Although La-La Land Records has been a best friend to film geeks of all sorts since 2002, the boutique record label and distributor won the eternal adulation of Star Trek fans in early April with the release of Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection, a 15-disc box set featuring every piece of music from the earliest days of this iconic franchise. Arguably their most elaborate release to date, the set is absolutely spectacular, not only compiling music from every episode of Gene Roddenberry’s Original Series, but uncovering and re-mastering score cues and sound effects that have never before been available to the public. And arriving just two years before the franchise’s 50th anniversary, the set evidences both the longevity and lasting impact of Star Trek, and La-La Land’s commitment to meeting fan interest head-on with comprehensive, high-quality releases.
To commemorate the April 12, 2014 release of The Original Series Soundtrack Collection, La-La Land founders Matt Verboys and Michael Gerhard teamed up with the set’s producers Neil S. Bulk and Jeff Bond to talk about their ongoing partnership with content creators to provide fans with their favorite movie music. In addition to Bulk and Bond discussing the process of unearthing and assembling all of the material for the box set, Verboys and Gerhard explored the origins, operating methods and ambitions of their increasingly popular label, and offered a few hints about what might be in store in the months and years to come.
How long did it take to assemble all of the material in the new Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection box set?
Neil S. Bulk: In terms of audio material, our digital transfers started in March or April 2012 and everything was edited, restored and mastered that summer. When we announced in August, all 15 discs were done. We did some additional fixes on them after that, but the audio work was done in about 5-6 months for everything.
What was the most exciting or surprising material to discover in the process of assembling the set, in terms of unreleased content?
Bulk: As a Trek fan, there were a lot of surprises. The first thing was the sound quality. Growing up with earlier releases I thought I knew how this music sounded. It wasn’t until I heard the new transfers that Johnny Dee Davis did at Precision AudioSonics was I aware of the massive sonic upgrade we were going to present. This isn’t a knock against the earlier releases, we had access to the first generation recordings, which in some cases earlier albums didn’t. Another surprise was learning that The City on the Edge of Forever was recorded in stereo. We think this was done because of the vocals recorded for that episode. They’d want the vocals on their own track.
Jeff Bond: The most surprising content was definitely the unused material–a number of cues by Gerald Fried from Amok Time, Cat’s Paw and The Paradise Syndrome that were not used in the episodes for which they were written and for the most part were then forgotten about and never used in any of the later tracked episodes. And some of the library cues, particularly by Joseph Mullendore, that were never used or only partially used–to hear Star Trek music from 45 years ago that had never been heard until now was a huge revelation.
The Trek set is limited to 6000 units. How do you decide how many units to create, and how do you get a sense of how many will sell?
Matt Verboys: In deciding the amount of the limited run, many factors come into play — cost, union fees, customer demand, the popularity of the film, show or game and its genre, and the composers themselves, not to mention the performance history of our own catalog. Each and every release has us running through these factors in ways that are unique to that title. For this release we actually reached out to the fans very early on (not the usual coarse of action for us) to see what kind of interest there was for this box set. 6000 units averaged it out.
How did La-La Land get started? What was sort of the guiding principle of the company?
Michael Gerhard: Matt was working as a development person for some independent producers who wanted to expand their business into soundtracks. I was working at an independent record company at the time, having most of my ideas shot down. Matt brought me over to his company because I had the knowledge and connections to make some releases happen for these guys. Once we did a few titles with them it became apparent that starting our own label was the way to go (plus we didn’t quite care for some of their business practices). Our guiding principle has always been to celebrate and preserve film and television scores. We’re film music enthusiasts ourselves, so we aspire to produce the type of quality product we’d be excited to buy ourselves as fans. Part of it is selfish. If you want an official Batman The Animated Series or Airplane! score release to exist, create a label to make it happen!
How tough or easy is it to forge partnerships with composers and musicians to release these soundtracks? How cooperative are the studios, in general?
Verboys: If you don’t have deep pockets to start, and we didn’t, it takes years to build up the trust, not to mention the team of producers, artists and writers, to get to the point where you can do business with composers and studios on a meaningful level. Composers and studios are our allies — without them there are no soundtrack releases — and, while it can be a long and sometimes complicated process, in the end we find everyone is typically excited about the final product and ready to do it again. Often studios and composers are just as eager to have something come out as the fans are.
What sort of restoration or mastering has to go into these releases? What are the parameters of that process for you in terms of making it sound as good as possible but not, say, change the material too much?
Gerhard: It’s a mandate of ours that we only work with some of the best sound folks in the business — ones who have deeply respected and proven ears in the community for restoring and mastering film music. It is incredibly important to us that we release the best sounding material possible, while protecting the creative integrity of the original recording.
What kind of business model do you work from? How tough or easy is it to get people interested in physical soundtracks in a largely digital era?
Verboys: There are always people who will want the physical soundtrack and the sound quality, safety and emotional connection it provides. Increasingly, the world of soundtrack score music buyers is a small, collector’s-driven market and the die-hards still expect there to be a physical release. While the days of selling even 20,000 units of a popular, current score are over (with rare exceptions) there is a core following of about ten thousand people worldwide who are avid soundtrack buyers and the trick is connecting with them and providing the kind of quality releases they are thirsting for. That said, whenever possible, we try to obtain digital download rights for our releases, though the studios often retain those.
What’s coming up from the label? Do you have any plans to venture into vinyl, which continues to become more and more popular?
Gerhard: We’re prepping our usual eclectic slate of film/TV and videogame cd soundtracks, both current and archival. Some exciting box sets are on the horizon, not to mention some long-requested archival releases from John Williams and others. We recently let loose our first digital-download-only release, so we’re always exploring just about anything as we look toward the future, be it CD, digital, vinyl, or 8-Track. Well… maybe not 8-Track.