If you were around a few years ago when labels such as Silva Screen and THATS ENTERTAINMENT RECORDS started to become more and more visible in shops, then you would certainly recall the name of John Yap, its thanks to people such as John that we can be thankful that a number of scores from movies and shows were released at first onto LP record and then onto Compact Disc. I always recall seeing the TER releases, many being film scores that had been issued in the States on Varese Sarabande and TER ensuring that collectors in the UK and Europe did not miss out.
I caught up with John recently, who also runs Jay records and he was gracious enough to answer my questions.
I can remember TER starting up, I think the first soundtracks I added to my collection on the label were COMPANY OF WOLVES and 84 CHARRING CROSS ROAD both by George Fenton. The label however was more devoted to theatre and show recordings, was it your own interest in these that led you to establish the label?
YES. MY PASSIONS ARE THEATRE AND MUSIC. IT STARTED WITH MUSICALS AND GRADUATED TO OPERA. HOWEVER, I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED AND APPRECIATED THE MUSIC SCORES IN THE MOVIES. BEING A COLLECTOR (STAMPS, DC COMICS, BOOKS, LPS etc.) I NATURALLY COLLECTED AND AMASSED A LARGE COLLECTION OF FILMS AND SHOWS LPS. WHEN MY INTERESTS IN OPERA BEGAN TO GROW, I STARTED TO COLLECT OPERA LPS. THAT SOON GREW TO BEYOND WHAT SPACE MY FLAT COULD ACCOMMODATE. SINCE I WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY LISTENING TO THE OPERA RECORDINGS, MY FILM AND SHOWS COLLECTION BECAME ALMOST REDUNDANT. I DECIDED TO SELL MY FILMS AND SHOWS COLLECTION. KNOWING THAT THERE IS AN INTERNATIONAL COLLECTORS MARKET OUT THERE, RATHER THAN SELLING THEM (THOUSANDS) TO A SECOND HAND DEALER FOR PITTANCE, I ADVERTISED MY COLLECTION FOR SALE IN A COUPLE OF SMALL ADS IN “FILMS AND FILMING” AND THE GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE.
THE RESPONSE FROM COLLECTORS ALL OVER THE WORLD WAS PHENOMENAL, IN SPITE OF MY ASKING HIGH PREMIUM PRICES FOR THE RARE TITLES. THERE WERE SOME TITLES THAT I COULD NOT SUPPLY BUT I KEPT A RECORD OF THE COLLECTORS’ DETAILS IN MY “WANTS LIST”. THE REASON IS THAT SOME OTHER COLLECTORS WHO COULD NOT AFFORD MY ASKING PRICES FOR THE RARE TITLES, WOULD OFFER SEVERAL OTHER TITLES PLUS CASH SUPPLEMENTS IN EXCHANGE FOR THEM. I NOTICED THAT IF I TOOK THOSE OFFERS, I WOULD BE ABLE TO OFFER THEM TO THE COLLECTORS IN THE “WANTS LIST” AND IN EFFECT, I WOULD BE GETTING A MUCH HIGHER AMOUNT FOR THE ORIGINAL TITLE. I STARTED TO GO TO SECONDHAND RECORDS SHOPS AND BUY UP WHAT I KNEW TO BE SOUGHT AFTER TITLES. WHAT STARTED OFF AS A “SELLING OFF” OF MY COLLECTION FROM A COUPLE OF SMALL ADS RAPIDLY TURNED INTO A MAIL ORDER BUSINESS. I HAVE A BSC DEGREE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN (WHICH PROVED TO BE TREMENDOUSLY HANDY) AND I WAS WORKING IN AN ADVERTISING AND DESIGN AGENCY AT THE TIME. I HAD JUST SECURED A MAJOR BRITISH AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN WITH MY DESIGN AND CONCEPT FOR THE AGENCY. I WAS THEIR RISING STAR. I WAS MAKING A GOOD LIVING AS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, BUT I NOTICED THAT I WAS EARNING MUCH MORE FROM REPLYING A FEW LETTERS IN THE EVENING THAN MY DAYTIME JOB. IN SPITE OF MY RISING STATUS IN THE DESIGN AND ADVERTISING AGENCY, I TOOK THE PLUNGE AND GAVE UP THE JOB AND CONCENTRATED ON THE MAIL ORDER. THIS GAVE ME MORE TIME TO SCOUR SECOND-HAND RECORDS SHOPS OUTSIDE LONDON AND AROUND THE COUNTRY TO FIND MORE COLLECTORS TITLES. THE MAIL ORDER OPERATION TOOK OFF.
