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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

2010: The Year Lo Fi Broke

   The end of the year is the time when music writers assemble lists of things like "top albums" "top singles", etc.  As I've noted here, there is something about the human mind and ordering things in numbered lists.  You can see a compilation of such lists published this year over at the excellent blog Largehearted Boy.

  I have almost nothing to add to that conversation except the following:  On ranking the Caribou LP in the top ten:  Really? Did they put out a second record that I didn't hear? Because the record I listened to was not a top anything kind of effort; and Beach House really won me over during the course of the year and their record is a huge winner.

   For me, 2010 was interesting in a musical sense because it was the year many of my friends and acquaintances put out formal albums on reputable indie labels.  Some of these people are I consider friends and business partners, others just happen to be artists who I was fortunate enough to be writing about and listening to prior to their 2010 break out year.  For example, here is a show poster from July 17th, 2009, which shows the Beaters as the headliner at a show at THE WHISTLESTOP:

  At the time of this post (July 17th 2009) I wrote:  

     I said I wasn't going to do too much on this show because I want to actually enjoy it myself, but the whole world is talking about Best Coast (i.e United States and the U.K.) and, to a lesser, extent, Pearl Harbour. She's got a 7" coming out on Art Fag Recordings... 2010? Anyway, personally, I'm very excited for this show. And it's free, which is just stupid.  

    I'm just providing that paragraph for the purpose of comparison: between a time (last year) and what everyone knows to be the case this year.

     For me, 2010 was all about learning what happens to artists when they firmly move up a weight class, from local scenes to national and international scenes.   A surprising insight I had about this movement is the air at the national level is just as thin, if not more oxygen deprived, then the air of the local scene.  Every single artist I've personally witnessed succeeding in moving up a weight class (or moving from the minors to the majors if you prefer a baseball metaphor) in the world of music in 2010 did it with a mixture of intelligent song writing, a steady diet of touring and a degree of personal sacrifice.

  The reward for all this hard work is not fame and fortune, but rather a legitimate shot at a professional career as a pop musician. 

     2010 was also notable for the rise of a class of American Independent Record Labels, that, in my mind at least has the potential for hall of fame status.  You think about all the negative things that happened to independent record labels in the the last several years- it's important to balance out the picture.  For example, the Altered Zones post on Sacred Bones (which was AWESOME btw) mentions that Sacred Bones formation happened as follows:

      Taylor: I’m from Chicago. Caleb and I became friends five years ago. I was a Sales Rep at Touch and Go, and Caleb was one of my buyers. Then Touch and Go laid off their whole staff. (ALTERED ZONES)

    Here we see what I believe to be a pattern and explanation for the rise of many Independent Record Labels in the United States in the years leading to 2010:  A dedicated record store clerk or independent musician who started an independent record label in the mid 2000s, leading to a partnership with either a cast off from the music industry proper or an entrepreneur  interested in starting their own independent record label.  The combination of planning with passion creates a solid foundation for future growth.
  Sacred Bones (2007) is a good example.  Also on the list are the following: Captured Tracks (2008), Hozac Records (2006),  PPM (2005?),  Art Fag Recordings (2005).  All of these labels have been directly inspired by the American Independent Record Labels of the 1980s and 1990s, but all have benefited by being completely divorced from the economic pressures facing older record labels.  These labels have in turn inspired an even newer batch of Independent Record Labels run by bloggers and artists.

   The seminal event in 2010 from the Independent Record Label view-point is the release of the Best Coast LP by Mexican Summer.  Mexican Summer purchased the record after the recording and mastering was completed.   They released with a very short turn around.  Mexican Summer ITSELF was founded in 2008, as a "sub label" of Kemado Records- which has been around since 2002.   Another good example this year were the releases of LP's by Lefse Records (2008?) by artists like Neon Indian and How to Dress Well.  A third example is IAMSOUND (2006) releasing the Salem LP This second group of labels is characterized by a shorter learning curve and the presence of sufficient capital.

  However, it is the nature of the relationship between music and technology that few, if any, of the trends that were relevant in 2010 will continue to be so in 2011.  Artists or Record Label owner looking to draw lessons from 2010 should be warned that a primary impact of technology on music is that consumer taste changes rapidly.

  I would expect 2011 to be characterized by the same thing that happens every year ever- bigger music labels will try to figure out who to sign up, and indie labels will fight to maximize the attention for their artists.  Perhaps the most interesting thing to witness for me personally in 2010, is the ways in which more established Independent Record Labels from the 80s and 90s, particularly Sub Pop and Matador, are reacting to the trends I am talking about.  In 2010, Matador actually acquired True Panther Sounds (2004).  2010 also saw the development of co-operation between Mexican Summer (2008) and Captured Tracks (2008).  I would expect to see more of this in 2011.

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