Bob Lord, CEO of PARMA Recordings, calls at 11 a.m. on the dot. He returned from Prague last week and the cobwebs of jet lag have finally cleared. In Prague he was recording a new record but in many ways he was saving orchestral music.
Some areas of the music business are unsustainable as currently constructed. One such area is orchestral music, which has an outdated business model that relies on donations and public funds, according to Lord. As these donations and public funds dry up, orchestral music suffers. When concerts are held, orchestras often have to play the old masters like Beethoven and Brahms, which is great except they are chosen at the expense of the composers making great music today.
The mission of PARMA Recordings, based in its new office in North Hampton, www.parmarecordings.com, is to make sure contemporary composers get a chance. This mission has led Lord around the world.
Over the last three years, the company has grown from a handful of employees to now 20. It has four labels, three of which (Navona, Ravello and Big Round, which was previously the recording label of former Congressman Paul Hodes), are releasing albums in classical, rock, jazz, blues and more. Big Round Records will be releasing an album called I Told You So by John Hall, founder of the rock band Orleans and a former New York Congressman.
Lord said the company is approached every day by composers and artists who are looking to collaborate on a project. He said he gets to listen to their music and pick ones he feels passionate about. PARMA also has a stable of artists with whom it has a long-term relationship and often puts out albums. And of course Lord and his staff keep up to date with what is happening in the music world.
Often this takes him to Europe, which has a rich tradition of classical music.
“I think the Czech Republic is the most musical place I’ve ever been,” Lord said.
Likewise, Russia has some of the most talented string players in the world.
Lord likes to match a composer with an ensemble that can perform his or her work. He said the company has a variety of pianists in case the new piece needs a soloist.
Lord worked with so many great musicians abroad that eventually he wanted to work with those closer to home. So his group recently started the PARMA Orchestra, which had its first recording session last month and will hold its first public performance next year.
“New Hampshire has a rich arts environment,” Lord said. “But there are limited opportunities north of Boston for new music and living composers.” The orchestra is conducted by John Page, a well-known musician from Exeter.
Besides providing an orchestra to perform more modern pieces, Lord is looking for additional revenue sources. One of these is licensing. Since Lord has previously done a lot of work in independent film and he created the theme song for New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange, he has taken PARMA’s extensive catalog and placed it in film and television.
“These are serious concert works,” Lord said. “But I’ve found a place for them on PBS, the Discovery Channel and A&E.”
Would Lord ever take a serious piece of music and attach it to some of the less-than-serious television shows out there? Yes. Lord said he has put several pieces on I Used to Be Fat on MTV.
“When you write a piece of music, the internal emotion you’re feeling may not have anything to do with how people hear it,” Lord said. “I let people make up their own minds, and that is what separates us from the bulk of our competitors.”
This ability to evolve is critical for orchestral music. Lord said the exposure on television may lead people to love a piece they might otherwise never have heard.
“The last thing people want is for this serious music to become a museum piece,” Lord said.