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Thursday, Sep 21, 2023

Right stuff

WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter The Right Stuff, a record label that specializes in soul and R & B; reissues, has an unusual strategy for success moving its headquarter from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley. Label chief Tom Cartwright said the Woodland Hills area, where the company moved last month, is simply a better area to do man-on-the-street music-market research. “Everyone at record labels has to spend a lot of time in places like record stores talking to people, watching people and seeing what the competition is up to,” said Cartwright, who has headed the label since it was formed in 1993. “The Valley isn’t Kansas, but it’s more middle-America than Hollywood, and I get a better idea of what people are thinking.” He said the move also has provided easier access to some of the label’s major retailers, such as Fry’s, Circuit City, Best Buy, Tower Records and Target, because they are all within a few minutes of his offices. The label, a subsidiary of EMI Music Distribution, specializes in reissues of music by artists like Al Green and Lakeside, and also assembles compilations like the million-selling classic rock compilation “Harley-Davidson Road Songs.” The Right Stuff’s relocation was due to a reorganization of its parent company. The Right Stuff is the only label owned by the EMI Music Distribution unit, the U.S. distribution arm of London-based EMI Group Plc. Catching an early whiff of a new music trend can help the label’s efforts to repeat some of its top successes, such as 1994’s “Harley-Davidson Road Songs” (it has a second volume of the title ready for release on Oct. 6), Cartwright said. A reissue of the 1975 collection “Al Green’s Greatest Hits,” has sold about 500,000 copies since its 1995 release. “The Right Stuff is probably the best label that puts out oldies, R & B; and some hip-hop,” said Violet Brown, urban music buyer for Torrance-based Wherehouse Entertainment. “It used to be that Rhino (Records, a Los Angeles-based label that specializes in oldies and compilations) was number one, but the Right Stuff is giving them a run for their money.” She said that many of the label’s collections, from artists like Teddy Pendergrass and Maze, are strong and consistent sellers. Many of the Right Stuff’s releases are from catalogs of now-inactive labels, such as Shelter Records (whose artists included Leon Russell and Phoebe Snow) and Solar (Whispers, Sylvers, Lakeside, Midnight Star). David Nathan, an independent record producer, said The Right Stuff has been a pioneer in some projects, such as its compilation of a series of slow soul and R & B; tunes called “Slow Jams,” first released in 1993. He noted that Rhino Records later put out a similar collection called “Smooth Grooves.” “Rhino gets most of the press in this field of reissues, but Right Stuff has quietly accomplished a great deal,” Nathan said. Cartwright said there are numerous other labels that vie for catalogs of artists of long-ago hits, and this means there can be fierce competition for material. “It’s more than who offers the most money,” Cartwright said. “People (who own the rights to the music) want to know which label has the best marketing plan, and they want to feel they can work together longer term.” He said that while it is certainly easier to sell music from artists with past hits compared to establishing a new artist, the timing and marketing of releases is still very important to their success. He cited the release of music from 1970s soul artist Teddy Pendergrass, which was done in conjunction with events like a biographical special on the VH1 cable music channel and some concert appearances by the artist. Cartwright refused to divulge the label’s sales figures, and would only say that it has been in a “growth mode” each year since it formed. He founded the label after working at EMI and Capitol Records in departments that sought out licensing and other revenue-generating opportunities for songs from the company’s older catalog. EMI for many years had a distribution contract with Rhino Records, which specializes in reissues and compilations. When Rhino switched that contract to another label, “a void was left at EMI,” Cartwright said, and he launched the Right Stuff project to fill it.

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