New Jersey record company celebrates 50 years
Jem Recordings, home of Jem Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
"Working with many of the major labels" according to their website, "they were able to release first albums from such artists as The Cure, Simple Minds, Siouxie and the Banshees, X and exclusively distributed labels as WEA International, Virgin America and EG."
Jem is distributed by Orchard, a division of Sony.
Jem Records founder and former president Marty Scott, who runs Jem out of his home in Annandale, came on my New Jersey 101.5 show to discuss the good old days as well as what's ahead.
How did Jem Records get started? How did you come up with the name?
"I started selling albums in my dorm at college (Franklin & Marshall) at prices less than the local record store. It works so well, I enlisted my boyhood friends, Jeff Tenenbaum and Ed Grossi to do the same at their colleges (Cornell and Wesleyan)."
"We decided to go into business after graduation. We took a trip to Europe before starting, and when we got to London I went searching for a Who record that was not available in America, 'Direct Hits.' I thought, 'If I wanted this album, there must be others in the U.S. that would also like it. I mean it’s The Who! And that was the impetus for importing records."
"We set up in a trailer in the parking lot of Program One Stop in Union, NJ, a company for which I had worked when home from college. We incorporated the next year (1972) in a small section of the One Stop and the following year we moved to South Plainfield. We opened in the U.K. in 1974, California later in the decade, and Texas in 1984."
"The name comes from the first name of the three partners: Jeff Tenenbaum, Ed Grossi, and Marty Scott. J E M."
What's the F.A.R.M. system?
"First Album Release and Manufacture. We licensed and put out albums from labels in Uk that wanted the debut album to get a JEM push."
Do you have any Jersey artists on the label?
"The Weeklings, The Grip Weeds and The Anderson Council are all based in NJ."
Who are some of the other bands Jem was involved with?
"We were the largest importer of rock records in the country. U.K. and European labels would court us to 'break' their bands before the albums secured U.S. release. We owned our own labels, Passport, PVC, Passport Jazz, and Audion, which released hundreds of albums. Retail loved what we released and to a large degree, so did the critics. We received a disproportionate amount of coverage."
"We also manufactured and distributed labels such as Ode, Virgin American, WEA, EG, and distributed hundreds of other labels. The biggest record we had was The Rocky Horror Picture Show which sold millions. People remember the story of how we broke Cheap Trick with 'Live at Budokan,' which Epic had passed on and gave me the rights to bring in from Japan."
We sold so many so quickly, that they changed their minds and released it domestically, eventually selling millions. Passport released the first live recordings of Elvis Presley's 'Louisiana Hayride,' which blew away all the critics and fans who didn’t know the tapes existed."
"We put together, from singles and EP, the first Cure album, 'Boys Don’t Cry' on PVC. We had very successful fusion jazz and electronic music labels. We distributed the debut of almost every U.S. alternative, punk, and new wave band, that needed to get their music to the masses. DEVO, B-52s, X, etc."
"We had a farm system that licensed albums from labels overseas that put out the first albums from Simple Minds, Judas Priest, The Bongos, and many more.
We worked with most of the UK’s labels licensing albums that built careers."
What are your best memories of Jem over the past 50 years?
"Finding, signing, and releasing albums on our labels, and working with so many talented artists. Building our companies from the trailer to offices and warehouses across America and U.K.. They used to call me 'Deal A Day.' There is a promo album with my picture and slogan that was sent out to all retail stores for in-store airplay. Our website has a photo of it."
How has the music business changed over the last 50 years?
"Years ago, the majors controlled distribution along with regional and local distributors. Record executives were sometimes bigger stars than the artists on their labels. Now, multinationals are concerned only with 'market share.' There is not so much artist development, It’s one and done, rather than working to build a career."
"The indie music business is growing again as the 'major' are only concentrating on certain markets of rap and pop."
"Decades ago, one had to get to a label or a distribution company such as Jem to get to retail. Now, anyone can make and distribute music from their bedroom. This makes it almost too easy and makes it almost harder to get to the consumer who now has hundreds of thousands of tracks from which to pick. Amazon, etc, covers a tremendous amount of the country’s sales with the number of retail stores dwindling all the time."
How hard it is to get an artist played now?
"We get great support from the indie stations around the world and from SiriusXM’s Underground Garage and The Beatles Channel. FM terrestrial radio is not so much, save the specialty shows. There are quite a few power pop-related shows and blogs that support our releases."
Who are the artists currently on Jem and who are you most proud of?
The Grip Weeds
The Anderson Council
The Midnight Callers
Lisa Mychols & Super 8
The Airport 77s
The Gold Needles
Where do you see Jem records going from here?
"Continuing to release music and develop new artists."
To find out more about Jem records click here.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
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