Behind the Business of Vitamin String Quartet as the Rotating Combo Releases Its Latest Cover Set: Q&A
VSQ covers Bazzi, Bebe Rexha and Drake on its new album.
Starting today (Aug. 10), fans of Kendrick Lamar, Shawn Mendes, Justin Timberlake, Chris Stapleton, Imagine Dragons, Bebe Rexha, Drake and Bazzi can hear some of those acts' biggest hits this year performed with a twist: on string instruments.
The Vitamin String Quartet - not an actual foursome but rather the name of a long-running series of musical releases by the CMH Label Group -- features a rotating array of producers, arrangers, and string players who pay tribute to well-known acts across genres, creating sheet music for it all so that string students can play it themselves. The newest project is VSQ's VSQ Performs the Hits of 2018 Vol. 1.
"Every year, we put together these compilations of the current hits that really piqued our interest that we think would make a fascinating string quartet arrangement," says James Curtiss, CMH Label Group A&R and Project Director, who admits that taking some of the more beat-driven modern pop tunes and churning them into melodic string arrangements can be challenging but is a thrill that the quartet lives for.
Billboard caught up with Curtiss and Leo Flynn, CMH Label Group Brand Manager, to discuss the business model behind VSQ, how new musicians become involved with the project, and the plans to take the endeavor on the road.
How do musicians join VSQ?
Flynn: We started off with CMH curating string arrangers and producers to make the albums. A number of those were string players themselves who worked with quartets and recorded with favorite players and friends. As time went on, folks began reaching out to express interest. We'd check out their stuff and maybe they come on board that way or a player that we work with would recommend another good player. With the advent of putting on live performances, we started running ads for string players and auditioning them. We are always looking and keeping it a conversation about who is out there and how can we continue to define VSQ.
Is VSQ a full time gig for these artists?
Flynn: VSQ works project by project. So there's an album or a show, we figure out who is available and the right fit and we put everyone together for that particular gig. A quartet doing something will be the 4 players but I'd say there are 6 to 12 players at any given time that we are working with and are calling for different projects.
What makes up your main revenue?
Flynn: The core of our business is the sales and streaming of the records. There is a great catalog of over 300 string albums out there. VSQ projects have had 485 million streams, 4 million downloads; they've had 1 million CDs sold and have 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Any expansions plans for the brand?
Flynn: We're not a touring entity yet but we are looking into that possibility. So far, we have gotten out to do one offs or special engagements, whether those are a single show in New York or LA or some press or private engagements. Folks have been approaching us and really wanting to see VSQ -- "When are they coming to my town?" "Can they come play my wedding?" We've spent the last 5 years mounting these shows, which has been a huge learning curve for us as a record company. We know we can produce a great performance and get VSQ on stage in front of fans for a night and now we're just trying to figure out if that converts to putting it on the road. That is a big thing that we are looking at now and wondering if that becomes a new part of the business and a new phase for us.
We've also talked about getting out and playing educational settings, colleges for sure, high schools. We have a lot of music student fans and student teachers and music directors reaching out to us to have us come and play in their halls and spaces. But also while we're there can we work with the students, can we set up a master class, can we help younger players get excited about string instruments and combine that with stuff that they listen to personally – bring that back to the instruments that they are playing?
VITAMIN STRING QUARTET HITS 2018 VOLUME 1
1. "All the Stars" - originally performed by Kendrick Lamar (w. SZA)
2. "In My Blood" - originally performed by Shawn Mendes
3. "Mine" - originally performed by Bazzi //
4. "Say Something" - originally performed by Justin Timberlake & Chris Stapleton
5. "Whatever It Takes" - originally performed by Imagine Dragons
6. "God's Plan" - originally performed by Drake
7. "Meant To Be" - originally performed by Bebe Rexha (w/ Florida Georgia Line)