Wednesday Records Readies Itself to Take On the Musical World
by Brett Leigh Dicks
A friend of mine once told me the best way to make a small fortune in independent music is to start off with a large one. But in a day and age when music is freely reaching the ears of more people than ever before and downloading decreases the need to purchase CDs, the emergence of a record label is becoming a rare event. Web sites like iTunes.com offer an overwhelming catalogue of recorded material that require only a computer, a server, and a click of the mouse, allowing people’s musical obsessions to be satisfied at home.
And it isn’t just distribution that has been revolutionized. The MySpace.com phenomenon has seen the evolution of a service where artists can take their wares directly to the people. In bypassing the traditional approaches to marketing and promotion, fans can go directly to the source. And, as a result, niche markets are self-assembling. All this musical streamlining raises an obvious question: Why would anyone dive headlong into starting an independent label at this point in time?
For two Santa Barbarans, that’s a very easy question to answer since, for them, it all comes down to the music. Tim Boris and Jonathan Miller have recently thrown their financial resources, tireless dedication, and endless enthusiasm behind Wednesday Records, a Santa Barbara-based independent music label. But Wednesday Records isn’t just going to be a local label with a regional strategy. A third partner, Ben Sweet, is based in Philadelphia, giving the label a crucial presence in music centers on both coasts. Even so, with more artists currently soliciting digital distribution and fans flocking to MySpace.com in droves, one suspects starting a label is presently one of the more precarious commercial undertakings around town.
“We were joking that this is probably the best way to lose money in the year 2006,” offered Miller. “The old model of how to put out and market a record is one that doesn’t really translate well to where we are at today.” As a result, labels sink or swim based on their approach to the new mode of music distribution and their ability to sort through the mass of artists online and find truly talented musicians.
In such a dynamic marketplace, record labels have had to change their approach to releasing music, as well. Downloading sites such as iTunes.com and Napster.com have quickly become the largest distributors of recorded music, making digital distribution a required consideration when releasing a record. People used to have their favorite record store, but now they routinely favor a specific download site. And with so many options available, how do independent labels compete with the reach and might of a major label?
“The first thing we did was sign a digital distribution agreement with Iris, a clearing house for independent labels,” explained Miller. The one-stop clearing house offers collective bargaining, making it possible for all the independent labels to achieve a better and fairer rate. With the groundwork done and the foundations firmly laid, the partners can now turn their attention to the day-to-day activities associated with running an independent music label.
And each partner in Wednesday brings something unique to the mix. For Sweet, it is his previous label experience. Miller, a musician and member of the S.B.-based band Little Heroes, has a wealth of experience from a musician’s perspective. And Boris brings his sheer enthusiasm for music and attention to details.
“I’m definitely the details guy,” Boris smirked, fumbling through the press package with which the band presented me to make sure the first Little Heroes album was included. “This has been a terrific learning experience for me. Working with the Little Heroes has gotten me ready, so it will be interesting when I have to work with a band I have no previous relationship with.” The decision to base Wednesday Records in Santa Barbara was not taken lightly. While each partner is firmly entrenched within the local legal fraternity, they look to S.B.’s musical legacy for encouragement with the label. Along with bands like The Coral Sea, The Snake The Cross The Crown, and Hero and the Victor, local labels such as Lobster and Matinee also have helped place Santa Barbara in the musical spotlight. Miller quickly reminded us that Dim Mak Records — home of Bloc Party — also started here in Santa Barbara. And they want their label to be greatly influenced by that sense of community.
“Having played in independent bands, I know the frustration of being on tour where there are no posters hanging around town and no records in the stores,” explained Miller. “Even though you’re on a label, you can feel abandoned. It’s so important to have a label that will be there to offer support. Some labels get terribly upset when a band becomes successful and leaves them to go with someone bigger. To us, that’s the whole point.”