It's common knowledge that classical record companies basically stink at marketing and CD design. Sure, there are a few good album covers out there, and a few CDs break out and create a buzz (which in classical parlance, means selling more than a hundred CDs), but basically, albums are usually marketed on the merit of the performers, composers or perhaps the actual music. Classical covers almost never help market the CD, and are usually boring—often an abstract painting or not-so-great photo of the performers or composers. Just something to fill up space. With this CD, we wanted to provoke people, so we modeled it after a hip-hop album.
What we ended up with is Pimpin', the latest release on the American Modern Ensemble's house label, American Modern Recordings (AMR). It consists of seven pieces either commissioned or chosen by AME's saxophonist Jeremy Justeson, including Tongue and Groove for alto sax and marimba by yours truly. The CD also contains Pimpin', the title track by the well-known European composer JacobTV (Jacob Ter Veldhuis)
As with many good ideas, this one started out as a joke. One day Jeremy was in town to rehearse. After having lunch, we were walking down the street in Hell's Kitchen, and he told me that he wanted to title the CD Pimpin'. As we laughed, we walked right past a porn shop, and I said, "You know what? For the cover, we should dress you up like a pimp, but holding your instrument, and flanked by a couple of girls that look like hookers." He seemed cool with the idea.
The whole concept is obviously silly and full of innuendos. I mean, a white guy holding a sax, surrounded by hot chicks, looking like a 70s pimp? That's pretty funny. Everyone knows classical sax players are a little geeky (no offense to Jeremy, but I think he would agree), and also that classical sax music is about as far away from hip hop as you can possibly get, except for the JacobTV track. Plus, why would a pimp be holding a sax, while he's pimpin'? Are we saying that Jeremy's a classical sax pimp? Or that we're all just classical ho's? The whole idea is just plain hilarious.
To really put a shine on the whole thing, we knew we had to shoot the cover photo in front of a porn shop.
A few days later, my photographer friend Daniel Dottavio and I scoped out potential girls from a modeling site called Model Mayhem. We received tons of inquiries from a lot of different women. After much debate, we settled on two, but one of them never showed up. We actually ended up using Leslie the make-up artist instead, which, lucky for us, worked out well. She did a great job.
The next week, my wife Victoria, Daniel and I scoped out potential sites. The problem was finding a porn shop that isn't extremely crowded. In NYC, there are all kinds of rules about when and where you can do photo shoots without permits, and we had to make sure that we didn’t block the sidewalk. We chose a shop on a side street near Port Authority.
That evening, the models came over with appropriate clothes from their closet and tons of makeup. Jeremy showed up with the Pimp costume he purchased online. After everyone was done up, we all walked down 9th Avenue toward the selected site. Guys were hooting and hollering, saying thinks like, "Hey, pretty mamma! Damn... you lookin' fine!" They must have really looked the part, because every guy walking by really thought they were the real deal. I half expected Jeremy to start trying to pimp out the girls.
We arrive at the site and set up lights and reflectors. Unfortunately, the only way Daniel can get the right shot is by kneeling in the street, with constant oncoming traffic. I stand in the street, watching for cars to make sure he doesn't get hit. Daniel kneels and gets off a few shots, and then I yell at him to move to the sidewalk, screaming, “OK, stop! Get off the street! Cars coming!” It was like a version of that old Frogger video game. It's amazing we didn't have an accident.
Meanwhile, there are people walking by, but it's not as bad as it would have been on 8th Ave. Seedy guys slither out of the porn shop and gather around, wondering what we are up to. Every so often the owner of the porn shop comes out to see what we are doing, but doesn't seem to mind. I think that he thinks we are shooting a cover for a porn video.
Finally, we finish the shoot, and go back to our apartment. We still have months to go, with editing, making the CD liner and so on, but at least the cover shot is done.
What's the moral of this story? I'm not sure there is one, except that if you see a cool-looking or outrageous CD cover, just know that a whole lot of effort probably went into making it happen.