WHEN IT GREW TO A SIZE BEYOND WHAT MY FLAT COULD ACCOMMODATE (OVER-FLOWING WITH SECOND HAND LPS) I DECIDED TO OPEN A SPECIALIST FILM AND SHOWS RECORDS SHOP, IN DRURY LANE. MINE WAS THE FIRST SUCH SHOP ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. BOLSTERED BY MY LARGE MAIL ORDER CUSTOMERS LIST, MY SHOP WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS, WE WERE IN PROFIT FROM DAY ONE. THE SUCCESS WAS DUE IN PART TO MY PERSONAL INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER COLLECTORS/CUSTOMERS WITH OUR SHARED KNOWLEDGE AND INTERESTS. IT WAS NO ORDINARY SHOP. I SERVED COFFEE AND WINE WHILST CONVERSING WITH THE CUSTOMERS WHO WOULD INEVITABLY ENDED UP LEAVING THE SHOP WITH A HANDFUL OF LPS, HAPPY AND SATISFIED. WHEN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COVENT GARDEN MARKET INVITED APPLICATIONS FOR THE 49 UNITS FROM INTERESTING SHOPS/BUSINESSES, THERE WERE OVER 10,000 APPLICATIONS AND WE WERE ONE OF THE SUCCESSFUL ONES. WHEN WE MOVED INTO THE PREMISES IN THE COVENT GARDEN MARKET, THE PASSING TRADE (IN ADDITION TO THE COLLECTORS) GAVE US A TEN-FOLD INCREASE IN OUR BUSINESS. AS WITH EVERY BUSINESSES, AFTER A CERTAIN GROWTH, INSTEAD OF OPENING ANOTHER BRANCH OF THE SHOP, I DECIDED TO START A LABEL SPECIALISING IN FILMS AND SHOWS. THAT’S HOW TER/JAY RECORDS WAS BORN.
Some of the film scores you released were from major movies at the time, RAMBO, DON’T LOOK NOW etc, were you careful in what film music you selected to release, and did you gauge it via the composers reputation or by how well the film was doing?
I WAS FORTUNATE IN THAT WHEN I DECIDED TO START RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS, THE MAJOR RECORD LABELS WERE NOT ACTIVELY RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS. THE MAJOR FILM STUDIOS NEEDED SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS TO HELP PROMOTE THEIR MOVIES AND SO THEY WERE HAPPY TO JUST GIVE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS TO REPUTABLE LABELS TO RELEASE WITHOUT HEFTY FEES. MY COMPANY JOINED FORCES WITH VARESE SARABANDE TO PICK UP SOUNDTRACKS FROM BOTH THE UK AND THE USA. AT THE TIME, I WAS VERY FORTUNATE IN THAT I BECAME CLOSE FRIENDS WITH THE MAN WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THE TOWER RECORDS SHOP THAT FACED PICCADILLY CIRCUS.
THAT FRIENDSHIP GAVE ME THE USE OF ONE OF THE TWO LARGE FRONT WINDOWS OF THE SHOP FOR PROMOTION OF ANY OF MY RELEASES WHENEVER I WANTED, WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY THEM THOUSANDS OF RENTAL FEES. THIS WAS A GREAT ATTRACTION FOR THE FILM COMPANIES IN THE PROMOTION OF THEIR FILMS. THEY WERE VERY KEEN FOR ME TO RELEASE THE SOUNDTRACKS OF THEIR FILMS. I USED TO ARRANGE WITH THE FILM COMPANIES FOR TOWER RECORDS TO HAVE SPECIAL EXCLUSIVE PREVIEWS OF THE FILMS (USUALLY IN THE ODEON LEICESTER SQUARE) FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS WHO PURCHASED THE RELEVANT SOUNDTRACKS DURING EACH CAMPAIGN. THIS WAS A WIN, WIN SITUATION FOR THE FILM COMPANIES, TOWER RECORDS AND US.
TOWER RECORDS WOULD PROMOTE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS AND THE FILMS WITH MAJOR DISPLAYS IN THE SHOP AND RACKED THE ALBUMS AROUND THE SHOP. WE LITERALLY SOLD THOUSANDS OF THOSE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS THERE. AT THE SAME TIME, I ALSO BECAME GREAT FRIENDS WITH THE MANAGER OF THE FILMS AND SHOWS DEPARTMENT OF THE HMV FLAGSHIP SHOP ON OXFORD STREET. I WAS GIVEN MORE OR LESS THE SAME PRIVILEGES FOR ONE OF THEIR WINDOWS AND IN STORE PROMOTIONS.
