Bluegrass labels – promotion and new acts

Here is the final installment in our interview series with four of the folks who run prominent bluegrass-oriented record labels. Previous posts have discussed how these labels’ sales in 2007 compared with the dire trends in the wider record business, the sales of digital audio versus manufactured discs and the future of the album format.

The last two questions we examined touch on how promotion of new releases may have changed, and whether the labels (Pinecastle, Rebel, Rounder and Rural Rhythm) look for anything different in new acts they consider signing in this rapidly changing market.

First we posed this query: “How has your promotion changed in the face of industry and sales trends ‚Äì and how do you envision promotion changing in the near future?”

Ethan Burkhardt, Pinecastle Records:

“We are having to be more conservative with our advertising and marketing budgets. In turn, we are focusing on online guerrilla marketing and are relying heavily on our tour support for free publicity through newspaper and radio interviews. Just as we’re seeing more money from digital sales, we’re also going to see more of our promotions and advertising shift over to viral marketing and online advertising.”

Dave Freeman, Rebel Records:

“We are doing less print advertising as it is getting more costly and yielding less results. Bluegrass Unlimited is one of the few places we can count on getting results. We have had great radio play all over the country (especially the Southeast), but we may cut back on sending out DJ copies as well, because there’s usually no place where people can buy the CDs even if they hear them on radio and like them.”

Ken Irwin, Rounder Records:

“We have started and will continue to do more promotion and advertising online and have become more selective in our decisions about advertising in general.”

Sam Passamano, Rural Rhythm Records:

“Consumers need to hear the music and there are so many more opportunities to expose our artists to bluegrass listeners today and it’s expanding all the time. It’s very exciting to see all the new online opportunities like the artist sites, label sites, magazine sites, blogs, MySpace, YouTube, digital music providers, online retailers, etc. Bluegrass music consumers today can listen to song clips of the entire album, see the artist’s music videos, read about the artist, listen to an artist interviews, read album reviews and see where the artist is touring all at a click of the finger.

We also asked: “What sort of things are you looking for in a new act? What attracts you to them, in terms of music and being able to promote them?”

Sam Passamano, Rural Rhythm Records:

“I think one of the most important areas – and our artists hear me say this many times – is that artists need to have a strong vision about their music, image and career. They need to be leading the parade and not give up that leadership role under any circumstances. The artist needs to be unique, with something that will set them apart from the pack. Finally, someone who can work as a team player in our label family and be open to creative ideas that will push their music and vision constantly to the next level.

Also, 100+ dates a year is always nice!”

Ken Irwin, Rounder Records:

“We continue to look for acts who are strong artistically, but also have a good sense of the business. We are increasingly looking for artists who are committed, who have representation for booking and who want to have us as part of their team.”

Dave Freeman, Rebel Records:

“We seek the same kind of groups as we always have: those whose music we really enjoy and admire. We have never sought ‘hit’ records or worried about sales, except to the extent that we have to limit what we put out to bands and performers who are either known on a national basis, or we feel strongly could become such through what exposure we can give them and their own hard work.”

Tom Riggs, Pinecastle Records:

“Commitment. Proven ability to set goals and reach them. Understand the ‘Partnership’ aspect of working with a label. And first and most important: the talent to bring something fresh to the sound without discarding the tradition.”

Thanks to all the label heads who took the time to discuss these issues with us. Considering the future of bluegrass recordings, it is encouraging to see that, like any good businessmen, they both understand their core market and are on top of current trends in their industry.

Share this:

About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.