All posts tagged Matador

Indie Dispatches: Independent Labels Face Uncertain Future Following PIAS Fire

The dominating chatter this week in the indie sector is the gut-wrenching news from the UK about the fire at the Sony DADC warehouse set during the London rioting, that destroyed most, if not all of the stock held there by PIAS distribution. The list of the labels affected, who lost massive quantities of LP’s and CD’s in the fire, is a veritable who’s who of the UK & US indie sector – 4AD, Sub Pop, Domino, XL, FatCat, Matador, Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar, Warp, Memphis Industries, Chemikal Underground, Ninja Tune, Rough Trade, Setanta, Soul Jazz, Wall of Sound, DriveThru and SideOneDummy just to name a few. In fact, it may be easier to compile a list of indies that didn’t suffer losses. And some of the figures coming through are staggering – Beggars Group head Martin Mills stated they lost over 750,000 units of stock, and labels like Memphis Industries claim all they are left with was the meagre remaining stock they had on hand in their offices.

There is no argument that this could deal a crippling blow to many companies, who are already finding it hard to keep the doors open due to the overall slump in the record business, and could even signal the death knell for a number of indie labels. There is reportedly insurance coverage, though with possible questions as to whether the underwriters will enforce the typical force majeure clauses in their policies to escape from their obligations, with back up legislation in place for government agencies to foot the bill as a last-resort, but such payments would only extend to actual cost of product (of a dollar or two), and excludes the additional margins a label would make. So chances are that won’t guarantee survival of some labels, who are suddenly faced with a lengthy period with minimal cashflow coming in from physical sales, compounded by the need to spend cash to replace the stock, with any funds from insurance estimated to take a minimum of six months. In the meantime there are artist payments, overhead, salaries, marketing costs to cover, and often the smaller indies get by on a month-by-month basis. Labels could also have paid significant sums for marketing programs that now are worthless due to a lack of stock to ship to retail, and bands won’t be able to purchase stock to sell on the road, not to mention the sheer length of time and difficulties in getting vinyl pressed… The list of ramifications are extensive. Larger companies like 4AD, Domino and their ilk will be able to weather the storm, and some US labels could benefit by having stock they could ship from this side of the Atlantic, but there is no disguising that everyone will be impacted to some degree, and it may well become the proverbial ‘straw’ for any companies already teetering on the edge. And for a lot of the labels this week has constituted a double hit, after many, such as Sub Pop, lost money when Pinnacle Distribution went bankrupt two years ago. At that time, PIAS stepped in to partner with many indies that were caught up in the liquidation, the same indies who were just struck a body blow this week with the warehouse fire. Mind you, the elephant in the room is that for some companies it could be a blessing in disguise, as a warehouse full of dead stock (that they pay monthly storage on), which maybe was worthless and destined for the crusher, could suddenly be eligible for an insurance payout, recouping costs of manufacture – far more return than the label would otherwise receive. And of course an upside, if there is one, of the decline in the market for physical product over the last few years, is that at least the expansion of digital distribution has led to a viable alternative to the CD and LP, now accounting for a healthy percentage of sales, and the week’s disaster has not left labels with zero income opportunities. Ten years ago, that would not have been the case, and a tragic event such as this would more than likely have resulted in many more indie labels biting the dust.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Legacy Incorporated

Among 4AD's preeminent releases

There’s no arguing that more than a few eyebrows were raised in the indie community recently, over the release of the debut EP from Inc. (formerly Teen, Inc.) on the storied 4AD label. Since 4AD is usually seen as a bastion of good taste, and the home of a remarkable and significant back catalog, the signing of the L.A. ‘crew’, who have played a minute number of shows in their hometown, and have not garnered any great number of glowing reviews, was seen as quite a surprise. Furthermore, when a band seems manufactured for the blogosphere, and even Pitchfork decides the band is not up to snuff describing them as “a total fucking disaster” , a “huh? what were they thinking?” response isn’t unexpected. Which begs the question of “legacy”. A band like Inc. definitely pales in comparison to prior generations artists of on 4AD – from the Pixies and Lush, to Dead Can Dance or the Cocteau Twins - and even more recent signings such as Deerhunter, The National and (love them or hate them) tUnE-yArDs.

