Dallas Morning News Interview


Soft Market Causes Shift
In Tempo At OM Records By Lawson Taitte
Staff Writer of the Dallas Morning News
This article appeared August 25, 1992

"The last year, the last two years really, have been a nightmare," says Jonathan Wearn, "not just for my company but for the whole classical recording industry."

Mr. Wearn's small classical label, OM Records - which many classical music fans may not realize has been based in a Far North Dallas office since 1990 -- stopped manufacturing and distributing records Aug. 1. "Today we are a production company," he says of his plans to continue making recordings for marketing under other labels.

"With the recession, markets just folded. People became afraid to spend their money," says Mr. Wearn. "major chains stopped paying their bills. One week we had $2,000 in sales but $6,000 in merchandise returns." He expects many other small record companies to go under completely and says he is relieved that his will survive, albeit in a hunkered-down mode.

OM Records carved out a niche for itself with unabashedly romantic, sometimes quirky but always colorful performances. Two of its most prominent artists are pianist Michel Block and conductor Herrera de la Fuente -- neither an instantly recognizable name. Critics and listeners usually either detest Mr. Blocks's eccentrically slow, gorgeously phrased versions of music by Chopin and Liszt or passionately admire them. Mr. Wearn's recordings of Mr. Herrera and his Mexican orchestra earned the conductor worldwide recognition as the leading interpreter of Mexican music and a passionate exponent of more standard fare.

The best business news Mr. Wearn has had recently is the appearance of Mr. de la Fuente's recording of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at No. 20 on the charts of Music Week (The British equivalent of Billboard this month. This first fruit of Mr. Wearn's new arrangement to have OM material distributed by the British bargain label Pickwick ironically is racking up sales under neither the OM nor Pickwick trademark: It is sub-licensed to the private label of Britain's gargantuan book-and-record chain WHSmith.

The Carmina Burana epitomizes Mr. Wearn's recording philosophy. "We had perfect takes but decided not to use them -- the live performance, even with some wrong notes and some pitch problems toward the end, has so much more electricity." This is one producer who will take emotional connection over technical polish any time. He considers many more recordings cold and uncommunicative, partly because so many are made on strict and short time tables. "Block and I," he says, "would frequently work together 30 or 40 hours to make a record."

He has to believe in a performance to record it: "Once I actually stopped a session, pulled down the mikes and went home because I couldn't stand the music-making." OM Records acquired a reputation as an audiophile label because of Mr. Wearn's discerning ear and purist recording techniques. He boasts that, by keeping the number of microphones to a minimum, he produces recordings with a "three dimensional quality" few other companies achieve.

The English born Mr. Wearn began his career as an independent producer at age 18. "I went out with two microphones, two preamps and a high-speed Revox (tape recorder) in a broken-down car" to record performances on English and French organs that were eventually released on the Phillips label.

He has spent most of his career working in this fashion: "record companies tend to trust independent producers more than their own in-house ones. They realize the independents will contract only the things they know will sell."

Mr. Wearn - who has spent time doing other things including managing orchestras - did work for one of the giant record companies for a while. He headed up the classical department in Latin America for British-based EMI.

He had actually gone to Mexico City in 1977 to study conducting at a conservatory there. When famous producer Tom Frost fell sick, Mr. Wearn was thrown in front of a symphony for the first time -- as a producer rather than a conductor. In time honored musical tradition, the last-minute substitute was a spectacular success. The result was Huapango, the record of 20th-centuru Mexican music that made his and Mr. Herrera's international reputations.

Mr. Wearn founded OM Records in Mexico in 1988 but moved the company to Dallas because "in the early days of President Miguel de la Madrid's administration, exporting from Mexico got extraordinarily difficult."

He now is moving the base of the parent corporation, Opus Magnum Co., to England. He plans to keep an office in Dallas and return here every four to six weeks to do business and make recordings with American and >>>>>?<<<<<