WITH HMV, I CONCENTRATED ON THE ORIGINAL CAST MUSICAL ALBUMS. IT WAS A FABULOUS TIME FOR ME AND MY COMPANY. WITH REGARDS TO WHAT I DECIDED TO RELEASE, THERE WAS NO FAST RULES. SOMETIMES ITS THE COMPOSERS, SOMETIMES ITS THE GENRE AND SOMETIMES ITS THE ACTORS. I REMEMBER SITTING ALL BY MYSELF, ALONE IN A PREVIEW CINEMA WATCHING “MAD MAX 2” THAT WARNER BROS. LAID ON FOR ME. THIS WAS BEFORE ANYONE HAD ANY IDEA OF THE FILM. I WAS VERY EXCITED BY THE IMAGES OF A YOUNG MEL GIBSON IN THE MAD MAX LEATHER SUIT. I DECIDED TO RELEASE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM EVEN THOUGH THE ALBUM CONSISTED MOSTLY OF SOUND EFFECTS. I MADE SURE THAT THE COVER OF THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM HAD THE IMAGE OF MEL GIBSON IN HIS MAD MAX LEATHER SUIT. I WAS PROVEN RIGHT IN THAT WE SOLD THOUSANDS OF THAT ALBUM.
“WITNESS” WAS ANOTHER SOUNDTRACK ALBUM THAT SOLD THOUSANDS BY THE COVER IMAGE (AND HELPED BY MAURICE JARRE’S WONDERFUL SYNTHESISED SCORE OF COURSE). I WAS CONFIDENT THAT HARRISON FORD’S PERFORMANCE AND FACE WERE SO COMPELLING IN THE MOVIE, THAT I JUST HAD HIS FACE ON THE FRONT COVER. NO TITLE AND NO COMPOSER. AND IT WORKED. I BELIEVE THAT SOME PEOPLE FRAMED THE LP SLEEVE BECAUSE THOSE EMPTY SLEEVES KEPT BEING STOLEN FROM THE STORES. THOSE HALCYON DAYS CAME TO AN END WHEN THE MOVIES STARTED USING POP SONGS FOR THEIR SOUNDTRACKS AND I REMEMBER VIRGIN RECORDS STARTED TO OFFER HUGH ADVANCES OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS FOR THEIR SOUNDTRACKS. WHEN THE FILM COMPANIES STARTED TO ASK FOR HEFTY ADVANCES FOR THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHTS, I DECIDED THAT IT WAS NOT WORTH THE RISKS AND STOPPED RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS GENERALLY.
What was the quantity run on a soundtrack compared to a popular show that was doing well in the west end?
ONCE UPON A TIME WE WOULD CONFIDENTLY PRESS 5,000 UNITS, NOW WE ARE HAPPY TO SELL MORE THAN 500. WHEN WE LICENSED OUR RECORDINGS TO POLYDOR, SONY OR BMG FOR THE USA MARKET, THEY WOULD SHIP OUT 60,000 TO 100,000 UNITS ON EACH RELEASE. THAT USED TO BE WHEN THERE WERE RECORD SHOPS EVERYWHERE. NOW IT IS MOSTLY STREAMING AND DOWNLOADS. HAVING SAID THAT WE HAVE RETAINED A CORE OF LOYAL COLLECTORS WHO ARE ARDENT SUPPORTERS OF OUR PHYSICAL RELEASES. SOUNDTRACKS VS ORIGINAL CASTS? IN OUR CASE, WE CONTINUE TO SELL OUR ORIGINAL CASTS MUSICAL CDS IN MORE MEANINGFUL NUMBERS.
Did you distribute your own releases or was this handled by another company?
WE USED TO HAVE DISTRIBUTORS IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD. AS THE DEMISE OF THE BRICKS AND MORTAR SHOPS STARTED, WE DISPENSED WITH THE DISTRIBUTORS EXCEPTING FOR OUR AMERICAN DISTRIBUTOR, ALLEGRO CORP. HOWEVER, ABOUT THREE YEARS AGO, WE TOOK LEGAL ACTIONS TO BANKRUPT THEM TO PREVENT THEM FROM THEIR ATTEMPTED ILLEGAL SEIZURE OF THE PROPERTIES BELONGING TO ALL THEIR DISTRIBUTED LABELS. THEY THOUGHT THAT THEY COULD JUST SEIZE OUR STOCK ON A FALSE NARRATIVE AND LIQUIDATE THEM CHEAPLY FOR THEIR SOLE BENEFITS. WE SUCCEEDED IN OUR PETITION TO BANKRUPT THEM AND WE ALL RETRIEVED OUR PROPERTY. NOW WE SELL MAINLY ON AMAZON, DIRECTLY THROUGH OUR OWN WEBSITE AND DOWNLOADS ON ITUNES. WE HAVE CREATED SHORTER (HIGHLIGHTS) VERSIONS OF OUR MAIN ALBUMS SPECIFICALLY FOR STREAMING. SO, ANYONE WANTING TO LISTEN TO THE FULL ALBUMS WILL STILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM.
