Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Small Label Makes Big Moves By Taking It Slow

Clyde Smith/Hypebot

Nashville's Dualtone Music Group is starting to see some big successes from their 12 years of hard work.The Lumineers are up for two Grammys and Shovels and Rope made American Songwriter's list of top albums from 2012. It's been a long slow process that reflects their unique approach to running a record label that nurtures a small group of artists who are also building for the long haul.

When I first read Max Blau's piece for Nashville Scene about Dualtone, I was immediately reminded of XL Recordings' approach. Both labels focus on a small roster of musicians and both labels have had large successes. While XL is definitely bigger, with artists such as Adele and Jack White, Dualtone is looking strong with Best New Artist and Best Americana Album Grammy nominations for The Lumineers.



The Lumineers - Ho HeyCurrently The Lumineers are Dualtone's big success. Their single "Ho Hey" has31,024,671 views on YouTube, is no. 4 on the Hot 100 and last week was one of the top 10 Spotify streaming tracks in the U.S. and UK.

But Dualtone is also doing well with other acts such as Shovels and Rope who were ranked no. 4 on American Songwriter’s list of Top 50 Albums Of 2012. In addition, they led The Civil Wars' radio campaign for "Barton Hollow," an album that won The Civil Wars two Grammys.

The Dualtone Approach
Dualtone's success in attracting such artists can be attributed, at least in part, to individualized attention to a small roster and an approach to developing artists that focuses on a longer period of commitment and album support than one would find at a major label.

Max Blau spoke with co-founder Scott Robinson, label president Paul Roper and members of both The Lumineers and Shovel and Rope. Their comments illustrate the unique approach of Dualtone.

Label prez Paul Roper describes their seemingly slow ways:

"It's rare we rush into anything...We only take on a couple new bands a year...because we are in this for career development beyond the typical quick record cycle."

Co-founder Scott Robinson explains:
"We all like to hit one over the fence, but we're not swinging for the fences...That's not Dualtone's model. A record cycle for us can be anywhere from 12 to 24 months, maybe longer. Some other organizations, it might be 90 or 120 days."

He also pointed out that this long term timetable requires Dualtone to handle business a bit differently:

"We have to be careful of how we fund these projects and incur expenses, as it might take longer than a normal project would in a more mainstream system...The upside is that we have opposite results. A lot of our acts recoup."

This approach appeals to artists as does the individualized attention such an approach requires. Shovels and Rope's Cary Ann Hearst explains:

"What attracted us...was that they really tailor-make each deal according to what they can actually provide to an artist and for what the artist exactly needs them to do."

The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz credits Dualtone with saving him from a life of part-time jobs:

"We spent a lot of time of about seven or eight years of really nothing happening...[Dualtone] is a lot more hands-on and nurturing and tries to help something delicate develop. That's what we needed. We needed people to believe in it....I think, for us, we've made a happy home."

Finding a happy home, even in the best of times, can be difficult for emerging musical acts. Dualtone, like XL, demonstrates that building such a home for artists often requires approaches that are beyond the scope of major labels.

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