Acrobat was launched about seven years ago now. Iíd previously had a company which was funded by a City operation Ė weíd bought Pickwick, amongst other things, and it wasnít going very far or going in  the right direction. I parted company with that and set up Acrobat. With the aim of being specialists. So we have, over the years, built this up. Up until last year we had a double-size catalogue, but when the crash came our funders fell away and took away the part of the catalogue that theyíd bought and we kept ours. So itís evolved over the seven years, just simply doing things that we think are good Ė sometimes weíre right and sometimes weíre wrong.  Iím looking at a stock list that says Iím wrong at some titles but generally we like to try and be a bit different if we can.

Digger: It never was an exact science, was it, choosing hits and best sellers? So youíre doing pretty well if youíre getting more yeses than nos.

John: Yes. What we have to understand in our business, and in the specialist areas, is that you no longer are likely to sell 10,000 CDs of a fairly obscure album Ė a Glenn Miller album for example, because it doesnít work like that anymore. You have to be in there for the long run and hold your breath while it trickles through. And you have to look for new media to get it out there and you have to accept that Amazon is part of your daily trading. We do not like the loss of record shops at all, so much so that we are considering opening record shops.

Digger: Oh really? Thatís a major thing. Where would they be, in all the key towns?

John: Yes, we own the name Selectadisc. We looked at it but unfortunately it was too hard to raise the money during a recession. And so we have shelved it for now but I do believe that people like to collect and will go out of their way to collect.

Digger: They like to rummage.

John: There are fewer record shops than there were, by far, but on the other hand thatís how it is Ė Amazon and Play.com fill the gap.

Digger: Now when I want to sample something I go to Spotify or Youtube or iTunes Ė in the old days it would be a proper high street experience going into the booths.

John: That's right. So whatís your background?

Digger: I grew up in the sixties and seventies and for most of that time was in Essex. I stumbled into IT by accident. And that was my career until there was another middle management cull at my employer and I decided to make a living out of my passion for sixties, seventies and retro. And Retrosellers was born.

John: Good.

Digger: Itís nice to be able to do what you like doing and make a modest living as well.

John: Yes, chance would be a fine thing!

Digger: (Laughs) What sort of customer feedback are you getting?

John: The feedback we get is very good and itís very positive. Part of the history here is that four years ago I raised a lot of money in The City to expand. Then, just over two years ago, and it actually coincided exactly with the big fall in everything, the fund dried up. Unfortunately, theyíd not bought our core label so we moved it away but then we had eighteen months of legal action to get ourselves back in order. So we have only been effectively up and running as we are now for the last six months or so. And having got our catalogue back and back into gear since then. I have to say, with the exception of a strange email we got this morning which was a bit critical, it's all positive. In that email today they then asked if they could make some product for us which isnít the best way of going about it after criticising! But generally weíre getting really good reviews on things and weíre getting really good feedback. Weíre not getting any particular criticism but then again weíre not achieving huge sales because itís a long haul.

Digger: I suppose you get big surges when thereís a resurgence in a genre or artist? You mentioned Glenn Miller and I can remember him coming back in the seventies and everyone going mad for his material.

John: Yes, we do, and weíve slightly changed direction and are doing more contemporary things now than we used to, although weíre mixing it along the way. So weíre unearthing bands form the sixties and seventies and reviving careers. So we have a slightly different slant on it which will help down the line. Although our real core product, and the flagship product, is actually our British Hit Parade series.

Digger: Thatís a phrase from the past isnít it?

 

 

 

John: Each year, for the past seven years, weíve actually at the beginning of the year launched a British Hit Parade box set and this year it will be four albums of every single record that was in any chart during that year.

Digger: Wow.

John: Itís during 1960 this year. Weíve gone right back to the very first chart, in fact.

Digger: That was 1952.

John: Yes, that's right.

Digger: And each year you move forward a year?

John: Yes, we run along with public domain on that.

Digger: Oh, I see. Thatís very clever. And the latest is a four-box set?

John: Yes, we have three sets of four albums out next week.

Digger: What are the best aspects of running Acrobat for you and what are you personal musical passions?

John: I have no particular passions Ė Iím a generalist and have been in the industry all my life. I like new things that come along, alongside my children, but I also like deep jazz and blues so I donít have any particular tastes at all. I happen to like classical music as well as it happens. I like what I like.