Because of COVID 19, live shows have ground to a halt, and they are saying they won’t return until 2021, Have sales slumped for you or have you found people are buying more because they cannot go to the theatre?
INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, WE HAVE SOLD MORE CDS THAN EVER SINCE THE LOCKDOWN BEGAN. SO, WE ARE VERY HAPPY.
What release have you found to be continuingly popular and has sold steadily over the years?
THE BEAUTY AND ADVANTAGE WITH THE MUSICAL THEATRE CATALOGUE IS THAT THE SHOWS THEMSELVES ARE PERENNIALS. THEY ARE CONSTANTLY REVIVED AROUND THE WORLD AND SO THERE IS ALWAYS DEMAND FOR OUR RECORDINGS ACROSS THE ENTIRE CATALOGUE. OUR MOST SUCCESSFUL RECORDING, ONE THAT RECOUPED BEFORE WE EVEN RELEASED IT OFFICIALLY, IS “WEST SIDE STORY”. WE HAD A DEAL WITH A MAGAZINE PUBLISHING COMPANY TO PROVIDE 75 RECORDINGS OF MUSICALS (12 TRACKS EACH) FOR THEIR PARTWORKS PUBLICATION. “WEST SIDE STORY” WAS THE FIRST RELEASE AND IT SOLD 1.8 MILLION COPIES. WE WERE ON A FEE AND ROYALTY DEAL.
If a show is doing well and is becoming popular, how do you go about releasing an album, who do you contact, the composer, theatre company or a mix of both and how does the process work from the initial contact to the release of the recording?
IF A SHOW IS RUNNING ON BROADWAY OR THE WEST END, THE FIRST PORT OF CALL IS WITH THE PRODUCERS. THEY WOULD THEN OBTAIN THE RIGHTS FROM THE AUTHORS. THEN THEY OR WE WOULD ENGAGE THE CAST AND MUSICIANS VIA EQUITY. AFTER THAT THE ONUS IS ON US TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING, STUDIOS, MANUFACTURING, PROMOTION AND DISTRIBUTION.
Where did your love of theatre and musicals come from and is your collection of music mainly from shows?
WHEN I WAS A CHILD GROWING UP IN KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA MY MOTHER WOULD TAKE ME TO SEE ALL THOSE WONDERFUL MGM MUSICAL FILMS. I CAN REMEMBER SEEING “PAGAN LOVE SONG” AND “KISMET” THAT’S WHERE MY LOVE FOR MUSICALS WAS BORN. AS FOR MY LP COLLECTION, THE MAJORITY OF THE COLLECTION WAS MUSICAL CAST AND SOUNDTRACK RECORDINGS, BUT I HAD A SIZEABLE COLLECTION OF NON-MUSICAL FILM SOUNDTRACKS AS WELL AS PERSONALITIES OF THE STAGE AND SCREEN.
The soundtrack market is a small one, and seems to be becoming more and more specialist, would you consider releasing soundtracks from newer movies or do you think that the market is too specialist now?
OUR DAYS OF RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS ARE MORE OR LESS OVER. THERE ARE MORE SUITABLE AND EXPERIENCED COMPANIES RELEASING THEM NOWADAYS.
Is there more online purchasing nowadays, and do you find that most people prefer to download or stream recordings?
THERE ARE THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MARKETS INVOLVED HERE. ONE: THE COLLECTORS, THEY WILL BUY THE PHYSICAL CDS. TWO: THE MUSIC LOVERS, THEY WILL DOWNLOAD TO KEEP, FOR CONVENIENCE SAKE. THREE: THE CASUAL LISTENERS, THEY STREAM. BECAUSE STREAMING IS FREE, IT IS THE MOST POPULAR. FOR US, DOWNLOAD IS STILL THE MOST PROFITABLE.
Staying with buying online or streaming, do you think that this has somewhat taken the fun out of collecting, because back in the 70’s and 80’s one had to go out and find the recordings, now it’s a case of click and next day delivery?
DEFINITELY. THE FUN AND EXCITEMENT OF FLICKING THROUGH RECORDS IN THE SHOPS CANNOT BE MEASURED OR EXPLAINED. THE SHEER ECSTASY OF COMING ACROSS A LONG SOUGHT-AFTER LP IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION.
There is a real interest in buying records once again, do you buy LP records for your collection, and are you producing LPS of recordings on your labels?
NO AND NO.
Knowing what you know now, would you do it all again the same as you did or maybe a little different?
YES, BUT NOT UNDER THE PRESENT CONDITION AND SITUATION. I WAS VERY LUCKY AND BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO JUST START A RECORD LABEL AND PROSPER FROM DAY ONE WITHOUT MUCH FINANCIAL INJECTION AND RISKS, AT THE TIME WHEN I DID.