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VOL. 130 | NO. 6 | Friday, January 9, 2015

New Record Label Launches in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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The team behind a new record label that’s launched in Memphis has big ambitions for what it describes as the “musical venture capital” the label wants to share with musicians.

The team behind a new record label that’s launched in Memphis has big ambitions for what it describes as the “musical venture capital” the label wants to share with musicians, like the Mighty Souls Brass Band (shown).

(Submitted Photo)

Blue Barrel Records had a quiet launch of sorts in 2014, but it’s making moves this year to establish itself and plant its flag on the scene. Funding for the label comes from founder John Buford, who’s leading its A&R efforts alongside Memphis musician John Kilzer as well as Archer Records collaborators Ward Archer and Brian Dixon.

Archer Records, the label home of artists like Kilzer, Amy LaVere and Lily Afshar, is administering label activities. The plan is for the label to work with two new artists per year, producing an album and funding everything from pressing to distribution and marketing activities around the record releases.

The label will be run as a nonprofit, giving artists the breathing space to push their creativity farther. “Lift Up!” from the Mighty Souls Brass Band, was the first release in 2015, and another release – the debut from Caleb Sweazy – is set for this spring.

“It’s kind of a musicians’ co-op,” said Kilzer, who acts as a creative consultant for Blue Barrel. “This is a way musicians can kind of get their hands on the rope of their own career and have an unbelievable opportunity to have a record made in one of the best studios around, at Archer Studios, use the best engineers and producers and be able to get some incredible traction and momentum.

“It might sound too good to be true. But all this is just honoring and lifting up and celebrating the heritage Memphis has with music. We’re trying to raise the standard.”

The way Buford explains Blue Barrel’s goal is for the label to help give local musicians a leg up and to make the best record they can without money being as big a factor as it might be elsewhere. Ideally, that would create a pinwheel effect – invest in artists and help them make a record, which hopefully leads to exposure and maybe even a contract with a larger label.

That’s why Buford uses the phrase “musical venture capital” to describe what Blue Barrel is trying to achieve. The label, he continues, is looking for artists that also are doing something a little off the beaten path.

According to Archer, the label’s first releases make it clear that the label’s focus is more to help artists rather than make money. The label, he continued, will market releases through its existing channels in the U.S. and worldwide, with revenue being funneled toward supporting future Blue Barrel releases.

“We really want the community to know that there’s a group of folks here who applaud, celebrate, lift up and empower musicians,” Kilzer said. “Nowadays, musicians can’t just be creative. They’ve got to be business-minded and have marketing strategies. You’ve got to be able to take the initiative and be creative in that, too. We’re trying to provide some traction and momentum to help them do that.”

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