Here we are, 10 years after we first installed Napster on our Gateway 2000 laptops, two since In Rainbows debuted as an online busking experiment, and eight months after venerable independent label Touch and Go cut off its distribution arm, and, clearly, the music industry (if that's still a thing) has not reached a consensus about how best to adapt to the century that began a decade ago. We need look no farther than this week's local music goings-on to see that the current role and shape of the record label remains decidedly indeterminate.
When Lookbook takes the stage at Mississippi Studios on Friday, October 9, they will be celebrating not only the release of their debut album The Look and Feel, but also the launch of This-a-Way Recording Collective. This-a-Way founder Mistina Keith—whose band the Prids comprises the all-Portland T-a-W roster along with Lookbook, Soft Tags, and We Miss the Earth—summarized the collective's business model as "If you take care of me, I'll take care of you."
She elaborates: "There are a few core co-op members from each band. They volunteer their time to assist in the promotion of whatever upcoming release we have planned, using whatever relationships they've made along the way (with distribution, replication companies, etc.), or unique skills others in the group may not possess. I, for instance, have booked tours across the US for 10 years, David from the Prids is a recording engineer, and Gordon from Soft Tags is a filmmaker and great web designer. This makes being a DIY working musician easier through peer support. It's like being on a label and working at one, too... There are no contracts, and no money fronted, therefore we're nothing like the traditional label model. Technically everyone is self-releasing their own records."
As Keith and company strike out for label-free co-op territory with This-a-Way, Lackthereof—the long-standing, protean solo project of Menomena drummer Danny Seim—is going that-a-way on Tuesday, October 13, when his new album A Lackthereof Retrospective 1998-2008, or I Was a Christian Emo Twentysomething comes out courtesy of local label FILMguerrero and distro partner Barsuk Records. As Seim explains, the label-backed album compiles highlights from his self-released back catalog with the intent of finding them a larger audience:
"The majority of these songs have only been given out to my friends for free on cassettes and CD-Rs over the past decade, and I've always wanted to change that somehow. I've yet to find a label that would reissue 10 so-so albums by an artist that refuses to tour, so a cherry-picked retrospective was the next best option. Thanks Barsuk! As for the timing, I thought I'd better release this thing quick if I ever want these songs to be listened to on a shiny plastic circle thing that was already obsolete, like, yesterday."
Meanwhile, Portland-based Shins mastermind James Mercer reminded us this week that major labels not only continue to exist, but still hold some appeal for established artists, with the announcement that he has formed a new band with Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse), provisionally called Broken Bells, that will be putting out an album in early 2010 on Sony-owned Columbia Records. The duo's decision to work with a major label comes as a surprise given Danger Mouse's much-publicized and seemingly irresolvable conflicts with EMI over the release of his sample-heavy work on The Grey Album and Dark Night of the Soul (which included contributions from Mercer). Moreover, Mercer elected earlier this year to end the Shins' long and successful relationship with the independent Sub Pop, a move many interpreted to mean that future Shins recordings would be self-released.