New Orleans is famous for its musical community. For most people, that means jazz and blues, brass bands and the sound of the street.
But there’s a local record label injecting new sound into the city, changing not only the live music heard around town, but the music industry itself.
Community Records is the love child of Daniel Ray and Greg Rodrigue, two friends who “have been listening and playing punk music here since they were pre- teens,” and eventually attended the Music Industry Program of Loyola University together. They founded the record label in 2008 with the release of an album of friends’ music, Community Records Compilation Vol. I. OffBeat covered the 2012 Community Records block party back in April.
Community Records is part of a group of young people who are making rock (in general) and punk (in particular) a bigger part of the local music environment. Attracted by the program at Loyola — one of the best in the country — young musicians like Ray and Rodrigue have been finding a way to make a living here in New Orleans.
What sets Community Records apart from other labels is its approach to business. Most of their signed bands are friends, and they say that one of the biggest factors for finding new musicians is character. “We try our best to work with honest people who are anti-racist, positive-minded and treat others with respect,” says Rodrigue. The label does a lot of promotion through social networking, using Facebook and Twitter.
What’s more, at a time when the music industry is struggling to curb illegal downloads and pursuing legal action to stop piracy, Community offers all its music as free downloads. Vinyl albums and CDs are sold at shows and online along with other merchandise, but you can get the music for free right now on their site. How can the company do that and still earn a profit?
“When we first started, we were attempting to sell downloads from our website,” explains Rodrigue. “We realized pretty quickly that we function in a realm where most of our listeners could just as easily go download the records for free. So why put an unnecessary border between us and new listeners? Our main goal is to get people to hear our music. We try to invite them in with open arms.” Streaming tracks online for free, as many artists do, also allows listeners to access the music for free. But Community feels that giving the actual downloadable tracks to the listener not only breaks down a barrier between the musicians and their fans, but also makes it easier for people to spread the word.
While many industry leaders and musicians fear that free downloads will kill profits, Community doesn’t see that correlation. “Many of these new listeners are willing to buy a shirt, record, or some other mail-order item. We feel that the open invitation to hear our music and be a part of what we have to offer has made them feel more inclined to mail order from us. We always include a handwritten note with our orders, free stickers and a lot of times even a free record.”
In this fashion, Community Records has found a way to distribute the music of New Orleans artists far and wide.
Two of the label’s bands — Stuck Lucky and The Lollies — just got back from a 17-city tour that included Boston, New Jersey, Michigan and Atlanta. “The tour was phenomenal. We have a good number of people around the country who support our label and our bands,” says Rodrigue. “We may not be ‘popular’ on a massive level, but the people who support us do so with all of their hearts. Community Records is a tight knit family, and our goal is to support each other while watching that family grow.”
Most recently, the label released a “Summer Sampler” in conjunction with Chinquapin Records, another record label, with tracks from Community and Chinquapin bands like Caddywhompus, Murphy’s Kids, Sun Hotel and more.
New Orleans musicians may find that a system of free distribution is actually more practical than trying to stop piracy.
Daniel Ray, for one, feels the Crescent City is perfect for the kind of work they’re doing.
“After Katrina we could have up and moved anywhere, but we made the decision that this is where we need to be,” he says. “In a sense, we feel like the New Orleans music scene needs us, as much as we needed it to show us what music could be. There’s a sense of giving back for sure.” Community Records doesn’t aim to be a music distribution role model. For now, the company is focusing on small, achievable goals. Ray’s one concrete objective?
“We hope to have one of our songs featured on the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time.”