But then no label can be seen as having a totally flawless roster, and every company has more than one clanger they have signed. Sub Pop may be lauded for Nirvana, Sebadoh, Sunny Day Real Estate or the Scud Mountain Boys, but the 90′s also saw them ink Teen Angels, Chixdiggit and The Yo Yo’s - acts that haven’t weathered the test of time all that well (and maybe were not universally embraced at the time either). Even recently the Seattle indie might want people to forget Tiny Vipers and Ruby Suns in lieu of Blitzen Trapper and The Head and the Heart. Or with Matador you may make the argument for Pavement and Sonic Youth over Bunnybrains and Esben and the Witch. While the majors have a history of actions like this – possibly tainting their legacy with a new generation of artists, especially when they are absorbed into larger music conglomerates – for example Atlantic, where Otis Redding & Led Zeppelin can be seen as far superior to Kitten, or 3Oh!3. Even somewhere like Elektra released some better-left-forgotten records before their golden years signing Love, MC5, Tim BuckleyThe Stooges and Television, while Liberty (which later owned the Blue Note catalog) made their money with the hit Chipmunks records, and most recently the decision to hand the legendary Verve label over to David Foster – better known for producing schmaltzy elevator pop – has jazz afficiandos shaking their heads in dismay. So, when it comes to the music business, “legacy” can be a slippery slope. But to a large degree consensus seems to be that the independents exercise a deeper level of taste, and stay truer to their roots as a bastion of taste. So for the moment, while 4AD may have taken a baffling step with Inc., maybe the sands of time will show that the band, and their faux Prince-isms, were just a momentary lapse of reason, an embarrassing sidestep, swept under the rug as the indie regains its well-deserved reputation for their A grade roster.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: A Look at the Long Road in an Age of Hype

Kevin Devine to release his latest album Between the Concrete and Clouds on Razor & Tie

There seems to be a tendency in the media world in 2011 – especially amongst blogs and online outlets obviously – to go hell for leather-touting whatever the next shiny-new-thing coming down the street (which will likely have a shelf life of about 10 minutes – Black Kids anyone?)  And in that mad stampede, it’s sometimes the older artists who get lost in the proverbial shuffle. Which is a shame, because more likely than not, their records are better, and longer-lasting than some of their younger competitors. Just look at Thurston Moore who, despite his Dorian Gray eternal baby-faced looks, is truly an elder statesman when it comes to alternative rock. 2011 has seen his new solo release (what must be about his 325th record overall!), where he took a daring step in making an acoustic album. Demolished Thoughts, released by indie Matador, sees Thurston (who celebrated his 53rd birthday this week!!!), passing up his regular noise for a gentler affair, sitting somewhere between the music of his current touring (& label) partner Kurt Vile, and the more plaintive moments of Beck – who produced the album. And in the process, the lanky New Yorker made a fine record, one that the folk battering down the doors in search of new EMA or Rainbow Arabia albums, would be making an error to ignore.

And how about Thurston’s former DGC label-mates in Sloan? The Canadian stalwarts celebrated their 20-year anniversary this year by putting out a new album, appropriately titled XX – the Double Cross. Each record from the foursome, with XX the 10th overall, has been a barrage of power pop songs that have stood up well, and there is no disputing their landmark album One Chord to Another still sounds as fresh 16 years (and 3-4 labels) on from its original release. And while the Nova Scotian quartet may not have seen a lot in the way of ‘hits’ – at least south of the border – there is no disputing Sloan still have a wide and dedicated group of devotees, even after 20 years.

