Given Oregon's dismal unemployment rate (we're comin' at ya, Michigan!) and the sagging of music sales, it's not surprising that local music-related businesses have been having a tough year. But, since they'd seemed to buck recent industry trends, it was discouraging to learn that Portland-based music retailer and digital distributor CD Baby carried out some layoffs last week.
Tony van Veen—president of CD manufacturing powerhouse Disc Makers, which is majority-owned by an East Coast private equity group that also bought CD Baby last August from its founder Derek Sivers—explained that "in recent months CD Baby has seen a bit of a drop in CD sales volume, which are being replaced by digital download sales growth. This meant that there's less work in the warehouse, picking and packing orders. We don't believe the current downturn will end soon, and as a business we can't afford to carry more staff than we need over the long term."
Some CD Baby employees, however, are crying foul, seeing the layoffs as a move by the East Coast owners to weed out the remnants of the Portland-based, Sivers-era management. Mercury contributor Maranda Bish, who left her job of nearly two years at CD Baby shortly before the cutbacks, stated: "Twelve employees were laid off, and very generous severance packages were provided. But it dismayed many employees that some of those laid off were known to be dissenters of the new management, and others were employees who held key positions, effectively removing the last vestiges of the old management. In light of the way things were handled, another high level employee resigned of his own will. The rest of the staff has been assured, after this third round of firing, that their jobs are safe. The sentiment remains insecure."
One upside to economic downturns is a rise in entrepreneurship; denizens of Sellwood, a neighborhood long without a reliable music venue, can take heart in the imminent opening of The Woods this summer. The project of business partners Vivien Lyon and Ritchie Young (of Loch Lomond), The Woods occupies the former premises of the Wilhelm Funeral Home at SE 14th and Claybourne, and features an aesthetic, according to Young, "like a 1930s lobby in the fanciest hotel in Missoula, MT... When you walk in there we don't want you to see any new technology except the PA, just kinda have this feeling you could be at a clubhouse in the '30s or '40s." Booking will be handled by Caroline Buchalter, formerly of the Wonder Ballroom and Mississippi Studios, and will be oriented "more towards quieter, acoustic music." The Woods will serve alcohol, with no definitive word yet on all-ages possibilities.
In other communal-bootstrap-liftin' news, Levi Cecil—better known as Leviethan—is testing out a new business model for his forthcoming album, Everything Is Fine. Cecil is soliciting advance purchases from fans to cover the costs of manufacturing and promoting his record, which he estimates at around $3300. More than halfway to his goal, Cecil expects to have the album ready for pressing by mid-June. "This isn't about money," says Cecil. "I could easily go into debt and put out the CD and try to sell it. Really, it's an experiment to see if I can help to change people's thinking about how the music they listen to gets into their ears. I've always felt that music is not a product, it's an idea that's worth investing in."