Digger: You 'sport' an MP3 player, do you?

John: Yes, I do and I have all the things that you need. I have one with very nice Bose headphones on it.

Digger: Yes.

John: We look at digital as an extra medium and an extra distribution source for us. Whether I moan about it being difficult to manage or not is quite separate. The fact is that itís a good business for us.

Digger: Itís weird when you listen to some music on digital Ė I mean, I interviewed Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas last year, which was a bit of a coup for me, and I pointed out to her that you can hear all sorts of studio noises and errors on the original recordings which wouldnít have been picked up in the vinyl days. Thereís even Barry McGuireís voice at the start of California Dreaminí which is left over on the master tape from a previous demo take Ė Barry, of course, was not supposed to be on the final version.

John:  (Laughs) I donít think digital is a brilliant sound, to be honest and thereís a long way to go before it gets to be anywhere near CD. But itís what kids are growing up with and theyíre listening to bad sound, basically.

Digger: Itís a shame. They also have this expectation that everything is accessible immediately which wouldnít have been possible in Ďthe old daysí.

John: Yes, but I think thatís a fact of life now and I am the same Ė if I want something, I want it now.

Digger: I wonít ask what impact The Internet has on your business because clearly you wouldnít be able to function without it.

John: Amazon is a very big customer of ours, although I have to say that HMV arenít a big customer of ours because their music offering is paltry now and they certainly donít offer deep catalogue. But we do okay with the independent sector and we bespoke for people and we battle away. Obviously digital and Internet sales are very important to us Ė of course they are.

Digger: Whatís your take on the big record companies? I went in to one major player with some ideas for using their sound and image archives and allowing people to create their own compilation CDS online and they raved about the idea but nothing ever came of it.

John: We operate in a different area to them and they get on with theirs so I donít have a particular take on what they do. But there is a reality that theyíre so big that actually itís not their core business to sell back-catalogue and their core is to break new artists. So thatís probably no different to when I worked there thirty years ago. The reality is that they have a different business model and in America itís even worse Ė thereís hardly any catalogue available at all. Do I think they should be doing more with it? Of course they should. They should be giving it to me to do and not messing around with it themselves.

Digger: What about your plans for the future?

John: The plans here are to continue to grow and to find marketplaces for it. We would love to be dealing through the traditional areas of the business but theyíre diminishing. Hopefully it has settled down now.

Digger: Keeping your finger on the pulse as far as the latest trends are concerned?

John: Well, we have to, but weíre never going to be trendsetters because our product's too old for that. What we need to be is to be available and I think thatís the most important thing that we can do. To make sure the product is appropriate and available and is readily accessible to the general consumer. We do that by supplying Amazon, of course. Apart from the fact that there are a great many independent sites up there where people can get our product, a lot of people eBay trade, of course. In fact, every once in a while when we lose something we buy it back off eBay. We are about to launch our own commercial site and I hope to have that up and running by the end of the first quarter of 2011. We still do mail order and a lot of our customer base are still not computer literate so we still do get people writing in.

Digger:  Is computer literacy an age thing?

John: No, I donít think so at all, to be honest. I think people are either in it or out of it. I know people who wouldnít go near a computer at thirty five. I think a lot of older people, once they start doing it, they enjoy doing it.

Digger: Thanks John. It's been very interesting finding out more about your side of the music industry.

John: Thanks David.

 

                                                           


 

Website

Acrobat Music

    
  Acrobat is a UK-based record label specialising in collectorsí and re-issue CDs across just about every genre of music. We have CDs by some of the biggest names in music, from Frank Sinatra to Duke Ellington, Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis to Bill Haley, as well as a huge selection of more hard-to-find artists.

Knowing that there is demand for specialist, niche and collectors' music all around the world, our strategy is to ensure that artists and recordings in genres which are often not given priority by the major companies are as widely available as possible. We also have a fabulous selection of compilation CDs, including our popular The British Hit Parades, America's Greatest Hits and Jukebox Hits series, along with other themed collections in most genres. On this site you can browse through the Acrobat catalogue, by artist or genre, or download a .pdf of the catalogue from the ďCatalogueĒ link.  

Trapeze Music and Entertainment Ltd. & Acrobat Music Ltd.
1 Norfolk Court, Norfolk Road, Rickmansworth, Herts., WD3 1LA

Telephone: +44 (0)1923777177

 

 

 

 

 


 

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