Then there is Kevin Devine. He may reside in Brooklyn, like many of the blog obsessives, but it’s not as though he receives the same coverage.  Once again a crying shame, as the singer-songwriter has spent 10 plus years making smart, thoughtful and well crafted records, from his early days in Miracle of 86, through a number of solo releases – not to mention his recent collaboration with Manchester Orchestra under the name Bad Books – an oeuvre that includes Put Your Ghost to Rest, which could possibly be classified as “the best album released for what seemed like 10 minutes on Capitol Records in 2006″ (Devine was dropped soon after its release). But the songs from that and his other albums have barely aged, showing infinitely more longevity than some of his buzzy counterparts over the years. The good news is that Devine has finished a new record, Between the Concrete and Clouds, which is scheduled for release in the fall through Razor & Tie. And what’s the bet we’ll still be hearing from Devine in 2021 – something that is far from guaranteed when it comes to the likes of Wu Lyf, or Inc.

- Cool Hand Luke

Wednesday Bits & Pieces: eMusic Loses Big Indies, Warner Re-Ups with Spotify & UMG Looking to Get Lean

Indies On the Way Out

Last month digital music retailer eMusic announced that they would be adding a quarter-million more songs to its service in a new partnership with Universal Music Group, this following previous deals with Warner Music and Sony over the last year, a move which had some questioning whether the service was getting away from its ‘independent’ roots. While too early to tell the larger effects the new major label partnerships will have on customers, some big indie labels have decided they will no longer make their music available, including Domino Records, Merge and the Beggars Group of labels, which includes 4AD and Matador among others. No small exit, as those handful of labels are home to some of the most popular current and past independent acts including Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Spoon, Bon Iver and many many others. A statement from Beggars Group made it clear that the split, at least for them, is directly in response to the arrival of the major labels to the service and new terms that they “have found impossible to accept, in our own interests, those of our artists, and ultimately those of their fans”… In the latest Warner Music earnings call, it was revealed that the company has renewed their existing deal with Spotify, which currently covers European markets. And while no update on a agreement covering the U.S., many still suspect that deals with multiple majors for the startup to launch its service in America are in motion.  In reference to the continued gap between physical and digital music sales, CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. made it clear that he (and presumably all the labels) are hopeful for digital increases with the launch of Google‘s impending music service among others, like Spotify?… More talk of looming cutbacks at UMG persist after the CFO of parent company Vivendi made recent ominous comments about cost saving needs, including “A lot of fat can be taken out without hurting muscle and bones” – onlookers continue to keep an eye on Island Def Jam as one of Lucian Grainge‘s prime targets for restructuring… Elsewhere, Amazon.com is getting into the movie business by launching Amazon StudiosCheck Your Pulse songwriter Bonnie McKee talks to Billboard about launching her own recording project after a string of credits on some of 2010′s biggest songs… And inquiring minds want to know, which former major label head has been spotted moonlighting on lead guitar in a Neil Young cover band?

Indie Dispatches: Checking in on the Charts & Off to MusicfestNW

Another week, and another set of prime independent releases smash into the upper reaches of the mainstream charts. This past week it was Sufjan Stevens, Ra Ra Riot and The Sword with their moment in the spotlight, as all three made it into the top 50. Most noteworthy is the Sufjan EP, All Delighted People, which managed to rank #27 in spite of a previous limited release (that also trickled into the charts), and still being digital-only with no physical formats due for some time. Meanwhile Ra Ra Riot’s The Orchard on Barsuk clocked in at #36, and the Kemado/Mexican Summer crew showed that their Best Coast chart debut was no fluke by nabbing the #42 slot with the Warp Riders album from Texas face-melting metal band The Sword. Of course the real message in chart-land may be that the majors are losing ground (and sales) faster than the indies. But with the proliferation of prime independent releases hitting the charts in 2010, including the Arcade Fire nabbing the top spot, and the just-released Interpol album on Matador sure to do big business, maybe the story is now almost becoming a non-story?

