By Ray Chelstowski
While terrestrial radio's interest in hip hop, pop and arena country in the U.S may have quieted rock and roll’s thunder, the rock genre has enjoyed exceptional growth in Europe and other emerging global markets. This phenomenon has been driven in large part due to the remarkable efforts of Frontiers Records, based in Naples, Italy. Founded 25 years ago by Serafino Perugino, the label was launched when they released the double live album Never Say Goodbye by the British hard rock group Ten.
Since then Frontiers has signed an extraordinary roster of artists new and old. That list includes classic rockers like Toto, Journey, Styx and Yes along with metal bands from the 1980s like Whitesnake, Dokken, Winger and L.A. Guns. The label, for the development of their in-house projects, also deploys a 360-degree approach that begins with song selection, and then moves to production, promotion, and more. Being hands-on from day one has brought new life to existing acts and new music to their most loyal fans.
With only eight full-time employees, Frontiers oversees a dizzying number of projects and the results they deliver for their artists are a real rarity for any label, big or small. With a business that has long been tied to CDs (vinyl represents only about five percent of their revenue), they are quickly moving into digital streaming and the growth there is beginning to mirror the performance they’ve seen across every other channel. At their core, Frontiers is a team made up of real rock fans. That enthusiasm for the music is evident in everything they do and is at the center of their inspiring story.
Goldmine had the opportunity to spend time speaking with Perugino about how he came to launch Frontiers. After earning a reputation for being one of the most effective distributors of classic rock throughout Europe, Perugino took his talents and built a business that has had a huge hand in preserving and furthering the arts. Across our exchange what became clear is how much passion he brings to his business and how excited he is about its future, near and far. When you hear what he has lined up, you’ll understand why.
GOLDMINE: Gene Simmons of KISS has said publicly that he thinks rock is dead. But given the success that you’ve built at Frontiers Records that hardly seems to be the case.
Serafino Perugino: I’m not sure where Gene Simmons is coming from because I don’t think he is looking outside of America. I can tell you that the scene here in Europe is absolutely outstanding. There are plenty of great artists and new bands. What we are trying to do is develop them in the marketplace and promote them with passion and professionalism. After 25 years, we are the label that has brought back some of the best classic rock acts, bands like Toto, Journey and Boston. For me it is most challenging to discover the next “big thing” in rock music. I’m always thinking about what I am going to sell in five years, in 10 years. Obviously a lot of those big bands are not keen on recording new music. That’s either because they are too busy touring, where they make the bulk of their money, or because it takes up a lot their time and money to go into the studio to record. So for me it’s challenging to discover new talent.
GM: What has really helped you accelerate growth for both the artists and the label?
SP: It’s all about having great music first and foremost and then promoting it through social media. We have about 350,000 subscribers and counting on YouTube, which is something we are determined to keep growing and growing as we believe that visuals are the key to attracting fans and checking out new music. That’s the case whether its new music or new talent. Our business has been built mostly against physical product, CD sales. Now digital has taken over and we are embracing this new way of listening to music because of fans are getting used to those digital platforms. It’s a new revolution and we love it. As a record company I can sell CDs, I can sell vinyl and I can “sell” streaming.
GM: Where does a new project with one of your artists begin?
SP: We really spent our time and efforts trying to build music first. The business is just a consequence. Everything starts from a song. When I pick up a great song my first thought is, “Who is going to be the best singer for this?” Then it becomes a development process.
GM: Why do you think that big corporate labels haven’t copied your business model?
SP: We are independent. The first thing for me is the music. Like I said, I don’t build a project based on the business. I’m a fan. I love my artists and I grew up listening to bands like Journey and all of those heritage bands we’ve signed. So it’s a dream come true that I can be of service to them. After 25 years I can tell you that we have done a good job and we are not slowing down.
GM: You have a lot of big name acts from the 1980s. What is your strategy to replace them as they begin to retire from touring/recording?
SP: When I started back in 1996 there was a backlash because of the Seattle sound. I really gave the melodic rock bands I signed a fresh start. But when it comes to my next challenge I’m very focused on discovering new talent because that’s what keeps me excited. If you look at our new release plan there are some really outstanding new bands like Seventh Crystal, Crowne, Lords of Black, False Memories, Electric Mob, Temple Balls, Laurenne/Louhimo, Edge of Paradise, Seven Spires, Icon of Sin — plenty of great stuff. That makes me very proud. Also, don’t forget Eclipse, The Creeps — the Swedish band who we have been working with for multiple albums now and each release is having more success than the one before it. They have become one of the most famous, established bands throughout Europe.
GM: Where is the next big rock market starting to emerge?
SP: North America is still the number one market and yet there aren’t many bands coming from North America that I would sign — which is really ridiculous. There is room for anything as long as it’s a quality release and very well promoted. We have offices all over Europe and one in North America but we are not a big corporate label. We’re a boutique label which means we are accessible and respond quickly. We work hard, 12 hour days because we love our job. Everyone in this company is very dedicated, very motivated to bringing new music to the fans.
GM: What new band on the label are you most excited about?
SP: Well, this morning I got the master for the new Eclipse album that we will be releasing in October. I can tell you that it’s absolutely outstanding. Then I have quite a few new records coming from bands. I could send you a list that doesn’t end. So wait and see!
GM: With all of the big name acts you have successfully signed is there one who you are just dying to work with?
SP: Yes, Steve Perry! Everything started because I love Journey. I was a huge fan of the band. When Steve Perry made the decision to return to the scene I had the pleasure to meet him in Los Angeles and he played me his last solo record. Unfortunately, they decided to go to another label. But maybe next time they’ll decide to come to Frontiers and that would be my last “dream come true.” That day I met my hero. He was my inspiration and I launched this record company because of him.
GM: After 25 years, what is the hardest thing you’ve learned about the music business?
SP: You have to deal with so many different personalities, from so many different countries, with great talent, so it’s a big job. That said, I think that most of them love me, because I’ve done such a good job for them. They feel our passion and without passion I wouldn’t be here.
GM: What’s your plan for the next 25 years?
SP: Well, to keep rocking! I love what I do and my team is exactly on the same page. Over the last year and a half we have signed contracts for over 200 new recordings. This means that for the next two years our release plan is completely developed. We’ll have a lot of new music for or fans, which is exciting.