This article appears in the Fall 2010 issue of UNC’s Endeavors Magazine. Thanks again Alex Raines; you have done a wonderful job elucidating the history of Vinyl Records up until this point.
In high school Tripp Gobble would drive an hour from Louisburg, North Carolina, to hear his favorite bands at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. When he arrived at Carolina in 2006, Gobble immersed himself in the local music scene, where he befriended some musicians. One was Al Mask, a pianist minoring in music, and after returning from a summer spent playing and recording and performing at the Berklee College of Music, he had an idea for Gobble. Mask wanted to start an organization to help students produce their own music, because he knew firsthand just how hard it was. Gobble was in.
Gobble admits he isn’t much of a musician. “I’ve never been incredibly skilled at any instrument, outside of the trombone in middle school,” he jokes. But he had always wanted to be more than just a music fan. Gobble took Mask’s idea — to help student bands financially — and thought, “What if we started a label with an entire network of support around these musicians and helped them build a professional portfolio?”
Of course, neither Gobble nor Mask knew anything about starting a record label. They turned to mentors in the music department and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise for guidance, developing a business plan that they entered in the Carolina Challenge, UNC’s venture capital competition. They didn’t win that competition, but they revised their proposal and won a $25,000 grant from the Carolina Entrepreneurial Institute’s Innovations Fund in the spring of 2008. Vinyl Records was born.
In March, Vinyl Records released The Study of Animal Magicality by My Boy Rascal. It’s a great example of what Vinyl Records can do for an up-and-coming musician. Singer-songwriter Colby Ramsay (the band name is an anagram of his name) came to Carolina from the mountains of British Columbia. Ramsay had worked for Vinyl Records as a graphic designer and videographer in the label’s first year, but he resigned his position so that he could try to be signed as an artist. (Vinyl Records does not sign any of its own staff, though many are musicians.) He won the most votes with his performance in the February Faceoff in 2009. As soon as he was signed, Ramsay felt the effect of the heightened publicity. “It opened up a lot of performing opportunities for campus events,” he says. “People knew about me.” But the biggest impact came when Ramsay stepped into the recording studio.
The Study of Animal Magicality was the first album recorded in Vinyl Records’ new studio space in the basement of Hill Hall. The studio allows artists to record for free whenever and for however long they like. For My Boy Rascal, it took the entire fall semester, working at least five days a week — some days until four in the morning. “We made the basement of Hill Hall our home,” says Hamlet, who produced the album. “I think if we had known what we were doing, it wouldn’t have taken as long. But we were really trying to feel the songs out.”
That process is critical for most new artists, but it takes more time than a bigger label or studio is willing to spend on an untested band. “When you listen to what Colby came in with,” Gobble says, “it was good. But Andrew and Colby worked a lot of hours on putting that record together and bringing it to the best that it could be in terms of all the different musical elements working together. I think it became a lot bigger and bolder and made a much stronger statement.”
Ramsay agrees. “You can’t really even compare — it’s amazing how far my music has come.” That’s mostly thanks to Hamlet, who helped push Ramsay’s music beyond its one-guy-and-his-guitar character. Hamlet played electric guitar on the album and brought in drummers, bass players, and other musicians. Ramsay did lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards; filled out his arrangements with his friends in Tar Heel Voices on backup vocals; and even brought in a string quartet for three of the tracks. All of these resources are well beyond the means of the typical student band, and the difference in the end product is huge. “People don’t understand the work that goes into an album,” Hamlet says. “A song is a three-minute experience for them.” But it can take months or even years to record.
When recording was finished, the process wasn’t over. Hamlet and Ramsay sent off the album to be mastered and manufactured. This is the other major financial hurdle for emerging artists, and accounts for most of the ongoing expenses at Vinyl Records. Despite the label’s name, most albums from Vinyl Records are released as CDs and are also available on iTunes. Lake Inferior was the one exception when it decided to release its second album as a ten-inch vinyl record (though it does come with digital downloads for those without a record player).
“These days, music is almost becoming public domain,” Hamlet says. Labels will have to change their business models to survive. It’s easier than ever for artists to self-produce: bands can record on their laptops and post the songs on the internet for anyone to hear, and fans can decide for themselves which artists to support. But with a lower threshold for producing music, artists can have a hard time being heard above the noise.
That’s where Vinyl Records comes in. It raises the profile of the artists, helps them develop their sound, and produces a professional, refined album that stands out in a crowded field. “I see the current major label model as something that can’t work,” Gobble says. “But the small label will always exist, and so will the idea of branding, legitimizing, and helping define an artist.”
Gobble graduated in May, after passing the presidency of Vinyl Records to Hamlet in January to give him time to settle into the role. “Andrew’s been one of the most dedicated people in the organization since he came in,” Gobble says, “so it made sense that he would take the reins of the organization. People trusted him.” In turn, Hamlet will hand over the reins in January 2011 to Reed Turchi, the current vice president. They’ve already signed two new artists for the fall: hip-hop artist Sikz Pointz and indie-folk-jazz band Group Mentality.