Meanwhile, this week all (discerning) eyes are pointed towards the northwest. As if Stumptown Coffee, Pok Pok restaurant, the fresh air, Voodoo Donuts and the fine vinyl emporiums (like Mississippi Records) aren’t enough of a reason to make a trip to Portland, OR, the annual MusicFestNW festival is the icing on the cake. The 2010 line-up may be the festival’s best yet, featuring a heavy bias towards some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest talent, both new and old, paired with a choice selection of artists from other regions. So you have A-list acts such as The Decemberists, The National, The Walkmen and Panda Bear, combined with newbies such as The Head and the Heart, Jeff the Brotherhood and Magic Kids, making for a winning combination. Add in The Thermals, Kevin Devine, Menomena, The Dodos, AA Bondy and Past Lives and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to spend your time this weekend.

- Cool Hand Luke

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Indie Dispatches: Interpol’s Return to Matador, Original Signal in Trouble? & Labels Act on Active Child

Interpol parts ways with Capitol, set to release new album on Matador

Cementing the fact that 2010 is going to be a blockbuster year for independent artists, was the news last week of the impending release of a new record from Interpol. The album will be self-titled and is the New York band’s fourth full-length release. The interesting twist to the story is that the group has decamped from their major label, Capitol, returning to their original home on indie-label Matador Records, who will release the album on September 14th.  Those keeping score may recall quite the melee in 2006 as a slew of major record companies tried to sign the band, with Capitol ultimately winning the derby and releasing the band’s third album Our Love to Admire. But the stay proved to be an unsuccessful one, with figures showing the earlier Matador albums greatly outselling the Capitol release, leaving the two to part ways after just one record. As to whether this is an ominous signal for other indie acts that have recently signed to major labels, such as Band of Horses and James Mercer (of The Shins), only time will tell.

The independent arena itself is not free of travails however, if rumors of the demise of Original Signal Recordings prove to be true, it will leave a number of high profile indie bands looking for a new home. Best-selling Swedish group, The Sounds, Kill Hannah, and Ingrid Michaelson are just three of the acts that had their music released via the NY-based label, and who could now be highly sought after free agents.

Finally, it appears that L.A. combo Active Child currently has at least five independent labels vying to ink the band, with suitors including heavyweights Vagrant, Glassnote, and XL. Active Child is centered around choirboy-turned-indie-musician Pat Grossi, who is also noted for his harp playing on stage. The group was among the buzz acts to come out of SXSW this year, and they recently released an EP, Curtis Lane, on Filter Recordings.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Straight From the Chart

Sharon Jones' New Album Enters Top 200 Its First Week

Last week saw another independent label release break into the ‘big boy charts’ with the Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings album I Learned the Hard Way scoring a #15 spot in the Billboard Top 200 with over 20k in sales in its first week. The interesting twist to the story is that the album is on Daptone Records, a label that could be seen more as a cottage operation rather than one of the more storied independent labels. The big winner for the year so far in the indie-label chart story however, has been Merge Records, which has had not one, but two new releases hit the top five in 2010. First with the Spoon Transference album back in January and most recently She and Him‘s Volume Two. And that list doesn’t include the highly anticipated third album from the Arcade Fire that is reportedly due out this year. Could that end up being the North Carolina label’s first ever number one album?

Less than a decade ago the thought of an indie release cracking the charts in general, let alone the Top 10, was a pipe dream. Even pre-eminent artists on labels like Sub Pop or Matador in the 90′s barely scraped into the Top 100 – a reason for great celebration at the time. It seems like up until recently the only ranking an independent release could have was in Heatseekers or the tinpot Billboard Indie Chart, but all that has seemingly changed when even the Local Natives album on tiny Frenchkiss Records can hit the Top 200. While it is true independent label sales have seen a slump, and it is as hard as ever for the indies (like majors) to sell records, the drop has in some ways not been as cataclysmic as that of the Big Four.  Maybe it can be attributed to the indies’ dedication to their community of buyers, where the fans seem more invested in the artists,  or maybe it has just been a policy of good releases and reasonable prices.  But most likely it is the fact that many independent labels have simply continued to consistently put out great music.  Whatever the reason, it seems like in 2010 the kids are alright

- Cool Hand Luke