Success for an independent record label could be defined at the very least as breaking even on each release, increasing a band's popularity even slightly, and having its name on the lips of the record buying public. These goals are more than a little difficult to achieve for most small labels, even in one's own town, which makes Cory Rayborn's story a coup of sorts.
For the past two and a half years, Rayborn has been the sole employee of Three Lobed Records, based in Carrboro. The Duke graduate and current UNC-Chapel Hill law student has achieved the first and third goals listed above because he didn't have to worry about the second. His first release was a 10-inch record for prolific Philadelphia acid-fuzz purveyors Bardo Pond (he's been maintaining the band's Web site for almost five years), whose popularity around the United States and Europe has already been established. The release was a success, providing Three Lobed with the funds to stay afloat.
"We [made] 500 copies of [the 10-inch] and sold 'em out in like two weeks," says Rayborn. "As a small independent label I actually made money on my first release. Not much, but I didn't lose any."
The label's second release was a CD from Prairie Dog Flesh, one of many Bardo Pond offshoots. But the real labor of love Rayborn has toiled over is the Purposeful Availment series, a subscription-only set of eight EPs from Mick Turner (noodley but fabulous guitarist from the Dirty Three), Tim Midgett (bassist/singer from Silkworm), Idyll Swords, Bardo Pond and more, with a handsome slipcase designed by local artist Casey Burns to house the discs. Five hundred copies of each CD were pressed, and after giving the bands their portion, Rayborn has been able to sell out of every one he's made so far. He's not keen on repeating the idea, though.
"There have been some headaches with the CD series," he says. "I've gotten some e-mails with people asking me, 'Oh, this is really cool, are you doing this again?' and my answer is 'NO.' Coordinating all of these various artists with all of these various deadlines, none of which usually are kept, is more stress than I wanna deal with."
Having booked plenty of national acts at the Duke Coffeehouse when he was an undergrad, Rayborn had made enough connections to seek out some of these artists. But it's also his unabashed status as a true fan of the bands that appears to be part of his charm. Rayborn records a lot of shows that he attends, and as a result has amassed a large archive of live music. He introduced himself to Turner, for example, by giving him several recordings of Dirty Three shows he'd seen, so when he wrote the guitarist asking for his participation in the series, it wasn't like he had to pull any teeth.
Smartly, Rayborn prefers to keep his releases limited, not repressing any of them when they sell out. This cottage market approach makes each release that much more special, so fans of the already popular bands he's worked with will pay strict attention to the label to avoid missing out on future records.
"Up to this point, everything I've done is with artists who have established fan bases, established deals elsewhere, doing something that's limited edition. Everything I've pressed, I've done one printing and then I'm done with it. I don't want to keep stuff in stock. ... I don't want to deal with it," he says.
Future plans for Rayborn include a live double LP from Bardo Pond, the last two installments of the Purposeful Availment series (from Surface of Ecyeon and a band composed of members from the Rachel's and the Shipping News), and possible releases from Scott Kannberg (former Pavement guitarist and current Preston School of Industry frontman) and Ash Bowie (former Polvo guitarist and sole member of Libraness). Upon graduation from law school this spring he plans to move back to High Point and settle down before pursuing the idea of signing a new band.
"I would like to work with some people who don't already have record deals. I'd like to have someone exclusively through me," he says. "But I want to get past law school before I go to that phase, because I don't think I could honestly feel like I was giving them the amount of time I needed to give them to push anything while I'm doing junk all the time at school."
Many independent labels get a reputation from the music they put out, their fan base associating a certain genre with their releases. Rayborn hopes the aesthetics of the records he has released so far will instill a kind of loyalty with people, which in turn will help any artists he decides to sign later.
"I know some people who have everything I've put out," he explains. "I'm thinking that some people might actually get a decent brand image in their head of what I'm trying to put out. And hopefully, whenever I have the time and find someone I really want to work with exclusively, I can add them to the fold and people who have liked the other sounds will think, 'Well, if he hasn't led me astray yet, hopefully he won't this time either.'"