Since relocating to Franklin in 1998, Naxos of America has been quietly building itself into the No. 1 independent distributor of classical music in North America.
But there was nothing quiet about Naxos’ presence at this year’s Grammy Awards on Feb. 15. Naxos’ own record labels and those they distribute were nominated for a total of 37 Grammys in 11 categories, including two in which they had four of the five nominees. They won five awards during the pre-telecast portion of the ceremony.
The one award that went to the Naxos label was for “Paulus: Three Places of Enlightenment; Veil of Tears and Grand Concerto” in the Best Classic Compendium category. The piece was produced by Tim Handley and conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero.
Naxos’ labels have now won a total of 21 Grammys, and labels they distribute have won an additional 25.
Naxos currently distributes 75,000 CD and DVD titles to store outlets and has more than 1.6 million song titles available digitally. In the late 1990s, Naxos was among the first music companies to have an online subscription-based streaming service.
Naxos was founded in Hong Kong in 1987 and relocated four years later to New Jersey before coming to Franklin in 1998. The company’s CEO, Jeff Van Driel, talked to The Tennessean about leading a small Williamson County business to international prominence.
How did the company wind up in Franklin?
It’s a great place and very central for distribution. We wanted to have our headquarters right alongside our physical distribution business, so there were a few different options that we looked at, and mid-Tennessee was a really good option.
UPS is headquartered in Louisville (Kentucky) and FedEx is headquartered in Memphis, so it was very central with respect to those two and then, of course, the music business itself … there are certain benefits.
How has being in Franklin impacted your business?
I’ve been able to keep my senior managers just because it’s a great place for people to be raising families. I’ve been able to recruit people from around the country as well. For some people it’s a big stretch to move from New York to Franklin, but I have a bunch of people that have done it and really love it.
Nashville is the country music capital and is recently known for rock and pop, while Franklin has been known for Christian music. Do you ever raise your hand and say, “What about classical music?”
We’re very active with the Nashville Symphony and worked fairly closely with them over the last 10 years. We’re as active as we can be in this town. We don’t only do classical. We’re also jazz and world (music), and we’re actually doing a few things with some Christian artists.
I was going to ask about your plans to expand beyond classical.
We own 12,000 album masters across a variety of labels and we continue to acquire record labels. We bought three different record labels last year, so we are very much a label. We’re also a digital platform or three. We have a variety of digital businesses.
The expansion into other genres has a lot to do with the fact that people are no longer bound (to) or their identity is not tied up in a genre. Years ago, kids would grow up and they would show an affinity to one genre and they would stay with that. Nowadays, kids are not confined by genre.
With all the business Naxos does, and it’s known all over the world, how is it that you’ve gone sort of unnoticed in your own community?
That’s a very interesting question. For us, there are a lot of benefits for being in Franklin, but it’s not our primary market, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve gone under the radar. We are already seeing some changes in that with all the contemporary things we’re doing — the fact that we launched Suite 28 Records, we’re starting to plug in a lot more to the Franklin market.