Gobble is somewhat amazed by the success Vinyl Records has achieved so far. It’s sold over a thousand records, and its last showcase drew yet another capacity crowd and nearly two thousand votes. “People actually know the name of the label behind the artist,” Gobble says, “which in the broader world rarely happens.” Lake Inferior is playing up and down the East Coast, and Lafcadio Shot Back has also enjoyed post-graduation success. Ramsay of My Boy Rascal is hoping to build off of The Study of Animal Magicality to launch a career in music, possibly combined with producing video and multimedia projects.
Many of the staff also want their experience with Vinyl Records to lead to a career playing or producing music. Hamlet interned with Merge Records last year and this summer worked with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which puts on the Grammy Awards. Gobble has founded a record label in Raleigh called Denmark Records. He’s not sure how long he will stay with this new label — but he thinks Vinyl Records has the potential for longevity. “It creates a sense of community that is probably more direct than any label outside of a university setting could do. It becomes a gateway, a music incubator helping the artists grow as musicians. But it’s also helping those who are involved in the business side or the production side to build their portfolio with experience in the music industry.”
If you will be in the Atlanta area on August 14th, be sure to swing by The Drunken Unicorn. Vinyl alumnus Lake Inferior will be sharing the stage with Athens’ very own Gift Horse and Kuroma. If those names don’t ring a bell, Gift Horse headlined the renowned Athfest 2010 this summer, and Kuroma will be opening for MGMT along the southern leg of their tour this fall….enough said, right? See you there!
Thanks so much to everyone who made the trek to Local 506 Thursday! Among the night’s three INCREDIBLE bands, the extraterrestrial Acroentertainment crew, the silly string, the balloons, and your soon-to-be cherished copy of Lake Inferior’s newest record “Pegasaur,” we hope you all had as fantastic an evening as we did!
Check out some great photos from the show, featuring all the bands here
Also, peep a Lake Inferior / Vinyl Records interview via Diversions’ video podcast here
For those of you who couldn’t make it out, PEGASAUR is now available for purchase at your favorite triangle area record stores!
Chape Hill – CD ALLEY
Durham – BULL CITY RECORDS & OFFBEAT MUSIC
Raleigh – SCHOOL KIDS RECORDS
ORDER THE ALBUM ONLINE AT http://lakeinferior.bigcartel.com/product/pegasaur-10-to-ship-11-12-09/
Limited copies of the record are still available, so get yours while you can!
If you haven’t done so, grab a FREE DOWNLOAD of the first single “Gepeddo” here: http://www.mediafire.com/?1ijymqoy2qg
Again, LAKE INFERIOR and VINYL RECORDS UNC would like to thank all of you for making last night such an incredible evening. Without you all, we’d be lost in space!
The Eurythmics cover is coming soon!
FREE SHUTTLE SERVICE TO LOCAL 506!
Call 919.495.2312 between 8 and 10pm tomorrow (Thursday) and we’ll arrange to ahve you picked up at one of three locations:
1) ATM machines by Davis Library, UNC
2) Caribou Coffee
3) Weaver St Market
Remember, there’s no rain in outer space or inside Local 506! Show starts with Athens-based Gift Horse at 9pm, followed by The Honored Guests at 10pm.
FREE ALBUM WITH PAID ADMISSION!
Check out this great download of the Vinyl Records 2009 Artist Sampler, with tracks from all 3 current Vinyl Records artists, Lafcadio Shot Back, Lake Inferior, and My Boy Rascal, as well as an exclusive intro from Lexicon. Its a great way to hear some classic tracks as well as some previously unreleased material.
here’s the link: http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/932320/Vinyl_Records_UNC_sampler_09.zip
Now that the end of the academic year is upon us, it would serve everyone well to take a look at what Vinyl Records recording artists Lake Inferior are up to. In the past few months, they’ve gone from self-recording tracks in their house to releasing the Lake Inferior EP with VR and being profiled on the national music website Aquarium Drunkard. Even though no one seems to be able to describe what Lake Inferior sounds like (there are, like, synths and pop and indie stuff, but not indie synth-pop), the band has still been a hit both in the local scene and the national scene. There are Youtube videos of teenage girls from California singing “Spiders” into the camera. The 30-year-old guy with mutton chops who always wears the Polvo t-shirt and works at the record store down the street raves about “Landlocked Surf Rock.” Lake Inferior’s audience is as all-encompassing as their style.
This summer, the band looks to test out that appeal on their East Coast tour, starting in Georgia and going up to New York. After that, it’s back to North Carolina to work on songs and eventually make the next Lake Inferior record, to be released next year. Talk around the office is that the band might even have a limited edition 7″ in the pipeline. The next year for Lake Inferior should be a fruitful one.
However, before any of that happens, LI will be playing at Local 506 on Thursday, May 7th. The night will be the EP release show for Aminal, with Schooner also performing. All three acts are well worth any trouble or money it takes to see them, so be there and be early, because we all know what happened the last time a Vinyl artist was playing an EP release at 506. Line stretching a block away, and people not getting to see Lake Inferior, that’s what.
Check out below, where we’ve got three free mp3’s from Lake Inferior: “Spiders” and “How the Wars are Won” from the Lake Inferior EP, and a live recording of “(I Have) Night Terrors.” Enjoy!