Record Labels Aren't Dying, They're Thriving

Categories: Labels, Nostalgia

capturedtrackscropped.jpg
Photo: Mehrad Talaie and Captured Tracks
Zachary Cole Smith, Sky Ferreira, and Katie Garcia at Captured Tracks' fifth anniversary show
Back in 2006, Jeremy Earl was pretty much an average Brooklyn 20-something. He'd moved here straight for college, and was spending his time sharing a house with four other people, working at records stores, cafes, and sometimes places that were both (like Cake Shop on Ludlow Street). He was in a band, too, and his house was packed with music-related junk: boxes of records, boxes of cassettes, stuff to silkscreen T-shirts, pretty much anything you could imagine.

He'd been half-heartedly running a record label for a few years, releasing albums for his own band, Woods, and those of his friends. "I'd be doing every element of it: dubbing the tapes, everything," he told me recently over the phone, using the tone of voice you use when remembering something crazy, but kind of admirable you used to do, like studying really hard for the SATs, or learning to ride a unicycle.

See also: Brooklyn Record Label Captured Tracks Takes Risks, Avoids Soundscan, and Sees Results

Then, something changed. "It was really great going to Brooklyn Phono," he remembers, his voice getting at once more dreamy and more animated. "Watching the whole process [of manufacturing records], then picking the boxes up, taking them back to the apartment, listing them on the internet, and selling them. And then you start packing orders. It was a pretty cool experience. I got bit by that bug, and it just kept on going."

He began to focus more and more on the label, Woodsist, until it became his full-time job (along with his band, Woods). He's moved upstate, and releases records from bands like Real Estate, Kurt Vile, and Vivian Girls, while also organizing an annual festival in California's Big Sur. He's been able to transform his life into basically exactly what he wanted it to be, and he owes it all to one thing: starting a record label.

Labels are supposed to be an outdated business model. Their death was roundly declared right around the time Woodsist was exploding. Bands like Radiohead and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (if anyone remembers them) were supposed to have proved that record labels were obsolete, that a band could do everything they could do better, faster, and cheaper by itself. It was just a matter of time, the argument went, before labels went extinct.

And yet, labels are still here, and actually growing. In 2012, revenue grew for the major and indie labels for the first time since 1999. The percentage growth, according to figures released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, may have been paltry--around 0.3--but the sheer dollar amount of $16.5 billion in revenue for 2012 is anything but. Adele's song "Rolling In the Deep," is estimated to have made her label XL Recordings around $67 million all by itself, helping XL post at 400% increase in profit for 2012, according to The New York Times.

Closer to home, Brooklyn-bred label Captured Tracks recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with a two-day music festival. Once most known for bands like The Beets, who don't go on before 2 a.m. if they go on at all, the label has added many talented and highly successful acts in recent years: Beach Fossils, DIIV, Mac Demarco, Blouse, and more. They've grown up, and evidence of their success was everywhere a the festival. The performances at their anniversary showcase started at 4 in the afternoon and ended promptly at 10 p.m. They drew hundreds of fans to The Well, a pseudo-venue in Bushwick, for the event, which featured the security (bag checks and light pat-downs), strict no-re-entry policy, and strange high-roller focused retail models (nominal discounts for anyone spending over $200 on records) you might not expect from a show by a bunch of Bushwick upstarts. That's because they're not upstarts anymore. As the Voice outlined in a feature in advance of that concert, the label has recently opened a physical record store and moved to a new home "within a four-block radius of a mind-boggling number of other labels, including Mexican Summer, Ghostly, Sacred Bones, and Secretly Canadian."

See also: Brooklyn Record Label Captured Tracks Takes Risks, Avoids Soundscan, and Sees Results

What is fueling this label renaissance? The primary reason seems to be relatively simple: they still mean something, both to bands and to consumers.

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26 comments
Vera Ivanova
Vera Ivanova

Dana Boulos the girl on the far right looks like you

Ryan Vazquez
Ryan Vazquez

"mick666 Sep 24, 2013 Great article about doing it yourself, except the music blows."

Silvija Bezprezimena
Silvija Bezprezimena

PHIL MARSHALL MOVIE INFO publication date: Apr 9, 2014 Download Print Send a summary of this page to someone via email. Previous | Note: The editor will be traveling to New York for the premiere of "Unthinkable" and a few Q&A sessions about the movie. Unthinkable is a partially-fictionalized docu-drama about the death of 9/11 author Phil Marshall. Based on one recent nasty critique, this film must have all the support that can be mustered. It appears that no one told critic Aaron Hillis that the "Marshall Phillips story in the movie is based on the Phil Marshall story and that the investigative reporter Madison Freeman is based on this editor. Hillis can't understand the connection between this editor appearing in the film and the Madison Freeman character. Maybe old Aaron can take up a PayPal collection so he can attend film critics' school. Old Aaron, the consummate film journalist, also believes "Unthinkable" actor Randall Paul is actually Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Pathetic what kind of retarded writing passes for Village Voice journalism these days. Must be a legacy from former Voice and now Raw Story editor Tony Ortega, the Scientology "expert" who called this editor a "doofus" before he decided to take down the ad hominem vernage/ It must be tough being barely functioning morons living in New York City. Just because anyone can now be a "journalist" doesn't mean they ought to be. News updates will be periodic between April 10 and 15. - Wayne Madsen Report

hall16243
hall16243

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mick666
mick666

Great article about doing it yourself, except the music blows.

joncoombs
joncoombs

@marathonpacks - Love the "proof" they use on CT. "CT is rolling in it. They had security at their festival."

glitteringprizes
glitteringprizes

XL reports %400 increase in profits. You'd be hard pressed to find evidence of this at their New York Headquarters, with dozens of unpaid interns roaming around, and shit wages for the few in entry level positions. Ditto for Matador, and the rest of the Beggars Group.  

FactCheckerman
FactCheckerman

I believe Mike Schulman was in Black Tambourine, not Velocity Girl. FACT CHECK.

gentlemanstimes
gentlemanstimes

@knopps You can't say that turning around 13 years of negative revenue growth isn't meaningful.

mattlangan
mattlangan

@jessehutchison citing an example where 1 client boosts annual revenue 200% is such a perfect demonstration of the counter-point.

knopps
knopps

@gentlemanstimes maybe, maybe not. But it's way too early to conclude labels "thriving" based on 1 yr stat sample. Adele/XL is unique case

jessehutchison
jessehutchison

@mattlangan Young Turks, XL recordings, DFA - all ID’ed local groups & leveraged them to build artists, genres & lg. cultures concurrently.

jessehutchison
jessehutchison

@mattlangan Nah, pt. is small lbls are finding & developing talent, & distributing (live/tangible goods) to niche markets better than majors

gentlemanstimes
gentlemanstimes

@knopps obvs I left out a lot. It's a big industry, and there are lots of revenue models. But things may be moving in the right direction.

mattlangan
mattlangan

@jessehutchison labels require passive revenue to "thrive". Otherwise they're just glorified service providers.

knopps
knopps

@gentlemanstimes jury's still out whether streaming etc becomes significant future revenue. I don't see big or small labels on hiring sprees

knopps
knopps

@gentlemanstimes maybe. Depends what you compare it to. Glory days of CD sales are gone forever. Those 1000s laid off aren't coming back...

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