New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary creative music of many stripes, as well as new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Dan Lippel, composer/engineer/producer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2004, formed around the production of the first several albums in the catalogue. Many of the subsequent releases within the first several years were with artists who also continue to be closely involved with the label today - featured members of the International Contemporary Ensemble including pianist Jacob Greenberg, flutist Claire Chase, cellist Kivie-Cahn Lipman, soprano Tony Arnold, clarinetist Josh Rubin, composer/percussionist Nathan Davis, and composer Du Yun, alongside several others in the ICE community, and members of new music quartet Flexible Music, pianist Eric Huebner and percussionist Haruka Fujii, along with several of the group's associated composer colleagues, released recordings and appeared as guests on several others. In the first several years of New Focus, these musicians offered their generous artistry and recordings which largely shaped the New Focus catalogue and helped to lay the foundation for the label to continue to grow.
As with many other independent labels, we started this project because we wanted to have creative control over all elements of the recording and post-production process, and aspired to craft full length recordings that were cohesive artistic statements in their own right -- a challenge in the download era. Another motivation behind the formation and evolution of the label was a desire to create a home for artistically ambitious releases regardless of their commercial viability. As the label grew, several artists and colleagues coveted that same creative control, and we found value in facilitating a distributed release within a catalogue of shared sensibility. The New Focus catalogue has expanded in wonderful ways since those first nascent projects as long-standing artists and new faces have contributed their personally sculpted recordings. New Focus currently distributes a few sub-labels that represent different strains of curation by various colleagues and organizations, including ICE's TUNDRA imprint, the SEAMUS catalog (currently directed by Scott Miller), Kivie Cahn-Lipman's Olde Focus division for early music, and Dai Fujikura's Minabel Records imprint. As the label has grown, Marc Wolf (co-director of the Furious Artisans imprint) has contributed invaluable expertise in his design of the New Focus website as well as the design and layout of many albums, and in streamlining aspects of the organizational workflow.
The recording industry landscape has changed drastically over the last several years, transforming how a recording functions in the music community, both for the artist and the listening audience. Traditional physical sales and paid downloads still occupy an important role for those who want to directly support the cost prohibitive recording process, listen to a higher quality audio file, or own a physical object complete with artwork, design, and liner notes, but obviously they do not represent the same source of sales revenue they once did. The various streaming platforms are growing consistently and occupying a more important place in the average listening experience. New Focus' approach to these industry realities is to try and facilitate the widest possible availability of our catalogue in various formats, making the traditional physical cd and digital downloads available to interested listeners along with having a presence on the newer streaming platforms and academic digital libraries (i.e. Naxos Music Library). Enormous benefits still exist for artists and listeners alike in releasing work that documents an artist's trajectory, but we acknowledge the difficult position streaming availability presents to artists. Our hope, though we acknowledge it may be a long shot, is that as this transition happens from individual ownership of audio content (either physical medium or digital downloads) to membership and access to audio content through hosted cloud services, the industry will evolve in such a way that streaming revenue will eventually be somewhat more compensatory than it is at the moment. Some creative music labels have chosen to refrain from streaming content altogether, a move we respect, but the artists on New Focus have not indicated as a consensus that this is the direction they choose. In the meantime, we thank those listeners who understand the need to support the recording art by purchasing recordings in any form -- the cost of purchasing recordings remains extremely low relative to other commodities and considering production costs.
We still believe in the artistic viability of the carefully sculpted studio recording, but look forward to a new era when it shares the industry with more economically produced recordings, whether they be of live performances or in new distributed formats. In order to be in line with what we feel are the realities of the contemporary recording industry, our model involves the artist retaining complete ownership of their master and inventory while paying production and replication costs. We charge a small upfront administrative fee covering the services that we as a label provide to the artist at the production and release stage and beyond and take a small percentage of net sales profits coming from the distributor, passing on the large percentage of that money to the artist. We strive to have an open discussion with every artist who approaches us with proposals about the pros and cons of self-releasing vs. label/distributed release, and nearly of our releases are the result of an artist approaching the label. Our hope is that despite the hurdles for artists hoping to recoup their costs, we can be a partner in their efforts to share their work with the community and reach a larger audience with these recordings, providing value both in greater visibility for their projects and in potential for sales revenue.
Ultimately, even in a perilous moment for the recording industry, many artists continue to produce and release beautifully crafted recordings. Live performance will always be the most vital way to experience music but recordings offer an intimacy and a breadth of dissemination that is unique and essential. Please take a few moments to get to know the wonderful recordings in our catalogue that these artists have shared. Thanks for visiting, enjoy the music!
- Dan Lippel
Several musicians not mentioned above have contributed invaluable involvement, work, and indispensable guidance in the ongoing development of this label. They are, in no particular order: John Link, David and Becky Starobin, John Popham, Sean Hickey, Orianna Webb, Colin Davin, Vineet Shende, Mikel Kuehn, Cory Smythe, Wang Lu, Marilyn Nonken, Karola Obermueller, Adam Tully, Nils Vigeland, Steve Ricks, Halldor Smarason, Raymond Bisha, Adam Silverman, Scott Miller, Reiko Fueting, and Van Stiefel.
Kivie Cahn-Lipman - artistic director
International Contemporary Ensemble - artistic directors
Jacob Greenberg, Director of Recordings
Marc Wolf and Jeremy Tressler - co-directors
Dai Fujikura - artistic director
Dan Lippel - artistic director
Scott Miller - Director of Recordings, SEAMUS
New Focus Recordings has been distributed by Naxos of America since 2012.