If digital files are the new vinyl records, then term searching is the new crate digging. Background knowledge once helped collectors and connoisseurs plumb a local record store's stock. Now they might use it to pick the right keyword when they're online.
But even that know-how won't necessarily help them find the track they seek. "A year ago, I looked for (Odyssey's) 'Native New Yorker' on iTunes, and I couldn't find it," says Hosh Gureli, RCA Music Group vice president of A&R. "In fact, none of the classic (dance) stuff was up there." A lot of the material, Gureli's research soon revealed, was sitting in RCA's Pennsylvania storage facility, confined to dusty half-inch tapes.
Prompted by that experience and his idea that "dance music in general has gone digital quicker than other genres of music," Gureli started work on the project that would become the RCA Dance Vault.
The ambitious effort is bringing a feast of rarities to the modern corner record store, iTunes. The vault's initial offering has just come online and includes previously non-digitized, original dance classics ("Native New Yorker"), promo-only extended mixes (Eurythmics' 12-minute "Right by Your Side"), DJ tools like a cappellas and bonus beats and new material without any other feasible means of release (Joe Bermudez's remix of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You").
The vault is part catalog capitalization and part crusade: There's money to be made, but not anytime soon. Gureli puts the average cost of digitally remastering each track at around $800. And that's not counting the effort and expense of researching the license information and uploading to iTunes.
"It's a labor of love," he says. "The return is not great, but it could be. And if it does start to show a profit, that's going to make a big statement for dance music, and it will, I think, get other labels interested" in doing the same thing.