Talks with Lloyd Barde of Backroads Music
Heart of Innocence
Produced by Lloyd Barde
AV: In 10 words or less, if you were to do a "state of the
music address" as it applies to Corte Madera, what would it be?
For its first ten years, Backroads Music was a major wholesaler in the
alternative market, and was also the home of the Shining Star Music label,
featuring Bruce BecVar and Patrick Bernhardt. In 1991 Backroads became a
"Mail-Order only" operation, focusing all of our efforts on offering
an extensive selection of music in this vast area. We serve over 50,000
individual customers, and hope to reach many more through our on-line service.
Backroads does not sell to stores - there are no wholesale terms -and we are
not a record label. Very simply, Backroads is the #1 Source of this great music
for music-lovers far and wide. We offer group and quantity discounts. We love
inquiries about older titles and "want lists," and though we are not
a "record-finder" or "search service," we know the music
inside and out and have kept track of nearly all available titles for the past
23 years. Just ask us!
LB: Obviously this has direct effects. The one that seems "negative" is that less CDs will be bought and sold, and more music will become available for fee or per song, or as download tracks, etc. If there is a positive effect. it is the exposure to music that is now more widespread than before, and that people will be led to seek other music or CDs by the artists they are hearing. In general, the digital age of music accessibility leaves out the middlemen, whether that be labels, distributors or catalog sellers like Backroads.
AV: How many of your customers request off the wall titles that are difficult to find and when you get a request like this where do you go looking for the title? Are you usually successful in these quests? Can you even lay your hands on out of print titles now and again?
LB: Sometimes this is mutually rewarding, and sometimes very frustrating. For me, it is like laying out a huge feast, a veritable banquet of sounds, and having someone come to the table asking only for one dish, and then leaving hungry! Since Backroads has been offering music since 1981, we have many years and many titles to draw from, so rare titles that can't be found elsewhere can often by found here.
At the same time, we are not really a record-finding service, and if we are the last resort for someone who has been searching for years, it is only seldom that we can deliver. if it is a title we have carried historically, then there is a much better chance of finding it right on our shelf. if I have to look elsewhere, I draw from wholesalers who carry everything in print (supposedly) as well as our European counterparts who we trade with. It is only on rare occasions that I will look on eBay or amazon.com on the customer's behalf.
AV: Tell me about the staff that you have working there at Backroads Music? How many dedicated music fans besides yourself make Backroads music run?
LB: Years ago, there were 25 employees at Backroads Music, with our own in-house label (Shining Star Music), wholesale activity with 15000 stores, fulfillment services for large chains (like Natural Wonders) and our mail-order services, much like today. Since we now offer direct mail sales only, with no wholesale, label fulfillment services, the staff here is pretty much just me, with a bookkeeper and occasional shipping help -- usually my son Robin.
AV: Has the internet made a big difference in how you run Backroads these day? How has it expanded your ability to stay in touch with your customers and let folks know what you offer?
LB: The ease of using email for correspondence and e-letter updates has been a big boost. Our web site is friendly but cumbersome, and many visitors do not find it easy to use. That is why we still offer a toll-free 800# and mail out a printed catalog (very old-school!). We do receive orders on-line, and this is especially useful for our overseas customers.
AV: The economy has been pretty tight the last few years. How has Backroads been doing as a business these days?
LB: Surviving and trying to weather the storm would about sum it up. Three years ago, I let go of a large warehouse space and lowered the overhead by about twenty feet (!) and thousands of dollars. Since then I have found a very careful economy, in recession, and then an industry that is on its ear, with a crumbling model of how music sales "should" go. There is no model that has replaced the past methods, with labels, new acts, speculation, paying for sales, heavy promotion, and high prices & profits. At the same time, I have a business plan and model that allows for 1) outreach and catalog mailings, 2) web site updating, data-base driven and 3) linking up with internet radio and many of the vendors and labels we deal with.
AV: I've always noticed the links you have at the bottom of your entrance page. Why are these organizations listed on the front page of Backroads website and what kind of relationship do you have with them?
LB: We provide a customized music list for groups and organizations that actively use music as part of their programs. They might be movement groups, bodywork organizations, DJ/Dance events, or Yoga organizations. These groups refer all of their participants to Backroads, and, as affiliates, receive a referral fee for orders that are placed. In this way, the groups need not handle CDs, money, place orders or any of those details, and their participants are well-served by being put in touch with the best Source for this music there is (that would be Backroads!).
AV: When do you find the time to listen to so many new releases that must flow into Backroads Music? How is it you determine what you are going to carry and what you are not going to carry? Or do you carry everything?
LB: It is an ongoing activity and habit to listen to and digest music constantly. In that way, I can handle a 6000 CD library and actually know what each of the CDs is like. The determination is just a personal decision of titles I feel that I can get behind and sell at least a few copies of. We turn down probably 95% of the unsolicited titles that are submitted, even though it may appear that we carry everything! Because I am able to "suspend judgement" on first listen and get a sense of what the artist(s) are trying to convey, I am able to listen to a lot of music with great recall and a strong sense of what is going on. Similarly, I am fortunate to be a first-draft writer so I can write a lot of reviews and accurately portray what the CD offers and sounds like.
AV: Tell me about your involvement with Heart of Innocence. Have you been involved with music on this level before or is this the first time as producer? Any plans to do it again in the future?
LB: This is the first project I have fully produced from start to finish. I wrote the liner notes, did the graphic design, chose the artwork, song order and all of it. This is an area I am particularly fond of, that being women singers, and I wanted all songs to be in English, and to have a certain feeling, a beauty that would touch people, alongside messages that were real-life themed. I am lucky to know each of the artists included, and it is an amazing international cast of artists that are included. Some have very "famous voices" but not well-known names. For example, Lisbeth Scott is the voice from the State of Grace and Paul Schwartz CDs, as well as the vocalist and lyricist from "The Passion of the Christ". Similarly, Miriam Stockley is the voice of Adiemus, and the great group Praise. others are rising stars, like Donna Delory (toured with Madonna), Tina Malia (for all Loreena McKennitt fans), local artists Suzanne Sterling and Pollyanna Bush, and the legendary Happy Rhodes, etc.
The plan is for this to be a series, and the next one will start to formulate itself later this Spring. It is an unqualified success, and the moist moving, beautiful CD you could imagine, aimed mostly for Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos and Dido or Indigo Girls fans.
AV: Are you encouraged enough by what you see coming down the pike as far as new releases within the genres that you sell to be able to say that the industry is healthy and growing?
LB: There is more good music than ever -- that I am sure of. And the hybrid styles that blur the lines between space, ambient, electronic and chill out are more solid than ever while the boundaries are less solid. Backroads actively carries each of the areas in great depth, as well as chants and vocals, tribal/Native/World music, music for the Healing arts like Yoga, and contemporary styles as well. But it seems that the core of our offerings always has been and always will be the space/ambient music area. Right now , our most exciting area is the chill out section, with releases like "The Fahrenheit project" et al from France, and labels like Interchill from Canada, Dakini from Japan, Just Music from the UK, Aleph Zero from Israel, and Waveform, Spiralight and others from the USA.
AV: Where do you see Lloyd Barde and Backroads in 2014?
©Ambient Visions. Interview conducted by Michael Foster and Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions.