If Koretzky, Richards, Frank, and Clark weren’t enough for you, here are even more as-told-to accounts from local labels (illustrations by Johnny Sampson):
Andres Meneses, Latin Street Music
My label started in 2004. I had worked for a long time and developed a relationship with Angel Melendez. We decided to record a demo to get more gigs for his band, the 911 Mambo Orchestra. One thing led to another and I produced 12 songs with him. I had 5,000 CDs in my office when I finally found a distributor who liked the CD. I submitted it to the Grammys, and after selling 50 CDs at a gig and boxes and boxes out of my office we received a nomination for the Grammys in 2005.
Billy Helmkamp, Whistler Records
With the amount of attention we’ve gotten for our cocktails and live music, the Whistler as a bar has overshadowed the label. Of course when we first opened the bar much of our focus was on keeping the business afloat. We managed to produce a couple seven-inch records here and there, but it’s only in the past year that we’ve been able to focus more of our energy on records and artist development.
The label is an extension of our live music venue. All the bands have played at the Whistler. We sought out some of the bands (Cains & Abels, White Mystery, Matt Ulery) and others sought us out (In Tall Buildings, the Hood Internet).
Working behind the bar at a venue is ideal for discovering new music. I book the bands and I get to see them play. This is really the crux of the “music venue as label”: it gives us the opportunity to take that relationship with the artist beyond the actual stage.
Justin Schwier, Underground Communique
I had all these friends and acquaintances that were in incredible bands and not really anyone else seemed willing to step up and do something about it. The epiphany was born out of frustration about a great band called Ambition Mission breaking up. They played their last show and made like 15 CD-R copies of their sole album. They broke up and had this amazing album that was so limited because they assumed no one cared. All I wanted was for that album to not die and disappear into the void. The Ambition Mission discography ended up being my first-ever release on my old label, Government Music, and is still one of my favorite releases.
Lance Barresi, Permanent Records
The label’s profitable sometimes and at least break-even most times. That said, the labor put into promoting and distributing each release isn’t calculated very specifically. After it’s all said and done, our label is mostly a labor of love. We absolutely care about the label’s success as it’s tied into our tastes and livelihood. If a release sells poorly, it’s like everybody’s telling us we have shitty taste. Nobody likes to be told they have shitty taste.
Melissa Geils & Eric Marsh, BLVD Records
We had friends who had music ready to be released, which is one of the many reasons we started up BLVD. It’s been a process of being lucky enough to put out music we like by people we like. It’s one big ever-growing family. I’ve worked at Laurie’s Planet of Sound for about 13 years, so new music comes at me every day. I also work at Late Bar, which has become a gathering space for a lot of great local artists and musicians and bands. —Melissa
I’ve always been a huge fan of Kranky Records. I really dig some of the older releases like Labradford (Prazision) and the first two Bowery Electric releases, and the more recent stuff like Tim Hecker (Harmony in Ultraviolet), Deerhunter (Cryptograms), Belong (Common Era), and obviously the great Disappears (Lux, Guider). It seems like a place where artists rule, where there are few boundaries, where the music does its own thing and speaks for itself. —Eric
Steve Mizek, Stolen Kisses/Argot
To update an old adage, I fall into the category of “those who can’t make music start record labels.” As my ticket inside dance music’s underground, Little White Earbuds has greatly honed my taste and afforded me opportunities to meet extremely talented individuals. Last year I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t pass up—a publishing and distribution deal—from which Stolen Kisses was born. Soon after I realized Stolen Kisses more of a limited series kind of imprint, which became ongoing concern. This month that concern blossoms in the shape of Argot.