Adel Meisenheimer: Paying It Forward

posted in: Articles, March 2014 | 0

When I approached Adel about doing this interview, I told her that I wanted to come at it from the angle of the whole issue about file sharing…not that the whole discussion can be hammered out, but I feel the divisiveness of “people who take” and “people who purchase” gets a new spin on it when the answers are coming from a small label owner and her label caters to the “Christian” music scene. It was facilitated by me browsing a Christian music site that offered free bootlegs. I was curious as to their reasoning in giving away what is available to purchase, but they only gave one small thread to that issue and it was difficult to even find. What incensed me were some of the absolutely ignorant comments that were left about why these folks felt they deserved the music for free. Now, I have a very limited idea of what it takes to make an album, especially a studio released recording that is marketed and sold, but I have a decent understanding of what it costs many of the people and bands we cover here at DTL.

The website I was reading had albums for free from friends and artists I know, and I know that they live hand to mouth, always teetering on the line of paying a bill or losing a utility service. One of the albums being given away actually has my name on the credits, not because I funded the whole venture, but because I did contribute to the making of the album, as did several other people listed. It wasn’t a Kickstarter fund raising, it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t easy for any of us to put the money in to see the thing come to fruition, but it was well worth the investment in the band and hearing a great album released from someone that we loved and have followed their music career for decades.

To read comments on this unnamed website about how these “artists can give a little because they’re out sailing on their boats and making a bunch of money off of people” were ridiculous to read…the anger rose as I read how people said, “I bought albums from them before so I’ve already paid them money”, and the ignorance of the whole notion was not something I could dismiss just because people didn’t understand the industry. People who feel entitled will always find a way to convince themselves they should have something that doesn’t belong to them…the guy who steals cable off the neighbor, the neighbor who is hacking someone else’s WIFI, the person who orders water and takes soda, etc. etc. etc. What I can’t wrap my head around is that in the “Christian” community we even have this debate.

Obviously Christians don’t agree on everything, and it’s good to argue pro-life vs. pro-choice, evolution vs. creationism, gun rights, legalization of marijuana, politics and everything in between, but we shouldn’t have to argue about stealing. Thou shalt not steal…pretty simple, what’s to discuss? Nobody walks into a record store and steal a record, just cause someone sits at their computer and nobody sees them they feel some obligation to help themselves? It isn’t a gray issue…at all. When I helped my friend make that record, my wife and I gave and it wasn’t extra money we had lying around, we don’t have that luxury. One of the comments went as far as to say that, “if an artist can’t make ends meet when people file share, they should go and get a “real” job.” What a ridiculous thing to say. It’s not just ignorant, it’s an elevated sense of gimmee gimmee from a self-serving, intellectually challenged, mentally stunted thief.

I know it will never change, I just always think people with a hard-nosed intent to follow a set of morals and values, would understand that taking what doesn’t belong to you is theft…period. I could try and change someone’s mind with stats from the IPR, I could appeal to their sense of sympathy, I could quote scripture and beg for logic and an open mind, but that would be a waste. There is always someone out there just waiting to steal your sh*t!

This interview is about the person who resurrected a game changing record label, a person who has re-released music that we love and grew up with in an attempt to give back to the artists, and the fans. Fortunately there are people out there in the music industry that want to give and not just take.

When was Frontline Records started and who were the people that started one of the most innovative eclectic labels in the Christian industry?

Frontline Records was founded in 1985 in Orange County, California by Jimmy Kempner.  He was, among other things, a Saturday night concert evangelist at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.  The company hired local recording artists, producers and other professionals.  Its roster included some recognizable folks:  Brian Tong, Mike MacLane, Ed McTaggart, Mike Delaney, Tony Shore, Terry Taylor, Scott Blackwell, Tim Miner, Sean Michael Black and Thom Roy.  Since my roots in the Christian music industry began in 1979 at Maranatha! Music, an outreach of Calvary Chapel, I knew several members of the executive team.

Where did you affiliation with the label come into play, and what were the reasons for wanting to revive the label? Does Frontline Records still own the rights to everyone that was originally released on the label, and do you have a list of who that is?

