An astute film music fan who still buys physical CDs will undoubtedly notice a rather finite set of labels on their shelves. Film music is a niche market and only certain record companies have mastered it, to a point where knowing more about the label itself could instruct a consumer about prospective purchases.
There are two great types of releases: private and commercial. Some actually delve in both, but usually a company will specialize in one.
Private releases are almost always limited printings (from 500 to 5000 units) and feature film scores from an earlier era (either a score that was never printed at the time of the movie’s release, or an expanded re-release of a previously incomplete pressing). They can only be ordered at specialized online retailers and usually sell for $20. They feature lovingly crafted inserts, with several pages of pictures and liner notes.
The history of private releases began in the late 80s when Varèse Sarabande (already an established commercial soundtrack label) came out with the “Varèse CD Club”, a mail-only collection of limited edition soundtracks. Experts agree: it was ahead of its time. Ten years later, with the advent of the Internet and social media networks, things were different. Labels like Film Score Monthly and Prometheus began spewing private releases. Even Varèse started a new “Varèse CD Club”, this time enjoying a much greater success. This craze of private releases is even what saved Intrada, whose commercial releases were becoming very few and far between. In fact, the Intrada Special Collection tackled the market with such aggressiveness that they eventually took Film Score Monthly out of the running. New players still active today also joined the fray. The following is a description of each label.
Film Score Monthly
Film Score Monthly releases, although no longer forthcoming, are a treasure trove of older material. They usually go as far back as the golden age of cinema, with composers like Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa. They also feature early works by contemporary legends like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.
Intrada usually prefers to aim for items in hot demand (from the 60s through the 90s) rather than finding lost gems of film history, which may explain some of their success.
The new Varèse CD Club’s mission statement lies somewhere in the middle between Film Score Monthly and Intrada, balancing older archival work with high-demand releases. It always pays to keep an eye out for new Varèse titles.
The people at Tadlow/Prometheus do more than merely release older scores: they often re-record them entirely. They are not very prolific but they print top quality material.
Buysoundtrax is an opportunistic label. They go in for contracts that are easily attainable yet boast a good measure of appeal for the public. They also sell cheaper. A lot of contemporary masterworks you never knew existed can be discovered on this label.
The highly prolific La-La-Land is nothing if not thorough. Just like Intrada, they go for the hot and trendy releases, but in addition they will often latch onto a franchise (such as Batman or Star Trek) and start re-releasing beautiful complete editions of every score in the series.
Kritzerland has a gift for picking titles from around the 60s and 70s that sell insanely quick. Their packaging is sparser than their competitor’s but that doesn’t hinder the overall worth of the releases.
Staying afloat of the private release market is quite draining, especially on the wallet. Faced with the inability of buying everything, one often is forced to prioritize and try to predict the market.