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The Last Days of Telarc

While Telarc Records, as we knew it, did not officially cease to exist on the last day of March, it will only be a shell of its former self. As one of its principals put it, “Its heart and soul” are gone.

On that day, Concord Record Group closed down the in-house production staff of 26 people, including producers Bob Woods and his wife Elaine Martone, and brilliant young engineer, Michael Bishop. Woods and Martone have become an independent producing team, and Bishop, with others on his team, have founded Five/Four Productions to do recording work.

Telarc’s situation is far from unique. In the past several years, the production teams working for all the major labels have been “let go,” and that includes those at Sony Records, EMI, Decca, and more recently DG. This is the result of sagging sales of recordings industry-wide. It is a story that has long gone unreported in the audio press.

Seeing that downward trend, the two owners of Telarc, Woods and Jack Renner, sold the company to the Concord people in December of 2005. Exactly three years later, Concord announced it was pulling the plug on 31 March. Renner had taken the money, going into an early retirement (still doing the occasional recording gig), and Bishop and his crew left early to get their new firm going. In a lateral and unrelated move, Dave Love, the president of Heads Up (the jazz label Telarc bought in 2000), was “terminated” at the beginning of March, apparently because he did not see eye-to-eye with Concord’s management.Mark Wexler is now running Heads Up as well as what’s left of Telarc, reporting to Concord.

The Telarc label will continue in name. Its catalog will remain available. And recordings already in the works will be released until early summer. And, Woods says, he and Martone will continue to produce for Telarc when the occasion merits it, most likely on Atlanta Symphony sessions. (Cincinnati’s orchestra, for the time being, will not be recording.)

Woods says, “[T]he big hammer fell [on Telarc] in the first half of 2008,” when the company began to get a 55 per cent return rate (or more) on its discs from retailers who said they were no longer able to sell classical music as they had in the past. Consumer tastes have changed, they said, and Woods agrees. He then foresaw the coming end of Telarc’s independence and now says, “I couldn’t blame Concord for what they did; if I had been in their shoes I would have done the same thing.” The sales and marketing team, as well as the Cleveland-based warehouse staff are being kept on by Concord. Everything else, says Bishop, will be out-sourced; “the heart and soul of the Telarc sound is gone with us.”Ironic since the Telarc team produced the best sounding recordings from a major label since the Golden Age of Mercury and RCA some 40 years ago.—— HP

[This article is based on interviews with Bob Woods, Michael Bishop and Jack Renner, and two, shall we say, informed sources.]

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