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Gathering a Grammy

By JOHN HARRINGTON - IR Business Editor - 11/12/06

Talking to Bob and Gwen Baran about their music production business, it’s difficult to discern what’s been more important to the enterprise’s success: the music itself, or the marketing.

Working from their custom-built home/studio near Canyon Ferry Lake, the Barans started their Gathering Wave record label in 2003, but didn’t publicly launch the label until September 2004, with five of Bob Baran’s new-age albums ready for distribution.

“We spent our first year doing nothing but getting the music prepared, doing the graphics, designing the Web site, things like that,” Bob Baran said. “We didn’t sell our first album outside of Montana until April 2005.”

Today the Barans claim their music is available in 270 Borders stores and some 400 outlets across the country, all signed up one at a time. Rather than sign on with a music distributor, the Barans elected to do the job themselves, maintaining control and giving the albums more attention than they felt they would get from a distributor charged will selling thousands of titles.

“It’s all about building relationships, which is true for any business,” Gwen Baran said. She works the phone tirelessly, selling eight CDs to a Borders here, a dozen to a massage therapist there, operating a mail room out of the house and watching as the label slowly makes a name for itself.

A similar marketing push landed Baran on the official ballot for the Grammy Awards in a handful of categories, including New Age Album of the Year for “Escape Music: A New Dawn,” inspired in part by the sunrise as seen from the east Helena Valley.

Baran has long been interested in both music and marketing — he self-published a book on multi-level marketing some 20 years ago. In 2003, money was cheap to borrow and the time seemed right to make the leap and do it all himself.

“You need to be willing to put everything you have on the line,” Bob said. “Because when you do that, there’s a switch that goes off inside, and you know it will work out — it has to.”

Baran recognizes that the two sides of the business — creating the music and selling it — require different skills.

“First there’s the artist in me. My music is stream-of-consciousness, when I connect with it and trust it,” he said. “There’s also the part of me that’s real-world in terms of how people really think, how they really act and what motivates them. That’s what marketing is: it’s problem-solving.”

And learning to understand the market for new-age music was part of why the Barans waited a year to formally launch the business. They wanted to have all their logos, packaging and marketing materials prepared before trying to make the first sale.

“It’s culture marketing,” Bob said. “You’ve got to speak their language, use the colors they like. It’s all an extension of the music.”

Looking to the future, Baran believes CDs and other traditional forms of music will go by the wayside, with download retail kiosks being where people will increasingly go to buy songs in electronic form. He’s excited by the prospect.

“The principles of marketing apply to this business no matter what,” he said. “The medium may change, but the principles still apply.”

John Harrington can be reached at 447-4080 or john.harrington@helenair.com.

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