They call themselves a new kind of record label, and their business plan makes room for old and new technology. Mark Fulton and John Guenin launched the online label Record Theory this past February, distributing CDs for seven bands, most of them local.
Fulton and Guenin both grew up in town and graduated from UVA. Fulton was a founding member of The Stabones. Both are big music fans, and they recognized that traditional labels were the modern version of the company store: charging way too much for CDs, and passing only a small portion on to artists. Factor in the digital distribution of music, and the two decided that they could design the proverbial better mousetrap.
Record Theory sells both CDs and MP3 downloads. Fulton believes that bands, for now, still want to press CDs for promotional use and to sell at shows. So Record Theory will sell you a CD, but at a cheaper price than traditional outlets (between $7 and $10, 60 percent of which goes to the band). Every CD purchased comes with a free MP3 download of the music, and postage is included.
Digitally speaking, Guenin contends that “all the copy restrictions that iTunes, Napster and others insist on end up annoying the few people actually willing to pay for music, while doing very little to stop music piracy. Our idea of ‘copy prevention’ is just to be fair to everyone involved, and create goodwill between fans and musicians.” Record Theory believes in the freedom that comes with digital downloads, and they offer the most flexible format out there. While the company realizes that the exchange of MP3 tunes online is basically unrestricted, they also see that as part of the beauty of online music. Because music fans realize that bands are seeing more money from the sale of CDs and downloads, Record Theory is hoping that they’ll be willing to purchase music, as well as trade.
Not only does Record Theory believe in reimbursing the artists for music, but they’re also committed to keeping the label-band relationship nonexclusive. That means that artists can leave easily—but, theoretically, a band won’t be inclined to leave a label that treats them well. This way, the label is indebted to the band, not vice versa.
Of the bands currently on the Record Theory roster, five of the seven are from Charlottesville. While not the original plan, Fulton says that Charlottesville has so many good bands that it just sort of worked out that way. The Stabones were the initial offering, followed by All of Fifteen, Truman Sparks, Minus the Sidekick and The Nice Jenkins. Whores For War, a punk rock band from Chattanooga, and Fire At Will from Roanoke round out the roster.
Fulton says that most bands have been receptive to Record Theory’s way of doing business, and that the company has profited from good word-of-mouth. Any bands or artists who are interested in finding out more should go to the website at www.recordtheory.com—the partners can easily be contacted there. Music fans should also check out the site.
Fulton says, “We think that the idea is in everyone’s best interest. It is where things are going, and where they should go.” If the label gets enough support, there seems to be a good possibility that the enterprise can positively change the nature of music sales, at least locally.
This week, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray appear at John Paul Jones. Some people thought I was a little hard on Clapton in a previous column, so I asked my resident guitar expert Rick Olivarez about the show. “About Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan summed it up best: He said, ‘[Cray] sings like Sam Cooke and plays like Otis Rush. It’s not fair.’ About Clapton, I don’t care for Armani blues. I can name 10 guitarists that I am friends with who can blow him out of the water.” Please address all hate mail to R. Olivarez, New Orleans, Louisiana.