The music industry has taken hard hits all across the board since COVID-19 came along.
Live shows are postponed and canceled, and bands struggle to practice as a unit, limited as they are by social distancing. Still, some Phoenix record labels are finding new ways to remain active and support the artists they love.
David Hilker of Fervor Records says that despite having to cancel its free annual Music Biz Summit, which brings together experts to help musicians navigate the industry, the label is still pretty busy, and the quarantine has given it “a chance to catch up on some of the administrative sides of publishing.”
Hilker runs Fervor with his business partner Jeff Freundlich, and the label maintains a small staff here in Arizona, with other employees located in Los Angeles and Oregon. In addition to putting out new music and reissues, a big slice of its pie is licensing tunes to TV shows and films. Artists under the label's umbrella have recently had tracks placed in a number of productions, including Young Sheldon, Better Things, NCIS, and the breakout star of the quarantine, the Netflix documentary Tiger King. (The song, featured in the sixth episode, is Larry Bamberg's country tune "One Step Away," written in 1969; Fervor has the licensing rights for it.)
“Some of the shows we work with are on hiatus,” Hilker tells us. “But there’s still a lot of things we had previously solidified that are in post-production, so things are still strong on the licensing front.”
People are spending a lot of time with their TVs these days, after all. “With a lull in production, there’s an opportunity to rerun things, and there are plenty of things we have music in that are getting rerun, so that creates royalty-generating opportunities for our artists and writers,” Hilker says.
Plus, new releases are still on the way from Fervor, including one from R&B/hip-hop duo blakk.nostalgia and Latin American Valley staple Andy Gonzales. The label has also created a partnership with Jeremiah Gratza’s label President Gator Records to do some small-run, 7-inch vinyl records for The Jetzons and Gentlemen Afterdark.
The latter band, a Tucson-formed '80s group, had a song recently featured in an episode of the popular Netflix show Stranger Things, and Hilker says that generated some new interest.
Justin Weir, of Lumberjerk Records, is also staying busy during the quarantine. The guitarist and vocalist of indie-pop band Celebration Guns says being a one-person operation has some benefits (like low overhead costs). However, the coronavirus has him rethinking some current efforts.
As we noted several weeks ago, Weir released CD and cassette versions of Cheap Comp and Carry On, a 55-song compilation featuring Arizona bands that benefited Homeward Bound. But he had to cancel the live showcases he planned to promote the recording, along with distributing the album to area record stores.
“I figured I would just make it available for sale online,” Weir says. “With mail orders, I’m throwing in some fun items like stickers, buttons, or magnets.”
For Caleb and Micah Dailey, the brothers behind Moone Records, things aren’t too different from Weir’s situation.
“We are lucky,” Micah says, “in that what we have always done hasn’t consisted of a lot of overhead.”
The indie label, whose output includes acts like experimental guitarist Tashi Dorji, heady folk act Little Wings, and Phoenix’s golden-voiced Lonna Kelley, represents a project the two plan on doing “as long as we’re alive,” Micah says.
“Right now,” Caleb says, “we really want people to just purchase directly from the artists. We have seen a slow down in orders from the label’s web store, and we hope that means people are buying right from the artists. Our concern right now is that the performers can make a living — some of them are full-time musicians.”
Another way the Dailey brothers, who are musicians themselves, are connecting with people during the quarantine is through social media with live video.
“We did an Instagram live event to showcase our releases,” Micah says. “We wanted to introduce people to what we do, and we had really great interactions with fans.”
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The pair mention that they just got some test pressings back for a soon-to-be-announced new release that they’re “extremely excited about,” and plan to keep plugging away at both creating and putting out new music.
Hilker is also optimistic about the future, particularly as it pertains to Fervor Records.
“While things are slow, I do think there are positive things that will happen,” he says. “We are in a creative industry, so people will get creative on how they do things.”