In the course of our morning reading today, we came across this article in Wired about San Francisco label and music blog offshoot Love Letters Ink. The article’s not helped by a silly headline (“hacking the record industry,” indeed) but the premise of looking at blog-related labels is worthy enough — the rise of labels built on music blogging foundations has been one of the more interesting developments of recent years. Unlike Wired, we’re not so sure that they are in any way altering the landscape of the record industry — they’re indie labels, basically — although their origins do raise some interesting questions about where criticism ends and publicity begins. Either way, they’re certainly home to some fascinating music, and after the jump we’ve pulled together ten more noteworthy blog-based labels. What are your favorites?
The poster child for successful blog-based labels, Tri Angle arose out of Robin Carolan’s fantastic 20 Jazz Funk Greats blog, which is still going strong with its mix of idiosyncratic writing, psychedelic obscurities, and guest-curated podcasts. Tri Angle’s become pretty much synonymous with witch house, having released records by the likes of Balam Acab, How to Dress Well, and oOoOO. All those bands were featured on 20JFG before signing with Tri Angle, demonstrating the comfortable synchronicity that blog and label can share – perhaps a little too comfortable, depending on exactly how much impartiality you expect from your bloggers. But, anyway, whatever your philosophical and ethical view on the idea of combining blogging and selling, there’s some fine music to be had here.
The brainchild of seemingly-indie-but-actually-not-indie-at-all blog umbrella group BuzzMedia — who own Stereogum, Popmatters, Gorilla vs. Bear, and The Hype Machine, among others — RCRD LBL launched in 2007 as a hybrid blog/label based around the idea of offering free, ad-supported downloads of music from a variety of “real” record label partners who’ve signed partnership agreements with the site. The idea’s clearly working, because four years later, RCRD LBL is going stronger than ever.
Another BuzzMedia-related blog spinoff, this time a joint endeavour between the founders of Gorilla vs. Bear and Weekly Tape Deck. Forest Family launched last year and has seven releases under its belt to date, the most noteworthy of which has been the first — the “Go Outside” 7″ from hype-laden NYC duo Cults. As one of the commenters on the Wired article took pleasure in pointing out (we know, we know, we shouldn’t read the comments section, but still…), Cults have since gone onto bigger and better things, signing with Columbia. But this isn’t a bad thing — indie labels have also incubated talent, and if such talent is able to go on to a successful career, then more power to them. Right?
One of the earliest blog-related labels, Autumn Tone was founded in 2005 by Justin Gage, who also runs LA-based blog Aquarium Drunkard. Over six years, Autumn Tone has consolidated itself into a fine sideline for Gage and a respected label in its own right, largely releasing music by West Coast-based guitar bands and folk artists, including bands like Dirty Gold and The Happy Hollows, and solo work by Fleet Foxes drummer J Tillman.
Fans of music that sounds like glaciers moving will probably be overjoyed at the news of the newest blog on this list — The Soda Shop Records, which was announced all of two days ago. As per its mission statement, The Soda Shop blog specializes in “stoner rock/metal and doom metal,” and its brand-new record label will be geared in broadly the same direction. The label’s first release is the debut album for suitably heavy-sounding Chicago five-piece Low of the Low. Rawk.
This is another joint blog venture, this time combining the efforts of two fine blogs in I Guess I’m Floating and YVYNYL. It was launched last years and its catalog currently comprises three 7″ releases (from Idiot Glee, Campfires, and Guards). There’s no word on what might be up next, and there’s not been a lot of activity on the label’s Facebook page of late, so we’re hoping that it’s still an ongoing proposition.
Daytrotter is an interesting case — it’s not really a label, in that it’s not selling music, but it’s probably published more music than the rest of the blogs on this list put together, in the form of its regular Daytrotter Sessions. The blog was founded as an offshoot of Illinois recording studio The Horseshack, where the sessions are recorded on a selection of vintage, analog equipment. A Daytrotter session has become an almost compulsory routine for any indie band looking to promote a new record, and a trawl through the site’s extensive archive is a very pleasurable and rewarding way to spend a couple of hours.
Founded last year by Craig Lile of My Old Kentucky Blog, Roaring Colonel is part of a burgeoning empire that also encompasses gig promotion (under the MOKB Presents banner) and a radio show. In a way, this model represents everything that’s good and potentially problematic about blog labels — look, for instance, at Indianapolis band Hotfox, who were promoted via the blog, asked to play shows, and eventually signed to the label. It’s an interesting model — there’s no doubt that a genuine affection for the band in question is at play here, and this can only be a good thing. But it also shows that we think about blogs in a different way to how we think about, say, magazines; we might regard it as a wee bit cynical if, say, Vice kept banging on about the virtues of Vice Records signees Black Lips.
Displaying the sort of precociousness that sends shivers down the spine of anyone over about 25, Good Weather for Airstrikes founder Derek Davies co-founded this NYC-based label with former Vice intern Lizzy Plapinger while both were still in college, using the savings from summer jobs to do so. They’ve since hit it big with Passion Pit and Marina and the Diamonds, both of whom Davies was championing with his blog before he put out their records. The ensuing success no doubt makes having waited all those tables seem like not such a bad thing after all.
Although it isn’t really a label per se, Stereogum has nevertheless been responsible for some fascinating releases over the last few years in the form of its tribute compilations. The best is probably OKX, its tribute to OK Computer, but there’ve also been similar projects for R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People and Björk’s Post. The projects have certainly been excellent exposure for the artists featured (who’d have ever thought Vampire Weekend covering Radiohead could sound good?) and demonstrate both the selling power and cultural cachet a site like Stereogum has in 2011.