Small Music Label Discovers Big Market for Its Re-Releases

Article excerpt

Byline: Dimitra DeFotis Daily Herald Business Writer

Business profile

Name: Neale Parker, president

Business: Griffin Music Inc. of Glendale Heights, an independent recording label which re-releases old rock titles and issues some new rock, jazz and blues.

Revenues: $2.8 million in 1995.

Philosophy: "This business has so many variables ... it's fun and it's a social business and you get to travel."

Griffin Music Inc. is holding up the cigarette lighter to psychedelic and space rock.

And the audience of buyers is rallying around it.

The 4-year-old music label has released - or reissued through sub-licensing arrangements - more than 250 albums at a rate of roughly five per month.

Its volume will never rival big labels such as Sony or Time Warner, but it has found re-releasing music very lucrative.

Keeping a low profile in a Glendale Heights warehouse, the company quietly brought in $2.8 million in sales last year.

At its start only four years ago, its sales were $250,000.

Rock from the 1960s and '70s is not the only thing Griffin does: its compact disc encores also include jazz, classical and blues titles.

Through eight sister companies here, in Toronto and London, parent Gopaco Inc. also publishes band anthologies and distributes CDs for other labels.

The companies together employ about 80 people, with all but 15 in Glendale Heights.

The largest U.S. concern is Feedback Inc. of Glendale Heights, which distributed $24 million in compact discs for independent labels including Griffin last year.

The suburbs may seem an unlikely place for Griffin, but owners say CD thefts are so lucrative that a low profile is better.

"We're one of the top 10 reissue labels in the U.S. We keep a low profile for security aspects," says President Neale Parker, a London native who is no relation to the similarly named WXRT-FM disc jockey.

Thousands of CDs are licensed through Griffin, from UFO and Nazareth to Tangerine Dream and Olivia Newton-John. They are sold at major retail outlets such as Best Buy as well as small music shops.

"A lot of these guys who were big in the '60s and '70s don't have any other living," Parker said. "A lot of them went back to regular jobs, but it must be difficult after getting used to thousands of screaming fans."

Still, the market for $15.98 reissues of artists such as Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman is limited. But Griffin can make money on a CD that may only sell 2,000 copies nationwide.

"Reissues can be extremely economical because recording and marketing has been paid for," said Rob Gillis, label manager for three small Chicago labels: Whitehouse, Waterdog and Absolute.

Gillis said Griffin made its mark with box sets of Hawkwind, a '70s British band with a devoted following likened to the Grateful Dead. …