Saturday 13 January 2024

A shelter where people can be sure of quality and find so much to discover: founder Michael Adda on his record label, La Dolce Volta

Michaël Adda (Photo: DR)
Michaël Adda (Photo: DR from L'Est Républicain)

Michael Adda founded the French record label La Dolce Volta in 2011 at a time when many labels were collapsing or changing, and since then the label has become known for its boutique approach

La Dolce Volta
Michael began working in the record industry in 1998 and was working for the French label Calliope in 2011 when it collapsed. This was a time when the industry was changing and creating his own label was a challenge. But working in the industry had taught him not just how to make a CD, but how to select musicians, get financial support and the importance of promotion. When Calliope collapsed it was a big mess and he was advised not to stay in to industry. He decided otherwise but wanted to try something without taking too many risks.

So he tried to imagine why people were not buying CDs and tried to imagine what would be, for him, the perfect CD. He decided he didn't like the jewel box, nor did he like slim booklets with articles talking about musicology. He wanted to see the musicians, and also if he wanted to market the discs worldwide then the text needed to not just be in French.

He decided to try three recording projects, creating something that didn't exist with luxury packaging, a digipack with a high number of pages and booklet articles based on interviews with the artists. He wanted to offer a blank sheet to the musicians to explain why they had recorded the music. Also, the discs would be recorded under the best conditions and the musicians would not have to contribute anything to recording costs. As a result, the musicians themselves become the best ambassadors for the label.

LDV03 - Aldo Ciccolini - La Dolce Volta
The first disc was very expensive to produce as everything was new, and they made no profit, but the results were amazing. These first discs were all keyboard, and out of the blue, he received a phone call from the distinguished pianist Aldo Ciccolini (1925-2015). At the time, Ciccolini was over 80 and fed up with his previous label. He was free and interested in recording for La Dolce Volta, saying that Michael was crazy but that he, Ciccolini, was crazy too. Ciccolini's only condition was that the sound quality had to be first-rate; that first CD, of Ciccolini in Mozart went worldwide. This was the beginning of the adventure.

Other musicians came partly because of Ciccolini but also because of La Dolce Volta's way of working, their packaging and promotion of the discs. They recorded Ciccolini's final three studio discs and then recorded discs by the pianist Menahem Pressler (known for his work in the Beaux Arts Trio). La Dolce Volta became recognised as a boutique label with great musicians and great sound.

The label was originally distributed by the old Harmonia Mundi, then in 2016, Harmonia Mundi was bought by PIAS. PIAS has proved a good distributor in France but less so worldwide, and in 2024 La Dolce Volta moves to a new distributor, one that specialises in classical music worldwide. Michael admits that whilst they sell a lot of discs in France, the company struggles elsewhere and this is something he wants to change. After France, their biggest market is currently Japan. Once distribution is sorted out, the challenge will be to continue whilst keeping the original enthusiasm and interest. 

Michael calls La Dolce Volta a niche in the market, a shelter where people can be sure of quality and find so much to discover. La Dolce Volta is a very French type of luxury product, this was Michael's original aim and it remains so and he thinks he has been quite successful.

Digital music marketing is something else again, something crazy. Whilst digital music is described as the future, Michael sees it as focused on the majors who have 100 years of recordings in their archives, that it doesn't cost much to remaster and put out on digital. If La Dolce Volta releases music digitally to Spotify and such, the costs are the same as a CD, you only save on the actual pressing of the disc! Also, CDs come for life, and digital music doesn't. Though he has tried digital-only releases, Michael now markets both, CD and digital as you need the physical disc for the recording to be properly visible.

For Michael, however, it is the musicians that are the most important. He comments that a label is nothing without its musicians, they are his top priority, selecting them and giving them the best conditions in which to record. Through their CDs, musicians find new audiences and concerts, which in turn increases sales of the CDs, creating a virtuous circle.

LDV 69 - Olivier Latry - La Dolce Volta
But, daily life at the label he describes as like going to the casino, putting everything on the table, and taking so many risks. He does not always sleep well but must care for his family, his wife and children and also his musicians. He is proud that the label is completely independent, and not part of one of the major labels. Because of the major artists that he was able to attract when starting the label, people assumed that he must have the backing of a bigger label, but this is not the case.

He selects the musicians because he believes in them. He didn't actually study music, he describes himself as a businessman, but is passionate about music and wants to share his passion.

The label is focused on pianists with some chamber music with string quartet and organ. The string quartet because of the Talich Quartet whose back catalogue he bought from Calliope, and similarly he bought Andre Isoir's organ discs including the complete Bach, though Andre Isoir died five years ago. This meant that Michael needed to find a new organist. He had tried for two years to seduce Olivier Latry (titulaire at Notre Dame de Paris) and finally in 2019, Latry recorded a disc of Bach for Michael on the organ of Notre Dame. 

It was released just two weeks before the terrible fire and after three months had sold 26,000 copies (and Michael admits that it hadn't been an expensive disc to produce). Part of the disc's success, he feels, was the way they communicated about the fire, finding something simple and elegant. Latry appreciated this and became exclusive to the label.

Musicians have a blank slate when it comes to recording, he is not there to simply pay for his musical passions, and this feeds into his view that musicians are the best ambassadors. The musicians propose repertoire and he says yes or no; he might have to say no if someone else has recorded the same work, and the label is too young to have duplicates. Also, he says no to some styles of music such as jazz or minimalism, because he does not have the network to promote that style of music. But if someone wants to record this music, he can recommend labels that are more suitable for those styles, and he finds musicians like this approach.

La Dolce Volta
When I asked what was coming up he said that they have many things in the pipeline. Pianist Michel Dalberto has recorded clarinet and piano works with the jazz clarinettist Michel Portal. The Belgian pianist, Florian Noack has recorded a disc of transcriptions including a Bach harpsichord concerto and Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade, and I want to be like you from The Jungle Book! There are piano trios from Trio Sora, an all-female group who have already recorded Beethoven for Naive. And the Swiss pianist, Cédric Pescia is recording Bach. There will be two new discs with Olivier Latry in Liszt, Dupre and Durufle.

The distinguished French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard, who is 75 years old, has recorded his first disc of Bach, transcriptions of organ works by Busoni and others. And Michael points out that Collard may not be making any more recordings. As a boy, Collard sang in the church choir where his father was an organist and was impressed by Bach's organ works so this disc will be paying tribute to that. 

Another big disc to look forward to is of melodies from soprano Natalie Dessay and pianist Philippe Cassard, and the disc will be part of her farewell tour in 2025. The idea came about because of the suggestion that they have a disc to be available at the concerts, and her only condition was of the quality of the recording. Michael finds it so powerful that others want to share his passion.

But his main goal in 2024 is to become UK-friendly for music lovers, to try to be easily and freely available on the UK market.

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