Trying to find legitimate record labels in the Dallas/Fort Worth area turned into a quest that crossed the thin barrier of insanity on more than one occasion, as more and more record labels fell off our list. Fifty-four or so for the Dallas area alone were the number of record labels listed on the state of Texas' governor's music directory. Out of those listed only seven are still legitimate record labels. The rest of them have either shut their doors due to the onslaught of technology, or else they're vanity sites promoting one or two artists who are also the record labels' owners and producers. And let's not even discuss the plethora of MySpace sites littering the governor's list.
Basing our Best Of list on three simple criteria -- more than two artists, a legitimate website and a passion for promoting the arts -- we've found 10 record labels in the Dallas area who are representing their respective genres while lifting Texas artists into the musical limelight.
Do For It Records Website: doforitrecords.com Notable Releases: Pressurize/Posion The Well by The House Harkonnen/The Spectacle, The Dangits/Perdition 7 inch split, Intelligent Design by Shaolin Death Squad and Said A to B by Trebuchet.
Do For It Records is an independent record label that strives to be a creative force for its artists, who range from The Phuss (a three-piece garage rock band from Fort Worth), to Austin's Invincible Czars, whose music sounds like mini-symphonies with humor (think Monte Python meets Beethoven). Located in Denton, this independent record label promotes unique metal and rock music that doesn't quite fit 97.1 the Eagle's format.
Azteca Music Group Website: aztecamusicgroup.com Notable Releases: Vives en Mi by La Maquinaria Nortena, Que Ganabas by Mafia Nortena, Efectos Secundarios by Zeri and Voy A Conquistarte by Los Pescadores Del Rio Conchos
Azteca Music Group is striving to promote artists in the "Latin Regional Mexican" genre of the music industry, from the traditional sounds of Vives En Mi to the soothing tunes of Sin Restricciones. Located just off Gaston Avenue in Dallas, Azteca offers a voice to a culture whose as much part of Texas as Lone Star Beer and cowboy boots.
Hand Drawn Records Website: handdrawnrecords.com Notable Releases: Builds.With.Age by W.A. Fite, Psychosomatic Immortality by Secret Ghost Champion, Life Is Still Good by Brandon Callies Band and Townies by Exit 380
Hand Drawn Records is located in Dallas and Oklahoma City and takes an "artist first" approach. The independent record label believes that "the heart of a healthy musical community beats to the drum of hard work." Each album is a separate work of hand drawn art and just another example of the independent label's mission of helping artists
TopCat Records Website: topcatrecords.com Notable Releases: TopCat 20th Anniversary Blues Extravaganza by TopCat Records, Let Me In by Alex Rossi, Thrill On The Hill by Johnny Nicholas and Live At Blue Cat Blues by Jim Suhler and Alan Haynes
"Most of our artists are dead," says Richard Chalk, president of TopCat Records. But offering the work of such blues legends as Muddy Waters just adds to this record label's appeal. This independent label has been part of the Texas blues music industry for more than 20 years.
Handmade Birds Website: handmadebirds.com Notable Releases: Desolate North by Celestiial, Mort by Blut Aus Nord, Birch Skeletons, Skin Lanterns, Lake Of Stars by Key and King Of Sweet by His Name Is Alive
Another independent label, Handmade Birds offers a variety of psychedelic artists from Mike VanPortfleet, whose "Strange Star Transmissions" takes the mind to another realm of existence, to Circle of Ouroborus whose The Lost Trance of the Just just stirs the intellect. Specializing in limited editions, the independent label based out of North Texas runs through six channels: Handmade Birds, Dark Icons Series, White Label Series, Cassette Series, Handmade Beats and Handmade Books.
Dallas Distortion Music Website: dallasdistortion.bandcamp.com Notable Releases: S/T by Street Arabs, Into The Sea by Blackstone Rangers, Kenneth by Sealion and DDM Presents: Deep Ellum, Lower Greenville & UNT by Dallas Distortion Music
This record label believes music is about education through information, especially when it comes to indie, hardcore/punk and progressive music. North Texas-based Matthew Vickers and Evan Henry educate by blogging and releasing local music and booking what they describe as "rad as hell shows" in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth. We don't disagree.
Kirtland Records Website: kirtlandrecords.com Notable Releases: Yes, It's True by The Polyphonic Spree, Shine by Sara Hickman, Burden of Proof by Bob Schneider and The Body Wins by Sarah Jaffe
One of the most successful record labels on this list, Kirtland Records offers a variety of popular Texas acts who have expansive national (and international) audiences. Their roster includes The Polyphonic Spree, Bob Schneider and Sarah Jaffe, not to mention classic ones like the Toadies. With offices located in Dallas and Los Angeles, this label is a huge part of North Texas' musical identity.
Idol Records Website: idolrecords.com Notable Releases: Here Under The Undertow/Slow And Gold by Here Holy Spain/Descender, For You by Dead Flowers, Polar Patterns by Todd Pipes and Tiny Darkness by Darstar
Idol Records has been representing bands since the early '90s, winning our own Best Label trophy every year from 2002 to 2007. Acts such as the Admirals, The Fags, Hagfish and Moxy Roxx are a few of the rowdy members of Idol's roster.
Gutterth Records Website: gutterthrecords.com Notable Releases: Hard On by New Science Projects, The Night Is A Disco by Shiny Around The Edges, On A Dark & Barren Land by The Angelus and Bad Design by Bad Design
Two friends from Denton started out as music fans, and now Gutterth Records is one of the most comprehensive, prolific organizations participating in the local music scene. Gutterth promotes live shows that, in their words, "We want to see and put out the records that need to be heard." Last Words, Hard On, and Episode LXIV showcase some of Denton's finest talents, and On A Dark and Barren Land and Quilt Chamberlain are just some of the other records waiting to tantalize your senses.
Paris Records Website: parisrecords.net Notable Releases: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved by Hunter S. Thompson, Dead City Radio by William S. Burroughs, The Lion For Real by Allen Ginsberg and Die On Me by Gregory Corso
It's no wonder Michael Minzer is known as one of the best producers in Dallas. His independent record label has been promoting the literary arts for more than 20 years, offering book recordings by some of the 20th century's greatest authors and poets: Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Creeley and William S. Burroughs, for example. Located just off North Central Expressway in Dallas, Paris Records continues to contribute to the arts by promoting the spoken-word recording tradition.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.