Composer Richard Brooks (2006 New Music Champion) never had it in mind to start a record label at all. The chairman of the music department at Nassau Community College and an active participant in the Society of Composers, Brooks more than had his hands full already when, in 1985, he and a colleague, composer Reynold Weidenaar, decided to self-release an LP of their music.

Weidenaar had some experience as a recording engineer, recalls Brooks, “and I had been doing some production work for what was then the American Society of University Composers, which had had a series of LPs which I produced. Basically we were just doing this one thing for ourselves, and we wanted it to be nice and professional and so on and so forth, hence the label name. I remember we spent an afternoon going through the dictionary looking for a catchy word that we could use for a label name, and settled upon Capstone.

“A year or two later, we gave a presentation to what's now the Society of Composers—I think it was still the A.S.U.C. back then—at their national conference at Northwestern, on how to produce your own recording, which was very well-received and lots of people were interested,” Brooks continues. “But the curious thing is that not so many people were interested in doing it themselves, but somehow getting out on ‘our label.’ And I kept saying, Well, one record doesn't really make a label.” But the seed was planted and Brooks opted to pursue it, with Weidenaar bowing out but giving the label his blessing.

Funding for Capstone releases comes from a number of sources, but all production costs are essentially absorbed by the artists themselves. “The artists provide a studio-ready CD-R master or a DAT, and they provide camera-ready artwork and material for the booklet notes,” Brooks explains. “Sometimes I help assemble that. Unfortunately, the label doesn't provide enough income for me to be able to subsidize the production costs. But sometimes the artists are able to get funding from their universities, or from small grants.”

The cornerstone of the Capstone catalog is the series of recordings dedicated to the Society of Composers, Inc. (or SCI), a large national organization of some 1200 composers from the United States and Canada as well as a handful of foreign members. “They do a large conference and festival every year, usually taking advantage of a university facility, says Brooks. “They present concerts, give a few papers and have an ongoing CD series—13 in that series so far—which is produced on Capstone, and I do that work for them free of charge. They also have a publication series which has 20-some volumes of music from the members. Both the recording series and the publication series are selected by a peer review process; it's a competitive selection process.”

Brooks says his goals for Capstone are quite simple and clear: “I'm very devoted to the concept of helping American composers—I will not do a CD that doesn't have a substantial portion of it devoted to American composers, preferably living ones. I have sometimes stretched the definition to cover composers who we generally don't think of as American but who actually lived here for a long time, for example Hindemith, who actually was an American citizen while he lived here. But generally that's my aim... it's a labor of love, I'm a composer myself, and I know so many talented people out there whose music needs to be heard.”

(From “Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels“ by Steve Smith © 1999 NewMusicBox).

Excerpts from an Interview with Richard Brooks
by Diane Sward Rapaport

Rapaport: Many people think that “contemporary classical” means the atonal, serial compositions of Schoenberg's disciples. Some of my friends get downright hostile when they hear that music. Is this changing?

Brooks: Today, a lot of composers who were influenced by jazz, rock and world music are using tonal based systems and writing music that is much more accessible to contemporary audiences. Their music is more in tune with what lovers of classical music are comfortable with and like. A very good sign that the music is becoming much more accessible and desirable is the signing of three contemporary composers to major record label deals: Richard Danielpour, Aaron Kermis, who won the 1998 Pulitzer, and Henrik Gorecki from Poland, who had a bestseller with his Second Symphony . All had put out records on smaller labels before being signed.

Rapaport: I'm beginning to think that contemporary classical is a catch-all phrase that encompasses a lot of interesting styles.

Brooks: Some people are hard to categorize. ... It is hard to draw the distinctions because so many contemporary classical composers are interested in a broad range of creativity and have a whole new set of electronic and multi-media tools at their disposal. It is a very exciting time for new composers in all genres.

Rapaport: Why did you found Capstone?

Brooks: One afternoon, my composer/recording engineer friend Reynold Weidenaar-an important multimedia ioneer-and I talked ourselves into doing an album of our own music. We spent an afternoon trying to think up catchy titles. We called the album “Music Visions” and the record label Capstone. We thought it was a one-shot thing.

The next year, we gave a presentation at a composer's conference about how to produce your own record. Afterward, a curious thing happened. Several composers approached me and said ‘It's okay doing it ourselves, but how about doing it on your label?’ We did a second, then a third. The label began to grow by word of mouth ... I have a sense of mission to get some very wonderful music out to where audiences can find it.

Rapaport: Doesn't it cost a fortune to make a record with a full orchestra? How do you keep recording costs down?

Brooks: By engaging orchestras in Eastern Europe, we can contain costs tremendously. For example, the annual International Music Days festival in Constanta, Romania, is dominated by American composers. In addition to performing their pieces publicly, they schedule recording sessions with the Constanta Symphony orchestra and do the rest of it back here. It would cost three to four times as much to do it here. The festivals and recordings have helped bring the Constanta Symphony prestige and the orchestra has twice toured the United States under the auspices of Columbia Artists Management. The festival is a collaboration of the International New Music Consortium, New York University, the Constanta Symphony, Orfeus Choir, Hyperion University, Thalassa Sound, the Inspectoratul de Cultura and the American New Music Consortium.

Rapaport: What do composers like about Capstone Records?

Brooks : We think of it as a compatible
alliance. Our artists know that we are making our selections solely on the quality of the work. They know we make a conscious effort to include a broad spectrum of styles and approaches without assuming any aesthetic bias. The composers produce the music the way they want and get to keep inventory to sell at performances or give away to people who are likely to hire them or review their performances. Our distributor, Albany Music, gets our records into stores all over the country, and we are beginning to work with several European distributors. We send promotional mailings to our list of classical radio stations and reviewers. We put ads in the Calendar for New Music, Fanfare magazine and others.