In most cases, running a local label is a thankless undertaking. What little attention you do receive is generally reserved for the artists you support, or the records you put out, and that’s okay. That’s why you’re here, after all. For the music. But it’s impossible (and also a little frightening) to imagine what our scene would be like without the tireless efforts of some of its foremost curators and documentarians. Forget any semblance of fame or financial windfalls, what we’re really talking here is about culture and history, and who is building and preserving them.
Launched last year by founder Juliett Rowe, Atlanta Record Label Fest was conceived as a means to celebrate and showcase local imprints by bringing them together with artists, industry professionals, and scene supporters in a show of community solidarity. It’s an opportunity for labels to sell and show off their merch, tout their artist rosters, and network with one another to strengthen future relations.
This year, the Fest is expanding in every way imaginable. In addition to adding a second day, the 2016 event will feature more labels (including imprints from Athens and Savannah), more artists, more professional resources, and more opportunities to connect with like-minded people who share mutual passions and goals. And then there are the live performances. Under any other circumstances, this event would be regarded as one of the can’t miss local lineups of the year, but perhaps because of the way the Fest is setup and branded, the bill doesn’t get the attention it deserves. But with every label trotting out some of the finest from their roster, how could it be anything less than stellar? Recently, Rowe spoke with Immersive Atlanta about these evolutions — in terms of both growth and shift in focus — and why the DIY and professional music industry are stronger together rather than working separately.
Immersive Atlanta: What did you learn from last year’s event? What were some things you wanted to change?
Juliett Rowe: I learned that I needed to start planning and working on it a lot earlier in the year. It really does take time to reach out to people and make connections, whether on the label side, or on the sponsor side. I was pretty happy with the event last year. Aisle 5 is a fantastic venue and they were, and have been, extremely supportive and accommodating.
As far as something that I wanted to change, I have been working hard to make sure that we really communicate what Label Fest is about to music fans and labels and bands. And I didn’t take any pictures last year during the event, because I was so consumed with making sure everything ran smoothly! I have that worked out for this year.
IA: How has your mission evolved from last year?
JR: This year I have focused on trying to include more people, and really trying make this event diverse as far as labels and artists go. I felt that we really had something special after last year, and I have really tried to exploit the positive feedback and keep the momentum going. Also I have focused on reaching out to some of the more established music people in Atlanta, such as some of the PRO’s [Performance rights organizations], the city’s Music Officer, and Georgia Music Partners to make sure that they are aware of the strong indie music community that we have. I knew that I had to really preach the gospel about Label Fest over the last year. I’ve pretty much talked about Label Fest to anyone who would listen, whether they were a label, music industry, or people in our music scene. I’ve honed my elevator pitch so people would really understand what [we’re] all about.
I’ve also been focused on the branding of Label Fest; making sure that our logo and presence is recognizable and strong. Shout out to Chris Richardson for all of his great work on that.
IA: In regards to reaching out to some of the more established music people, do you feel there is a disconnect between the local music scene and so-called professional music industry? Is Label Fest trying to serve as a bridge between the two?
JR: I definitely think there is a disconnect between the local music scene and the ‘professional’ music industry. And it happens on both sides. Some of the DIY or indie bands can’t or won’t see the big picture in relation to their musical career. They are too busy just trying to navigate the Atlanta music scene. And the professional music industry is sometimes far removed from the local music scene because they are at a point of success or advancement in their career where they are operating on a national level.
Label Fest is certainly trying to build a bridge between the two. It’s kind of related to what Immersive Atlanta and others have said before, that there is a lack of infrastructure and music industry here, and because of that, artists and industry people are leaving town to go to LA or New York when they reach a certain level of success. One of the goals of Label Fest is to create a community-minded approach, where if we all work together for the benefit of all of us then it will be better for us as a whole.
IA: You expanded into a two-day event. What led you to that decision?
JR: I was thinking about year two and how I wanted the event to grow. So I was like, “let’s double everything! Twice the labels and bands, and twice the people!” Then you start thinking logistics: how do you fit 15-20 merch tables in one place and have 15-20 performances? I looked at all kinds of venues around town, and I knew in my heart that Aisle 5 was the right place, but there was no way that you could do it in one day. So I convinced Aisle 5 that we could pull off two days. Although we’ve ended up with only 14 labels this year, I think it will work out just fine. It will ease some of the time and space constraints.
IA: You’ve added some new labels this year from Savannah and elsewhere. Do you see this event growing into a statewide or regional fest?
JR: Oh, absolutely. I have been following Retro Futurist for quite some time, and I’m thrilled that they will be here. Also, I’m very excited about the labels from Athens. I was hoping that since we are in year two, some of the out of town labels would see that this is a serious event and worth the drive to Atlanta.
I have thought about opening it up to regional labels and artists, and I will sleep on that for a while before I make that decision. I want to make sure that Label Fest grows organically and is sustainable.
IA: This seems like an inordinate amount of work. Do you have anyone helping you? How much time have you spent working to set up this year’s Fest?
JR: I’ve been working on this since March, and my wife has been helping me quite a bit. There are a few people volunteering this year to help run the event and cover social media. Next year I will definitely have help, so we can keep Label Fest growing.
IA: In terms of the music lineup, did you have any hand in curating it?
JR: I have made a few suggestions to some of the labels on which band or artist I would like to have perform, but mostly I have left it up to them. I am really excited about the lineup, and I hope that people will enjoy seeing all of these different artists under one roof.
Anyone can throw some tracks up on Bandcamp and call themselves a record label, but when you are having vinyl and cassettes made, it shows that you are serious enough about what you are doing to put some money behind it.
IA: Do you have any guidelines or requirements for labels to participate?
JR: I’ve really tried to focus on record labels that operate here and have Georgia bands on their roster. Then it’s down to how active is the label, what kind of merchandise are they putting out, do they have multiple bands, and are these bands doing dates outside of Atlanta? Anyone can throw some tracks up on Bandcamp and call themselves a record label, but when you are having vinyl and cassettes made, it shows that you are serious enough about what you are doing to put some money behind it.
IA: What would you consider success to be for Atlanta Record Label Fest 2016?
JR: For every record label to meet new people and sell merchandise. That’s one of the aspects of Label Fest that I work hard on, to bring people together and introduce them to music or a record label that they may not have heard of because they are in a different part of the music scene. Also I’m hoping for a good crowd on both nights, so we can show people that we are growing stronger and are willing to support each other.
The Atlanta Record Label Fest goes down tomorrow and Sunday at Aisle 5. Doors open at 7 p.m. on both days. Admission is $10 or $15 with an advance pass.