We talk a whole lot about people who make music in this town, and rightfully so—Charlottesville has a robust music scene. Less visible are the people who help musicians make a record of their craft and send it out into the world. There are a number of small and do-it-yourself music labels here that do it all for the love of music.
Lagom is a Swedish word that means just the right amount. “The idea is that enough is as good as a feast; you don’t need to overdo something for it to be good, and that’s what we provide to our artists,” says Maddy Woodson, who, along with Cyrus Fisher, publishes pay-what-you-want digital and physical music and visual art.
Lagom issued its first release, the From God to Man cassette from Fisher’s downtempo project, fwawn, in April 2016, and has since released a lathe cut 7″ of job’s The Inescapable Love, and a cassette and lyric book of Zooanzoo’s electro-soul Loud Mouth. Its catalog will grow later this year with Lurcher from Gull, a “living, breathing, squawking drum,” and a release from Virginia Beach-based pseudo-folk act Trapdoorsman.
Lagom funds all releases up front and doesn’t take a cut of artists’ profits. “A big part for us is making the material freely available,” says Fisher, “so by the artists agreeing to post their music [or art] for free download on our site, that’s our payment,” he says.
By offering copyright-free music and visual art under Creative Commons licensing, Lagom and its artists encourage collaboration. “Don’t make someone reinvent the wheel to make the car. Let them have access to the wheels so that they can build upon it,” Woodson says. “I think that’s the fastest way to get interesting and wild content.”
“I release whatever I want” is Warren Parker’s motto for WarHen Records, which he founded in 2012 with Mike Hennigar and now runs as a one-man show. How does Parker know what to release? “When the music strikes me right then the gears start turning,” he says. Over the past five years, WarHen has released small runs of vinyl records (and one cassette) by Charlottesville indie music mainstays, such as Sarah White and Sons of Bill, while inadvertently creating an archive of Charlottesville’s indie rock past—The Fire Tapes and Dwight Howard Johnson released music with WarHen before disbanding, and Borrowed Beams of Light, Big Air and Left & Right moved out of town, but continue to release music with the label. Parker’s also worked with North Carolina psychedelic pop rockers Zack Mexico and Alabama garage rockers The Dexateens (whose Teenage Hallelujah record sat, entirely finished, collecting dust, for five years before WarHen issued it on vinyl last year). WarHen is set to drop its 18th release, New Boss’ Third Sister LP, any day now, and Parker has some other projects—mostly pressing raucous live sets to vinyl—in the works.
James Cassar and Corey Purvis launched Near Mint from a UVA dorm room and an apartment in Fort Wayne, Indiana, after meeting online in 2014. Cassar no longer lives in Charlottesville, but says that “we’d be missing a lot of community without the area.” So far, Near Mint has released tapes and vinyl and played around with digital distribution, while working with bigger-name indie rock and pop punk bands such as Modern Baseball and Knuckle Puck, and up-and-comers like The Obsessives (Near Mint’s first cassette release) and Boy Rex, who will release his debut LP with the label in May. Depending on the deal with a band, Cassar sometimes offers PR expertise and Purvis offers graphics services. “We’ve been able to adhere to the DIY ethic of really just not following trends of what’s bankable,” but following what they believe is good, says Cassar.
Cassar, who has cerebral palsy, says that Near Mint “attempts to put out music and be a kinder organization while doing so, without looking to be praised for it. It’s just what you should do when you have the means to do so.” Since the election, they’ve donated proceeds to the ACLU and RAINN, and after hearing about allegations of sexual assault against one of their artists, Anthony Jay Sanders, Near Mint removed his material from its online store and digital music page.
Fast forward to rewind
The tape is back—according to Nielsen Music, cassette album sales grew by 74 percent in 2016. This lo-fi analog medium with hipster appeal is a cool item to add to your music collection, but it’s also one of the cheapest methods of physically releasing music. Blank tapes cost just a couple of bucks apiece and they’re easy to produce using analog tracking devices or computers. They’re also easy to reproduce—armed with a dual cassette deck, an artist (or label) can make a copy of a tape in just a few minutes. Artists can make small runs of cassettes to sell for around $5 each, a low risk for fans, musicians and small labels alike.
This small cassette tape label is run by Joseph Zehner, who manages Valence Shows and books music at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Zehner founded the label in 2016 and has released mostly electronic music from local acts like Voterfrog, Jordan Perry and Zehner’s own Winterweeds.
Small World Records
Websites like Bandcamp and CD Baby make it relative easy for artists these days to distribute their own music, says experimental and jazz artist Bobby Read, who started Small World Records in 2016 as an offshoot of his Small World Music studio. So Small World Records is “less of a label in the traditional sense and more of a ‘tide rises all boats’ idea—the idea that by banding together, we all help each other and bring attention to the great talent in Central Virginia,” says Read. Read’s own solo releases, plus music from Randy Johnston and Jen Tal and the Huzband are all available for listen on the Small World website, and Read includes CD Baby links for all projects so that listeners can purchase physical copies or downloads of the music.