A capacity crowd of more than 300 filled Los Angeles’ Platinum Liveclub on February 26th for “Independence Day: Charting a NewStandard for Success,” produced by the National Association ofRecord Industry Professionals. The panel discussion featuredrepresentatives from five established indie labels, whose rosterscovered the spectrum from punk rock and electronica to R&B and pop.Panelists’ opinions were as diverse as the music, from Alan Beck,president of R&B/soul label ITP Records, who tries “to ignorethe mainstream of the business,” to Greg Latterman, founder ofAware Records (home to Train, Drops of Jupiter and 2003 Grammy-winnerJohn Mayer), who “has always focused on bands that aremiddle-of-the-road.”
Not surprisingly, a lively discussion, moderated by NARIP presidentTess Taylor, ensued. Topics ran the gamut from how to deal with (orcircumvent!) radio, to CD pricing, international distribution, Internetstrategies, the importance of diversification and whether freedownloading is boon or bane for indie labels and their artists. BesidesBeck and Latterman, speakers included Joe Escalante, lawyer/Vandalspunk rock guitarist/head of Kung Fu Records & Films; Jon Levy,co-owner of dance and electronica’s Moonshine Music & Movies; andTom Osborne, general manager of Artist Direct’s iMusic imprint (JohnnyMarr, Folk Implosion, Lisa Germano).
“The industry’s down right now,” admitted Latterman,“but a lot of it is because a lot of the boy bands and girl bandsthat were selling 10 and 15 million records two, three, four, fiveyears ago [aren’t anymore], and thank God they’re all gone now. If youpull those bands out of the percentages, we’d be flat; maybe a littlebit down. It’s not all doom and gloom…and the Internet anddownloads build bands and break bands, too. You just have to figure outhow — if you’re going to sell a CD — to give value. Youhave to make people want to buy it.”
Each panelist had a unique take on how to do that: Beck has his ownradio show and promotes concerts; Escalante and The Vandals tour withKung Fu’s baby bands as support; Levy puts out“artist-driven” compilation CDs; and Osborne focuses onmarketing artists who have an established fan base. One common themethat emerged from the discussions was the necessity for diversity,whether it was in merchandising, management, publishing, concertproduction, DVDs, video or films.
“As independents, I think you have to focus a little less onwhether sales are up or down,” noted Levy. “It’s more aboutyour profit. We’re small businesses like every other small business inthe United States. We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Hey, wejust lost $5 million, but we’ve got a Number One record.’ That’sfine if you’re a top executive at a major label. You’ll get a bonus forthat. But as independents, what’s important is: Are you makingmoney?”
Founded in 1998 by Taylor, a classical pianist and former MCARecords marketing director, NARIP is a networking andcontinuing-education organization for record industry professionals.NARIP sponsors regular events and workshops, and also provides joblistings. Based in Los Angeles, NARIP is also opening branches in NewYork and London, with Canada soon to follow. Visit www.NARIP.com.
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