Rumors of the deaths of The New York Times and Warner Bros. are exaggerated. Yes, artists and bands have online services like iTunes, Bandcamp and Onesheet to control their image, music and distribution, now more than ever. But that's not all that's needed.
In this ever-changing landscape, the fate of the indie label could easily be seen as that of the majors: increasingly irrelevant. Instead, many local labels' focus on community is proving indispensable. Bands can do all of this work on their own, but no band is an island. Local labels survive and, in places like Denton, thrive. The reason for their success might lie in the reasons they started.
Michael Briggs of Gutterth Records and Charlie Hunter of I Love Math Records both cite a desire to help as their main reasons for starting their respective ventures. After seeing artists like New Science Projects or Mount Righteous live and visiting the long-defunct Strawberry Fields, they felt the need to get involved and get local music into the ears of more people.
For Hunter, it was seeing Kaleo Kaualoku from Spooky Folk perform a solo set in the basement at J&J's Pizza. "It was the first time I ever saw him, and I was just floored by it," Hunter says. "Right then, I just decided that I have to start a record label if only to put out this record. And I did." Hunter soon began organizing house shows at The Schoolhouse and prepping the I Love Math name to help other artists.
Gutterth Records started as a way to organize shows, or "episodes," but quickly expanded to recording and releasing albums for local artists. "Our friend Daniel Folmer had a bunch of really good songs that were on these tapes," Briggs says. "We decided people should hear them and started Gutterth Records to put them out."
Instead of a business executing a model and finding bands to release, those behind these labels were fans first, and decided that if no one else was putting out albums by their favorite local artists, they would.
And then there's the case of Paperstain Records, home to Shiny Around the Edges and Kampfgrounds. A self-professed collective, Paperstain has no interest in acting as a traditional label.
"We just collectivized our resources and tried to create something bigger than what a single band can do," Justin Lemons says. "We all believe in the social-ness of music. ... It makes it seem like there's more of a purpose for what we're doing."
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I Love Math is in the same position. "I have no qualms helping [bands] out and spring-boarding them to a larger label or helping them out on tour," Hunter says. "It's great."
"The bands can do all these things themselves," Briggs says of digital recording and online promotion. "But bringing in this collective of like-minded bands that can play together often, and for listeners, if they like one band on the label they might like something else on that same label."
Collective. Community. Those words keep popping up. The soul and spirit of these small labels remain in the role they serve in their local community of artists and advocates. They may not serve the same role as before, but it's more important than ever. Lemons agrees.
"I definitely think that if that social community was not there it would drop off big-time."