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Varese Sarabande Producer Letter

The Times They Are A-Changin'

by Robert Townson

It's been about two years now since a letter I wrote to a collector, in which I tried to explain some of the nuances of CD duration, made the rounds. I thought it time to offer, by way of an update, a few more words on the subject in response to the latest batch of e-mails received and message board postings we have been made aware of. This scarlet "30-minute" label attached to Varese as a signature trait seems to live in infamy, regardless of grounds in truth.

Let's look at Varese Sarabande's output so far for the year 2000:

  • DIAMONDS 39:11
  • MY DOG SKIP 37:29
  • SCREAM 3 32:45
  • THE 10th KINGDOM 54:52
  • HANGING UP 44:46
  • BORN FREE 53:35
  • DON QUIXOTE 71:24
  • UP AT THE VILLA 55:30
  • HAMLET 39:14
  • 28 DAYS 36:23
  • RUNNING FREE 57:18
  • ON THE BEACH 73:49
  • THE BIG KAHUNA 33:32
  • XENA: LYRE, LYRE -- 48:30
  • PEYTON PLACE 50:17
  • HOLLOW MAN 51:31
  • MARNIE over 50 minutes
  • DRAGONHEART: A NEW BEGINNING over 40 minutes
  • KIMBERLY 32:05
  • STEAL THIS MOVIE! over 40 minutes
  • LOVER'S PRAYER 43:50
  • URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT over 70 minutes
  • THE REPLACEMENTS over 60 minutes
  • THE WATCHER over 60 minutes
  • JAWS 52:01
  • FIRST BLOOD 40:41

Of these 35 CDs -- 4 are less than 35 minutes, 4 more are between 35 and 40 minutes, 7 are between 40 and fifty minutes, 11 are between 50 and 60 minutes, 6 are between 60 and 70 minutes and 3 are over 70 minutes.

Are there not fewer 30 minute CDs than ever? There are indeed and this has been a conscious decision. I was once guided by the feeling that collectors would rather have a 30-minute CD than no CD at all. I no longer believe this and have sadly passed on a number of soundtrack releases which I would have otherwise taken on in past years. It shouldn't be too difficult for people to look over the years' unreleased scores and pick out the ones which, once upon a time, would have been Varese Sarabande titles. If we have now arrived at a point where even four out of thirty-five CDs with a running time inside 35 minutes overshadow the other 31 releases with and average time near 60 minutes, then things are indeed grim for scores recorded in Los Angeles, not to mention any score with a modest running time to begin with. In the case of THE BIG KAHUNA and KIMBERLY, the CDs contained virtually every note of score written for each film. With nothing left to add, would collectors really have preferred there to be no CD released at all? This leaves only SCREAM 3 and WHAT LIES BENEATH as scores where the running time was directly affected by re-use fees. In every other case I elected to pass on the release of the score altogether.

I find it interesting (not to mention quite sad) that the longest CD among all of these, ON THE BEACH, containing a whopping 73:49, has received nothing but rave reviews and has sold a decidedly un-whopping 137 copies. No, that's not a typo. Soundscan numbers last week for sales across this country -- from sea to shining sea, as they say -- 5 copies -- this past week!!! As it is, this CD will clearly lose money. If this score had been recorded in Los Angeles and been produced exactly the same way, its re-use cost would have come very near $200,000.00! Who can afford to make decisions like this?

It's an argument staged more frequently than DEATH OF A SALESMAN. When does it die? What does it take? Is the wish that none but the three CDs over 70 minutes were released? Is the wish that the four CDs under 35 minutes were not produced? What song would the collective chorus of soundtrack collectors like Varese Sarabande and other labels to hear? From a label that tries very hard to be as many things to as many people as we do, we seem most adept at eliciting unrest and discord.

We are at a crossroads. Collectors are in a position to affect the direction soundtrack releases take in the future. With the proliferation of bootlegs, MP3s, services like Napster and all the like, the implications could be significant. There has already been enough of an impact to derail soundtracks that would have been produced at another time. While many unions, from SAG to the AFM, have worked for years to achieve their current level of compensation, they are now being forced to rethink their past actions in the midst of a very grave set of circumstances. Their actions of years past have directly affected the climate of today, and not in a positive way. I hope the world of film music collectors venture onward with greater forethought.

Robert Townson

Varese Sarabande Records

Our thanks to Mr. Townson for writing in... well, collectors, what do you think? Send your letters to:

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