My opportunity to revive the label came about through work for Buddy Killen, who purchased Frontline in 1989 for Killen Music Group.  Buddy hired me to manage licensing and royalties for another KMG label prior to the purchase, and then commissioned me to manage them for the newly acquired catalog.  Sadly, Buddy passed away of cancer in 2006.  In 2010 my company, Meis Music Group, had the opportunity to manage, and later purchase, KMG Records label and its publishing affiliates from his estate.  All original Frontline artists included in the sale to KMG were in tack, with the exception of one.  These legacy trendsetters are featured on our website:

From your point of view what was the defining characteristics of the label that set it apart and gave it the longevity that it has had?

Frontline artists have made a mark in the history of Christian music that is still positively impacting our world.  Most were some of the earliest performers of rock, metal, ska, hip-hop, rap, alternative and electric dance styles in the contemporary Christian music scene.

These young radicals effectively communicated their faith in Jesus Christ, questioned society, challenged the Church, and had a blast doing it.  As Christ-followers, they appreciated the fact that the opportunity to reach people and feed their souls was like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14). So they wrote and performed with excellence in Spirit and Truth.  And the universe benefited.

A label is a business and having that business in a “Christian” market presents complicated challenges from every angle. What are some of the greatest hurdles that you face, and how do you go about handling those in the age of file sharing?

The label had been inactive since 2002 when KMG’s distributor folded and the label went down with it.  Over 300 albums had never been distributed digitally (legally). So the first item of business was to get the music out on iTunes, Amazon and other digital sites.  Syntax Distribution in San Diego, California facilitated that beautifully in fall of 2010. We use social media, a radio program “Frontline Records Rewind”, and samplers to help people discover the music for the first time and to inform original fans that it is available again. I am pleased to report that fans have responded and continue to purchase digital downloads, though revenue is moderate.  As a small record label owner, I maintain a gig managing licensing and royalties for label clients to pay bills.  Getting to know the artists and working to bring their music back into focus is pure joy for me.

People often ask if we are breaking new artists or producing new albums.  The answer is, “there is no budget for that”.  A couple years ago at a Syntax/Central South Distribution clinic, it was stated that it requires at least $40,000 to promote and market a new artist or album in the Gospel market.  In major mainstream markets that number is closer to $1 million. Ninety percent of new releases financed by labels don’t even recoup or break even.

The kicker is: online piracy of entertainment content keeps soaring.  A recent study by NetNames, a British brand protection firm, reported that in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific in January of this year alone, 327 million unique users illegally sought copyrighted content, generating 14 billion page views on piracy sites.  An article in Trichordist relayed that there are 7.4 billion views on illegal websites that use peer-to-peer distribution, giving away copies of music, film, books and games.  Imagine if peers shared iTunes links of their favorite music.

It makes one wonder what would happen if 14 billion views were on legal websites.  Perhaps creators, producers, labels and investors would be rewarded for their efforts and contribution to our universe.  Perhaps they could give up their “day job” and produce more enjoyment for the masses. Enough dreaming.   Reality is that there aren’t many “middle class” artists.  There are the few very successful ones, and the rest are poverty level.  Not much in between.  To hear stories of dedication and sacrifice by Christian artists on Frontline and other labels of that era, check out “First and Forgotten” by Jerry Wilson and “Through My Windows” by Soup The Chemist.

What is maddening is that the only organization making money through piracy is the illegal site.  Not only do they pay nothing for distributed goods, but gain revenue by selling advertisement and even subscriptions.

According to recent surveys, more than 70% of unsigned artists would like a recording contract.  Record labels are the primary investors in artists. In fact a recent article by Trichordist reported that record labels are spending $4.5 billion a year on A&R and marketing artists.  Tragically, according to Nielsen SoundScan, legitimate online download sales are down 3% for tracks and 6% for albums so far this year.  Most artists state that streaming and subscription royalties from Spotify and others have yet to boost royalty earnings in a substantial manner.  As a royalty specialist, I can attest to that.

Some people assume these folks are rich and won’t miss revenue from a P2P or no-fee site.  But when one person joins the other 327 million monthly free users, there is a painful impact.  Last month author, Philip Pullman, wrote an article in which he described illegal downloading being comparable with stealing someone’s wallet out of their pocket.  Then he offered an opinion poll asking, “Is illegal downloading theft?” 31% said “yes”; 69% “no”.  Turns out I am in the minority, a member of a dying group who believes if we enjoy someone’s work, personal investment and unique talent, we should reward them and pay for it.

Check out their website here…and give, don’t steal!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *