Reissue music labels have been around since the time when there was music that could be reissued. Still, for a while it seemed that they were somewhere in the background, mostly specialized operations catering only to some cultish and genre-oriented clientele. In the more current times, it seems that reissue labels are not only gaining in importance, but also in prominence. Some have even gained the status as ‘major’ labels. The reasons for reissuing music have not changed much from the inception of the concept, but the importance given to why something is being slated for reissue varies from label to label and from musical period to musical period.
While the so-called major music labels have reissue departments of their own, the driving force behind them is mainly to capture a moment they think they can make a lot of money off of. These reissues most often come at times when a new music format appears (particularly evident in the era of CD dominance) and involve prominent artists and (mainly) albums that have already earned them substantial cash in their previous incarnations. Of course there were, and are, exceptions with reissues of more obscure material that has gained a cult status, usually if the artist or a label has gained critical acclaim from a major music publication or a renowned music critic.
The Music Reissue Scene is Dominated by Independent Labels
But what about the rest? As the history of modern music continues to expand due to the simple fact that as time passes by more musical material sees the light of the day, the more material slips by the listeners, even if they are a avid consumers. So simply due to sheer quantity, more music now than ever is in danger of falling to obscurity. And that is where the more devoted, specialized, and musically well-informed labels come into play. For them, the larger availability of material means more opportunities to sift through the missed, unfairly underrated, or simply forgotten music that’s out there in droves.
…that is where the more devoted, specialized, and musically well-informed labels come into play. For them, the larger availability of material means more opportunities to sift through the missed, unfairly underrated, or simply forgotten music that’s out there in droves.
Their guiding force in most cases is to rescue what they consider artistically valuable material from obscurity. There are also other reasons why some material is being reissued and why it’s gaining a larger audience. Part of it lies in the fact that older audiences have preferences for certain artists, or even more so, musical genres, like psychedelia and even sub-branches, like sunshine pop. Another part is with younger audiences that want to discover something they are not familiar with and it falls into the category of ‘sounds like.’ And that is where one of the old rules of modern music comes in – the largest part of it comes on the re-circulation of ideas and themes, whether it is just a simple inspiration, re-interpretation, the sampling of all sorts, or just simple copying.
…CDs are on its way to join 8-track cartridges and cassettes, and vinyl records are having yet another comeback. And it all seems to perfectly fit the goals of reissue labels.
And as far as modern music is concerned, we again seem to be at a watershed moment – not only as far as music content is concerned but also the format(s) in which it is presented. Electronic file distribution and online listening are dominating, CDs are on their way to joining 8-track cartridges and cassettes, and vinyl records are having yet another comeback. And it all seems to perfectly fit the goals of reissue labels.
Old Stalwarts and New Forces
Like with any other record label, new reissue labels emerge all the time but most are gone sooner that they have arrived. Now, some certainly deserved better, like the British Rev-Ola label, while others not really – particularly the ones that are semi or completely bootleg labels that rely mostly on material that is pressed from old albums or even cassettes and include(ed) photocopied album covers. Unfortunately this trend with such labels is continuing, especially with the recent resurgence of vinyl.
But some reissue labels have persisted since early on and are still carrying the torch, mostly due to the quality of material they are putting out and their attention to detail from the additional material – remastering, liner notes, photographs, and format availability. Such ‘old’ stalwarts include American labels like Rhino and its subsidiary Rhino Handmade that concentrates on limited editions, and Sundazed, a label that has been at the forefront of vinyl resurgence. Another long-running American reissuer is Bomp’s subsidiary AIP that is renowned for its Pebble series of garage/psych compilations. Among these names worth mentioning is Runt, a company that has been in operation since 1996 and has included and still carries the catalog of the amazing Water label.
…reissue giant Ace Records and its subsidiaries that has actually been operating since the early ’70s (1971), and is still probably the largest and most diversified reissue label around.
Still, it seems that European, particularly British reissue labels carry the tradition the most. This particularly concerns the English, reissue giant Ace Records and its subsidiaries that has actually been operating since the early ’70s (1971), and is still probably the largest and most diversified reissue label around. Among the long-running Brittish reissue labels are Cherry Red, which started out in 1978 as a DIY indie rock label and now runs successful reissue subsidiaries like Esoteric and Grapefruit, as well as BGO, short for The Beat Goes On, that started out in the ’80s during the CD boom. Probably the most prominent European reissue label is German Bear Family Records, renowned for its mainly lavish (albeit also expensive) high-quality rock, rockabilly, and country reissues.
The middle ground, or the ‘middle period,’ so to say, belongs to the London reissue powerhouse Soul Jazz Records. The company started out in 1992 as a reggae reissue label but has since branched out to include almost everything – from Soul, to Bossa Nova, even New York No Wave and early electronic music.
The relatively new names amongst reissue labels are becoming prominent mostly based on the quality of the artistic material, their astute choices, detailed research, and insistence on overall publishing quality. This time around American labels are taking the lead in that respect. Particularly noteworthy are the Chicago’s Numero Group that started out with one of the best soul reissue series, Eccentric Soul. LA-based Omnivore Recordings has gained its reputation for some lavishly produced box sets, something Revenant Records are also known for, and Seattle’s Light In The Attic is one of the current leaders of the reissue scene. One exceptional British reissue label of note is Finders Keepers, run by DJ and compiler Andy Votel, with one of the most eclectic ‘new’ reissue catalogs around. Of course, as is the case on the ‘current issue’ scene, there are cult labels on the reissue scene that may not have the capability of coming up with lavish, remastered albums, but have a good sense of re-discovering material that has its audience. Three labels particularly worthy of note are the American Gear Fab, Australian Raven, and Spanish Guerssen.
…some reissue labels have persisted since early on and are still carrying the torch, mostly due to the quality of material they are putting out and their attention to detail…
Still, no matter the shape and size some current reissue labels may take, it is obvious that quite a few of them are gaining the prominence they rightfully deserve.
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