Douglas' first recording, made less than two months after the Moscow win, was of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, a work which Van Cliburn earlier turned into one of the best-selling classical records in history. The record was in stores by November, and despite there being three other releases of the piece at about that time, it sold well, won Douglas a Debut Recording Artist of the Year Award in Ovation magazine and was on the charts for several months. While RCA generally does not release sales figures, Elliott said the record has already sold more than 30,000 copies worldwide--far exceeding the 10,000 sales customary for a first album--and is still selling.
One might expect so, given all the promotion. In October, 1986, promotional materials went to 400 RCA staffers, said RCA marketing executive Elliott, "to let them know the excitement we felt about Barry. If we sell our own people--from me to my sales manager to the RCA sales force, to the promotional people and merchandisers--it all translates to the public who buys the record, attends the concerts and casts its vote for your man."
A month later came a screening of a coming PBS special of the Moscow competition. An elegant, wine-colored invitation went out to key RCA personnel, record retailers and press. About 250 people watched the show at the nearby McGraw-Hill auditorium, then moved into an adjacent room whose walls were decorated with huge posters of Douglas and whose tables were laden with such things as Russian caviar and vodka.
"The minute you sat down in that screening room and saw the video, you saw why he won the competition," said Denise Pineau, manager of the Classical Music Center at Barnes & Noble Discount Bookstores, Inc. "Any retailer who walked out of there not excited about the product does not belong in retail."
Retailers also walked out carrying press kits loaded with photos, bios, press releases, post cards about the telecast and compact discs. (People who didn't attend still got press kits and CDs.) And at evening's end, Douglas autographed every picture in the room to give to retailers as a special display piece.
One of those photos still hangs over the stairwell at Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue. "(His was) a wonderful interpretation of the piece, and the sound quality was very good," said Pineau, who for days on end played Douglas' recording in the store during the lunch hour and the heavily trafficked 5-to-6 p.m. period. "It made a great Christmas gift and there was enough press about him at the time that it took off. It was one of the top five (selling albums) for the Christmas season, maybe the top one for a solid month."
Douglas and his record company were also blessed with good timing. The PBS special on the 1986 Tchaikovsky competition, which drew an audience of more than 4 million people nationally, aired the first week of December and was augmented by heavy print and radio ads. Douglas was "the priority" for RCA Red Seal from Thanksgiving to Christmas, said Elliott, and every company ad during that period featured Douglas--prominently.
Caught up in memory, Elliott was leafing through a 2-inch-thick file folder on that first ad campaign. "Basically, when you launch an artist like this, you are launching a career so you tend to spend more and advertise heavier than you would for subsequent recordings," he said. "The launch paid off."
Douglas, who performed about 65 concerts during the 1987-88 season and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles doing so, said being on the road "doesn't bother me at all. I'm very careful and experienced about my limitations and capabilities as regards scheduling and traveling. I know what I can and can't do and I don't overstep the mark." Or as manager Winter put it: " A lot of competition winners want to make hay while the sun shines and go out and play 120 (concerts) a year worldwide, booking themselves to death, and Barry will not do that."
When WQXR's Bob Sherman asked Douglas about how he avoided the trap of too much too soon, Douglas quickly responded, "If you have some will power and some sort of artistic goal, and you stick to that, then there really cannot be too many problems. The problem is if you get tempted by either earning a lot of money or you want the prestige, or some sort of huge career, that the danger is, of course, you do too much."
Sherman wasn't about to let that one go by, asking, "And you're not tempted by the big career or the prestige and the money and everything?"
"I'm not actually," replied Douglas. "I love playing music. I love to be involved in music. And if I decide one week I'm going to do five concerts, it's because each has a different reason. For instance, this is a piece I really want to play with orchestra, or I've got to play with that conductor because I admire him so much. Or I always wanted to go to that place, and I really would like to combine playing and visiting this place."