Sound Tracks Become Virgin Territory

Does the record industry have sound-track fever or what?

In the past three months, two different movie collections have topped the Billboard charts: first "La Bamba" and now "Dirty Dancing" (which, in an amazing coup, has edged out both Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen's current albums).

And there've been plenty of big sellers in the not-too-distant past, ranging from "Beverly Hills Cop I and II" to "Top Gun."

So the market's bullish. One label that's taking heed is Virgin Records--so much so that it's getting into the sound-track market full time.

Virgin, which since starting up its U.S. wing earlier this year has developed a reputation as one of the industry's most adventuresome companies, has launched its own sound-track label, Virgin Movie Music.

"The pop marketplace is going through an incredible maturization process," said Jeff Ayeroff, Virgin's co-managing director. "As the pop audience grows older, we're finding lots of people out there who really like sound tracks, especially when you can offer them music that's alive and invigorating.

"Sound-track fans also have a completely different sense of brand-name identification than a teen record buyer. It's almost a subliminal thing--I know people who've bought new records just because they were released by Windham Hill.

"That's why we've established this whole new label. If someone is in the sound-track section at Tower Records and they find one of our (Ennio) Morricone albums or our upcoming Nino Rota hits project, then maybe they'll go for one of our other sound-track collections."

Unlike Atlantic Records, which seems to have cornered the teen/horror genre, and CBS, which specializes in blockbuster films, Virgin is aiming for diversity. The label has already released sound-track projects featuring U-2 guitarist the Edge, Thomas Dolby and Italian film composer Morricone, as well as a sound track to the new Jon Cryer film, "Hiding Out."

Three more sound tracks will hit the stores this month, including "Walker," with music by ex-Clash leader Joe Strummer, and "The Last Emperor," featuring music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also stars in the film) and the Talking Heads' David Byrne.

"Everyone seems to be going for a big hit like 'Top Gun,' " Ayeroff said. "We're aiming more for a 'Chariots of Fire' project--something that could be both an artistic and a marketing success.

"A lot of people forget that the music business stretches far beyond Le Dome and the L.A. hangouts. Ryuichi Sakamoto's sound track to 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence' may not have made much of an impact here--but it sold 750,000 copies in France alone."

Virgin has been linked with sound tracks from its very inception. Virgin's first release as an English label in 1973 was Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," which was used as the theme song from "The Exorcist"--and sold 6.5 million copies worldwide.

"Oldfield, who's still recording for us, was the Herb Alpert of Virgin Records--he really put the company on the map," Ayeroff said. "And interestingly enough, Virgin's first release in America was also a sound track--'The Mission,' which cost very little to make and has already sold 150,000 copies for us.

"The great things about sound tracks are that they keep selling. People see a movie on cable or hear a record at someone's house and--boom--that's another album sold. 'The Mission' has been doing almost 5,000 copies a month since it came out. And if you have 10 records like that, you're selling 50,000 albums a month.

"For sound tracks, that's a good track record, any way you look at it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World