Jem Recordings, the home of Jem Records, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“Working with many major labels” according to their website, “they were able to release debut albums from artists such as The Cure, Simple Minds, Siouxie and the Banshees, X and exclusively distributed labels like 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 from his home in Annandale, came to my New Jersey 101.5 show to discuss the good old days as well as what lies ahead.
How was Jem Records born? How did you come up with the name?
“I started selling albums in my college dorm (Franklin & Marshall) at lower prices than the local record store. It worked so well that I asked my childhood friends, Jeff Tenenbaum and Ed Grossi, to do the same in their universities (Cornell and Wesleyan).”
“We decided to go into business after graduation. We took a trip to Europe before we started, and when we got to London, I went looking for a Who record that didn’t start. wasn’t available in America, ‘Direct Hits.’ I thought to myself, ‘If I wanted this album, there must be others in the United States who would like it too. I mean, it’s The Who! And that’s what made me import records.’
“We moved into a trailer in the parking lot of Program One Stop in Union, NJ, a company I had worked for when I came home from college. We incorporated the following year (1972) into a small section of the One Stop and the following year we moved to South Plainfield. We opened in the UK in 1974, in California later in the decade and in Texas in 1984.”
“The name comes from the first names of the three partners: Jeff Tenenbaum, Ed Grossi and Marty Scott. JE M.”
What is the FARM system?
“Releasing and making the first album. We licensed and released albums from UK labels who wanted the first album to get a JEM push.”
Do you have Jersey artists on the label?
“The Weeklings, The Grip Weeds and The Anderson Council are all based in New Jersey.”
What other bands has Jem been involved with?
“We were the biggest importer of rock records in the country. UK and European labels were courting us to ‘break up’ their bands before the albums were released in the US. We had our own labels, Passport, PVC, Passport Jazz and Audion, who released hundreds of albums. The retail loved what we released and to a large extent so did the critics. We received disproportionate coverage.
“We also made 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 passed on and gave me the rights to bring in from Japan.”
We sold so many of them 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 critics and fans who didn’t know the tapes existed.”
“We assembled, from singles and EPs, Cure’s debut album, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ on PVC. We had very successful jazz fusion and electronic music labels. We distributed the debut of almost every alternative, punk and new American wave band, who needed to get their music out to the masses. DEVO, B-52s, X, etc.”
“We had a farm system that allowed albums from foreign labels that released debut albums by Simple Minds, Judas Priest, The Bongos and many others.
We’ve worked with most of the UK album-licensed labels that have built careers.”
What are your fondest 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 businesses from trailer to offices and warehouses across America and the UK. They called me ‘Deal A Day’ There is a promotional album with my photo and slogan that was sent to all retail stores for in-store distribution. website has a picture of it.”
How has the music industry evolved over the past 50 years?
“Years ago, the majors controlled distribution with regional and local distributors. Record executives were sometimes bigger stars than the artists on their labels. “.There’s not so much artist development, it’s one and done, rather than working to build a career.”
“The indie music industry is growing again as the ‘majors’ only focus on certain rap and pop markets.”
“Decades ago, you had to go to a label or distribution company like Jem to get to retail. Now anyone can create and distribute music from their bedroom. It makes it almost too easy and makes it almost harder to reach the consumer who now has hundreds of thousands of leads to choose from.Amazon, etc., covers a huge amount of the country’s sales, with the number of retail stores decreasing all the time.
How hard is it to get an artist to play now?
“We have great support from independent stations around the world and SiriusXM’s Underground Garage and The Beatles Channel. Terrestrial FM radio isn’t so much except the specialty shows. There are quite a few shows and pop power related blogs that support our releases.”
Who are the artists currently on Jem and who are you most proud of?
The Anderson Council
Lisa Mychols & Super 8
The golden needles
Where do you see Jem’s records go from here?
“Keep releasing music and developing new artists.”
To learn more about Jem’s records, click here.
The views expressed in the above post are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
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