An Interview with Laurent Lafarge by Doug Raynes
First of all, to give some background, can you say something about the origins of Music Box Records? How did it all come about? Why the name Music Box?
“Music Box: pellicule sur écoute” was a fan-based review created by a bunch of film music enthusiasts during my student years. The French magazine was devoted to interviewing film composers and reviewing CD soundtracks. For us, the name “Music Box” represented the connection between movies and soundtracks very well. A few years later and after our own professional experiences, Cyril Durand-Roger and I quickened the pace, creating a French record label devoted exclusively to soundtracks.
Not surprisingly, as a French label, your releases are mainly soundtracks from French and other European films. Is the main intention of the label to make more European music available on CD?
We mainly release French scores but not only those, as you can see from our catalog now. As a French record label company, we think it’s quite natural that we focus on French cinema. But we need to expand our business towards international film music collectors. That’s why we started being interested in releasing other European and American scores.
From our point of view, the French soundtrack industry was missing a specialised record label.
Would I be right in saying that for American films you have to deal with the studio for the music rights but for European films you have to deal with the music publisher? If so why they difference?
Yes, for American films we deal exclusively with studios. It always seems easier to work with American studios in order to complete a project with them because they control all the levels of film production. We don’t lose time to make a project possible.
In Europe, it’s a bit different because it is the music publisher or the music producer who owns the soundtrack rights. Except for two or three majors, we find it more difficult to work with the rest of the publishers because they are not used to deal with our requests. We feel that sometimes they don’t seem to be interested in what we do.
You obviously have a good relationship with MGM. Is it easier or more difficult dealing with a large US studio?
All we can say is that MGM is very open to make business with foreign record labels. We are very proud and lucky to release some of their great titles. We do have some connections with other studios and hope to deal some projects with them in the future.
Do you receive co-operation with composers themselves, in obtaining tapes of scores and in obtaining approvals?
Yes, we do with French composers and American composers as well. In France, we used to work closely with Éric Demarsan, Serge Franklin and Philippe Rombi, to name a few. When the composer has kept old master tapes he is mostly very happy to give us access to his personal archives. It is a good way to make a more complete release with their own material which can be very useful. For instance, it is also the case with Colette Delerue (Georges Delerue’s widow). She is very involved in the process from the beginning of the project until the mastering session. It is the same as in the USA for obtaining material when the studios don’t have anything. We contact the composers who are very helpful and open to our requests.
Where do you begin with a project? Presumably the first thing is to find out if the original score is available and I suppose obtaining rights must sometimes be complicated. How do you actually go about finding out who has the rights?
In France, there are still a lot of soundtracks to be released.
As we mainly release scores from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, many of them were only released on LPs but never reissued on CD. So the material should still exist but it’s not the case each time. As I previously said, if we wanted to offer a more complete presentation, we had to ask composers if they kept some material in their personal archives. Sometimes we’re lucky. Sometimes we are not.
In order to obtain the music rights, we have to track down the rights’ holders, either by the film producer or the music publisher. It’s always a very long process because we can spend months, even a year or years to make a project come true. You have to be very passionate and persistent in order to make things possible. Generally speaking, it’s an exciting moment when we begin to work on projects and see how things are evolving. Working in the studio is a particularly high-moment for us because we see how the CD release is going to sound like.
What are the major problems you have encountered in acquiring or releasing soundtracks? I assume one of the big hurdles is finding out who has the rights in the first place?
Most of the time, we encounter the same difficulties: investigate the owner of the music rights because most of the music catalogs of the past 50 years have been split, lost or in a legal vacuum. When we manage to find the rights owners, they have to check the original contracts and if they still have some material available. It is always a long tedious process.
Are there many projects planned which you have had to abandon? If so, are you able to give titles?
We never give up a project, whatever time it can take. We can set aside a project and come back months later when things are cleared up.
When we had to abandon a few projects, it depended on the production costs which were too expensive to make the CD releases profitable.
What sort of time scales are involved from start to finish on a project?
It depends on the project. We can spend three months to complete a project at best. Generally speaking, it usually takes 6 months.
Your CDs have a very distinctive, clean, uncluttered style. I assume that the design of a CD is very important to you?
We wanted our CD collection to be recognizable with a very strong visual identity. If we fight for physical releases, we have to pay attention to the artwork and design of our CDs.
What about liner notes. Do you prefer generalised essays about the music. When do you think track by track analysis is appropriate?
We do not ask our authors to write a ‘track by track analysis’. We prefer generalised essays about the music, the film, etc. It is more a cinematic than a musical point of view.
You’re one of the few specialist soundtrack labels to use twitter. Do you find it a helpful promotional tool?
It’s always useful to have promotional tools like Twitter or Facebook. It can reach easier our target audience. We try to update our Facebook page as often as possible in order to share more information about our releases and to be in contact with fans. We generally pass the info on to the film music message boards as well.
I assume that most of your customers are based in Europe? What proportion of sales are within Europe?
The proportion is around 70% from Europe / Worldwide and 30% from France.
What’s more important – whether you personally like the music or whether you think it will sell?
When we decide to release a soundtrack, it’s first of all because we like the music. It would be difficult to work on a project without any passion. For the moment, we work on this basis. It is almost impossible to predict good or disappointing sales.
Although there are few traditional retail stores left in the United States selling CDs, there are still quite a few major store chains in Europe such as FNAC, Media Market, HMV and Saturn. Do you find those outlets useful or do soundtrack fans purchase almost exclusively over the internet nowadays?
In France, all major stores do not cover a greater range of titles for soundtrack fans. It really depends on the person in charge of the soundtrack section in each store. It is difficult for independent labels to be in all stores. We realize that the soundtrack sections have been shrinking in the major stores for many years. That’s why fans buy more and more CDs over the internet either from specialised retail stores or on the on-line shops of record labels.
There are plenty of doomsayers who think that within a short number of years the CD will be obsolete and replaced by downloads. Do you agree with that assessment?
As long as the CD exists we will be on the market. It’s a strange feeling because people say that the CD is dying and on the contrary we live in a ‘splendour’ period where there are so many soundtracks to be released on CD on the market. We cannot deny the fact that the new generation of soundtrack fans will be more used to download music than purchase CDs in the future. That’s why we must offer a proper CD release which is to be very beautifully packed and presented. Anyway, we’ll see how it will evolve in the next five years.
If one day the CD becomes obsolete, it will be the end of the “collector area”.
In the 1990s, Cyril Durand-Roger and Laurent Lafarge contributed to Music Box: pellicule sur écoute, a French magazine devoted to film soundtracks, and intended for film music enthusiasts. In top of writing record reviews, they interviewed many film composers and directors.