Guest Blog: Mining the Catalogue – How Show Tunes Take Center Stage
By David Foil
Talk to any of us who work at MasterworksBroadway.com, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is the “catalogue” – how unique it is, how definitive it is, how huge it is. And it is all of those things. The more you read our blogs and become acquainted with Masterworks Broadway, you are going to come across that word “catalogue.” What we are referring to is much more than a printed book or pamphlet. The word has become a kind of shorthand for all the recordings that would be listed in a printed catalogue – basically, every recording we own or have licensed that is not a new release. Since MasterworksBroadway.com is all about catalogue, this seemed like a good time to talk about just what our catalogue contains.
The Masterworks Broadway label is a result of Sony Music Entertainment’s acquisition of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and the merger of the Sony and BMG Broadway catalogues. That merger brought together all the Broadway recordings that had been released on the Sony (Columbia, Columbia/CBS Masterworks, Epic and Sony Classical) and BMG (Arista and RCA Victor, primarily) labels. Since 2005, all of our new original cast recordings – The Wedding Singer, A Chorus Line, Grease, The Pirate Queen, South Pacific, West Side Story and the forthcoming Promises, Promises – have been Masterworks Broadway releases. So have various compilations, collections and special projects, such as Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far.
If the Decca label was first to gate in making original Broadway cast recordings, Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor quickly perfected the format and proceeded to dominate the field, beginning in the late 1940s. Columbia’s legendary Goddard Lieberson seized the opportunity long-playing records presented with the blockbuster success of the original South Pacific recording (1949). Seven years later, he created what is surely the most elegant and entertaining cash-cow of all time by investing heavily in My Fair Lady, which paid off massively to Columbia’s bottom line. Since Broadway songs could easily turn into mainstream pop hits in the 1950s – complete with AM-radio airplay – the recording of Broadway musicals was as lucrative as it was risky. RCA Victor hit its stride with Brigadoon in 1947 and enjoyed a parallel success over the years.
No one who visits this site needs to be reminded of Masterworks Broadway’s greatest titles, from those seminal triumphs Brigadoon and Finian’s Rainbow to avenue q and the recent South Pacific and West Side Story revivals. They are our pantheon. They are and will continue to be available, in physical and digital formats. In the risk-taking that is required to reel in such big, enduring hits, our catalogue inevitably has a lot of … let’s call them not-hits. The hardcore fans know and love them, from Goldilocks and Happy Hunting to Steel Pier and Sweet Smell of Success. There’s real gold in the scores of these also-rans, and the fact that they were recorded has allowed them to endure and prevail.
A surprisingly large number of these lesser-known Broadway titles in our catalogue remain available, at the very least as digital releases or through Arkivmusic.com. In the past, you had to be a hardcore fan even to know about these shows. MasterworksBroadway.com is changing that. Now, the hits and the not-hits are accessible to everyone, accompanied by a rich body of information and images. Prompted by this amazing, ever-evolving resource, we are continuing our quest to bring back everything of consequence we can find in the deeper recesses of the catalogue. Part of my job is to manage the A&R (artists and repertoire) for the web site and the Masterworks Broadway catalogue. So far, I think we’ve done quite well, but there is still a great deal more to discover and liberate from those deeper recesses. Last year alone, we reissued – for the first time on CD using the original masters – the original cast recordings of Hazel Flagg, Jimmy, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac, Let It Ride!, New Faces of 1952, New Faces of ’56; the 1976 revival cast recording of The Threepenny Opera; and that singularly fascinating spinoff of Hair called disinHairited. This quest continues, beginning again in July, with the release of … stay tuned. You’ll be surprised and delighted.
We couldn’t be prouder of our unique, definitive and huge catalogue, and we are doing everything we can to make it even more so. We welcome – and encourage – your input in what you want to see and hear. Drop us a line, and let us know what you think. We’re in business, but it’s a labor of love for us as well. We hope you feel the same way.
David Foil is Senior Director, Product Development, for Sony Masterworks. In that role, he supervises A&R for the Masterworks Broadway catalogue and produces the Masterworks Broadway podcast series. Foil began his career in print and on TV as a film and performing arts critic. In the last two decades, he has compiled and annotated well over 100 Broadway and classical recordings, and has written twelve introductory books on classical music and opera.