The effect of NPR programming upon album sales has always been remarkable. One short segment of 5 minutes or so on even an obscure artist would often lead to a spike in sales. Now NPR is taking its relationship with its listeners one step further with its Discover Songs series of compilations. The first one in the series is The New Jazz Divas, a 13-song sampler of contemporary jazz vocalists, ranging from Diana Krall to Catherine Russell.
Barbara Sopato, director of e-commerce and consumer products at NPR, explained that the genesis for the project has always been NPR’s unique relationship with its listeners. “We’ve found that people come to NPR to discover new music and we focus on different genres than you see out there,” said Sopato.
The compilation has been on sale at the “shop” at NPR’s site for a month or two and has already sold out a first pressing. When I asked Sopato for sales figures, she demurred, answering, “Let’s just say that it’s sold in the four digits!” For the mathematically-challenged, that’s somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000. Very impressive sales out of the box for any jazz product sold thus far only online.
And they’re hoping to sell plenty more the old-fashioned way. NPR partnered with the label Shout! Factory, known for its creative reissue catalog. The CD hits stores, or what’s left of them, on Tuesday, January 26, 2010.
Sopato explained that the CDs are also used by NPR member stations as premiums for fund drives locally. But mostly she said that it’s about branding. “This product enables us to imprint and reprint the NPR brand in genres that make sense.” She believes too that the NPR brand produces a loyalty that’s somewhat unusual in the world of commerce. “We find that people buy these CDs on our shop at npr.org as much because they want to support NPR.”
This is not the first music sampler NPR has produced. A few years back they produced a series called I Heard It on NPR, that featured more under-the-radar artists who had been specifically featured on various shows such as “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” However, this series has a different approach, with a focus on a specific genre.
She said that there are plans afoot to do more Discover Songs compilations in genres that connect with NPR listeners. “We’re shooting for three to four a year,” said Sopato. Next on the docket is a Soul edition. They’re also looking at products focused on the folk and singer-songwriter genres. No mention of an instrumental jazz compilation but it would seem a likely choice if these do well.
Interestingly, one of the reasons they started with vocal jazz was because the Ladies Jazzin’ It Up sampler did so well in the earlier series. Sopato believes the reason for the strong appeal for female jazz vocalists is because “Women like music they can sing along to and men like to listen to women sing.” A simpler explanation for the popularity of female vocals has rarely been heard.
The cuts were selection in coordination with the staff of Shout! Factory. There are no particular surprises in the choices, except perhaps for the underrated Rene Marie who has gotten more attention for her improvised version of the National Anthem than for her fine recordings and performances. The rest of the cuts are artists with whom JT readers are likely to be quite familiar. Although several of the music’s greatest female jazz vocalists are missing, including Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz vocal fans will find plenty to enjoy in the collection. And they can take pride in supporting NPR, which has a long affinity for jazz.
Here is the track list for The Jazz Divas:
1. Instead – Madeleine Peyroux
2. Round Midnight – Ledisi
3. Worrisome Heart – Melody Gardot
4. I Adore You – Esperanza Spalding
5. A Taste Of Honey – Lizz Wright
6. Temptation – Diana Krall
7. Happy Days Are Here Again – The Tierney Sutton Band
8. Jammin’ – Eliane Elias
9. Bye Bye Country Boy – Karrin Allyson
10. Over The Rainbow – Jane Monheit
11. Narcissus – Patricia Barber
12. The South Is Mine – René Marie
13. Kitchen Man – Catherine Russell