Frontiers Records: How An Italian Rock Fan Built an Indie Empire
The Italian company was founded in 1996 by a music fan named Serafino Perugino and in the last few years, the label has had a stellar run of releases, helping to prove that many of the so-called "'80s rockers" most of the other industry players ignored were still vital.
Not only has Perugino (who is also the CEO and A&R Director) and Frontiers help get new music out by veteran acts, they've also helped establish newer groups like Work of Art, Crashdiet and the melodic rock supergroup, W.E.T., which features Noisecreep favorite Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals.
In this Noisecreep exclusive, we speak with Perugino about the label's history, its position in the marketplace today, and its plans for the future.
Serafino, please give us some background on how you got started in the music business.
I started as a music fan, purchasing a big amount of CDs during the '80s, until I decided to become personally involved in the business. It happened around 1995, when a guy in Sweden called Håkan Häggblom approached me to have some help to find someone who could distribute his label called West Coast Records in Italy.
This was the start and since I always had the secret dream to work in the music business, what was just an attempt became later a real job. For the first few years this has been my part-time job as I was working in a hospital. Mario de Riso started working for me from early 1998 and that was a good step to take care of everything and about at the same time I had the vision to turn the Italian distribution business into a proper international label.
Pretty soon we had the luck to strike a label deal with a British company called Now & Then Records who gave us the contents (i.e. releases and artists) and for some time we have walked hand in hand. However, at a certain point, I wanted the label to grow and we started working with artists like Journey, Glenn Hughes, Toto, Survivor and later on, Winger, Mr. Big, Sebastian Bach Whitesnake, etc.
That pretty much brings us where we are now. I think probably the last big step for the label was to open the U.S. office and the partnership with EMI which has brought some excellent results so far.
The label has been around since the mid-'90s, but you didn't really have a big presence in the U.S. till January of 2011 when you signed your distribution deal with EMI. Was it tough to find someone to get in business with in the States that believed this type of music could be commercially viable again?
This is not completely correct. Before 2011 we worked with another (smaller) distribution company called Super D and we worked a couple of years with them. But yes I can safely say that the deal with EMI and the opening of an office in N.Y. put Frontiers on the map in the USA. I do not think that it was tough to find someone interested in principle, but rather to find someone professional, enthusiast and with the right knowledge that could help the label to make some real business in the U.S. since in the past we made some attempts which turned out to be a waste of time and money. The current set up makes us feel extremely comfortable and I think EMI is the perfect partner for the label.
Has it been tougher to crack the American market than the European territories? Melodic rock is obviously still thriving over there.
I don't think that the situation with this music is particularly different in the European countries/markets compared to the U.S. Actually, I think it is the other way round, since a number of U.S. acts have kept a good fanbase in their own countries thanks to the constant touring they have done during the years. I suppose that Internet also made them understand that there was a demand for new music from them. This combination of causes probably brought the result that we have now. U.S. market requires a lot of attention, tough work and bigger budgets and to some extent it is a completely different world compared to Europe. It has been a learning curve but we have embraced it thoroughly and – thank God – successfully so far.
You've signed a who's who of AOR and classic rock acts, but you're also nurturing up and coming bands. Was balancing the roster out with both heritage and newer acts always part of the plan?
I believe that no label and no style music can think to survive in these difficult times if there are no investments made in new talent. We have worked with some of the top acts of the melodic and hard rock history and certainly we look at working with more great and class acts. However every band – even the bigger ones – started from scratch. And I can safely say that we managed to "build" a few acts and talents during the years, which have now credibility and steady sales as well. The bands/acts you mentioned are certainly some of those, but not only. We plan to keep working on both avenues and explore for more good new bands too in the future.
Do the older artists on the label still expect the kind of money advances they got during the "good old days" when the industry was in better shape?
Every artist is expecting to cash the best possible advance. That was back in the day and it is the same nowadays. In the past studios and record production cost a lot of money. Now many artists are able to do their recordings even at home. Bottom line the problem is to keep the balance between what they expect and what is possible to do in these days and of course keep the quality as high as possible. In all cases I think that a number of artists had to come down to earth to keep releasing product.
I would imagine the core Frontiers consumer still prefers physical product. What is the breakdown between your digital versus your CD sales?
Correct, digital is much lower compared to physical. In the U.S. we have an average percentage of 25 to 35% (though the trend is generally growing). In Europe we do not have Soundscan everywhere but I would say that the percentage goes from 10 to 20% maximum. In Europe the legal streaming systems like Spotify and Deezer are becoming increasingly popular as opposed to the proper downloading (such as iTunes or Amazon). It will be interesting to see where the market will lead the industry in the coming years.
In the '90s, CMC Records was doing something similar to Frontiers in the sense that they were signing former major label acts like Dokken and Styx to new recording contracts. What do you think you're doing right that they might have dropped the ball on?
I am not in the position to know what we are doing right and what CMC or Portrait have done wrong in the past years. I can only say that we have probably a wider idea of the sales potential or a record and can exploit in a better way the markets outside the U.S. (which was the primary objective of these labels when they released product). Also, at least for a certain amount of product that is released on the label, I tend to be heavily involved in the A&R and executive production side. This somehow helps in getting the best from certain artists.
Have you released any albums in the past couple of years you feel were criminally overlooked?
It is always difficult to say that a record did not work or why it did not work. We live with what the market allows and for one reason or another we have to assume that if we are not selling enough records then there must be some wrong assumption from our side. However I would certainly say that for the efforts that we have put in the production and for the music displayed records such as the awesome Places of Power debut album, Now Is the Hour, or the last Unruly Child album, Worlds Collide, have been certainly overlooked or did not have the exposure the music certainly deserved. Also I thought the last John Waite album, Rough and Tumble, could have done better. This one was released only in Europe on my label, but I thought it deserved more attention anyway.
Name one Frontiers Records release every one of our readers should have in their music collection.
This is very difficult... maybe Place Vendome's second album, Streets of Fire. It's a record that, for my taste, and for the work I have personally put into, could be my own personal favorite.
What's on the horizon for the label in the coming 6-9 months?
Loads of exciting stuff for the rockers. There is a new W.E.T. album coming in early 2013, new Pretty Maids, King Kobra, James Christian, Pat Travers, Lynch Mob and Uriah Heep. These are also some very exciting projects that I am masterminding such as Find Me (with Daniel Flores and Brian LaBlanc), Angelica (solo album from the The Murder of My Sweet singer), a debut album from a gifted new British singer/songwriter Nigel Bailey, plus some new bands we signed such as Diamond Dawn from Sweden (classy AOR), De La Cruz and Gene the Werewolf (more rock 'n' roll) and for the lovers of more Westcoast, a new Player album and the return of Little River Band. There will be some metal stuff coming as well, as some big things I am working on. So, there will be lot of goodies for everyone. Keep checking the label's website and Facebook page.