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 and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003, with engineer/composer Ryan Streber playing a large role in its development since 2004. 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 priority for us, especially given the intricacy of so much contemporary notated music, was to make sure we gave the pieces the necessary time in the sessions and the editing process to capture dynamic performances that remained faithful to the details in the score. As the label grew, we discovered that several artists wanted to preserve that same creative control over their projects, and the primary service they needed from a label was to facilitate a distributed release within a catalogue of shared sensibility, and to make the music widely available. 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. In addition, New Focus currently distributes a few sub-labels that represent different strains of curation by various colleagues and organizations.
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). We leave the choice of how to manage streaming content up to the individual artist, and several New Focus artists have chosen to limit the streaming availability of their releases either for an initial period or indefinitely, a choice we as a label support and respect. In our corner of the music industry, sales were never the sole driving force of recording, and 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 larger industry will hammer out a more fair and equitable royalty rate for the use of artists' copyrighted content -- clearly the current royalty infrastructure is not sustainable and falls far short of being compensatory. 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 (compare one download at $9.99 with one and half craft beers at $10).
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 all of our releases are the result of an artist approaching the label -- New Focus does not pursue artists in the hopes of securing the release of their recording projects. 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 wise counsel in the ongoing development of this label. They are, in no particular order: John Link, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, Claire Chase, Jacob Greenberg, Marc Wolf, John Popham, Orianna Webb, Colin Davin, Vineet Shende, Mikel Kuehn, Cory Smythe, Dai Fujikura, Adam Tully, Steve Ricks, David and Becky Starobin, Halldor Smarason, Adam Silverman, Du Yun, Tony Arnold, and Van Stiefel.
Kivie Cahn-Lipman - artistic director
International Contemporary Ensemble - artistic directors
Marc Wolf and Jeremy Tressler - directors
Dai Fujikura - artistic director
Dan Lippel - artistic director
Scott Miller - President, SEAMUS
New Focus Recordings has been distributed by Naxos of America since 2012.