In 1997, Glenn Dicker was the head of his own small label, Upstart Records, and Tor Hansen was the owner of a new distribution company called Redeye when these two old friends ended up in North Carolina and decided to launch Yep Roc Records. Dedicated to no genre and guided solely by the tastes of its founders, Yep Roc has risen from modest beginnings to the status of a proven winner, flourishing while others fade away.
When it celebrates twenty years of existence in a weekend that includes two nights at the Cradle and a free outdoor show in Hillsborough, where the company is currently located, the stages will feature many of the impressive names that continue to grace the Yep Roc roster, including Nick Lowe, Mandolin Orange, Dave and Phil Alvin, Tift Merritt, Tony Joe White, Dressy Bessy, and the Fleshtones. Glenn Dicker spoke with us from New York about changes that have occurred since Yep Roc 15, the "legacy label" label, and the continued glories of owning a successful record company.
INDY: When we last spoke, in 2012, Yep Roc was 326 albums into its own catalog. On Discogs, including comps and singles, it says Yep Roc has put out over 200 releases since then. What stands out to you in that five-year swath?
GLENN DICKER: Well, the entire music industry and market has changed. Five years ago feels like a completely different world now. Streaming has become such an important part of the overall marketplace, so we're looking at a totally different way of marketing records based on how more and more people are consuming music.
I'd think your revenue pie must have undergone a major shift.
The digital side has been strong for awhile, but its obviously changed from downloads to streaming. For us, the physical side is still pretty strong; close to forty percent vinyl and maybe sixty percent CDs. Some things are way more vinyl. Younger acts probably have way more vinyl, while an artist that's been around for a while is a little more on the CD side.
How important has Redeye been to your success?
It's been an important part of our model from the get-go: having the ability to have your own content, your own records that nobody can take away from you. And you can also lead the charge with some of those things, whether it be experimenting in new marketplaces and formats, or sometimes you have to lead the way in terms of marketing as well.
A lot of the people we worked with at first were just individual artists. They didn't have any money to spend on marketing, so it was really helpful for us to reinvest our money into marketing, which is what the big chain accounts expected from us. That enabled us to get into places like Tower Records and Borders back in the day. And eventually, it also gave us confidence that we could do the job.
Yep Roc has a reputation as a legacy label. Is it fair to say that it's been a challenge signing younger acts? I'm thinking of the Major and Monbacks debacle, where you had to cut ties with a promising band because of its racist name.
That was just a bad situation in general. We never had anything like that happen before, so that was an odd one. But when it comes to younger artists, some of our biggest-selling artists are on that up-and-coming level. Mandolin Orange is one of our best-selling artists. We've brought on people like The Stray Birds, Jeremy & the Harlequins. We've probably signed more new artists than we do legacy artists. It just so happens that the legacy artists continue to put out records. It's probably three-to-one, for every three developing new artists, we probably sign one legacy type artist.
You and Tor Hansen started Yep Roc out of a basement decades ago. How has Tor's relocation to Berlin affected your working relationship?
We talk on the phone at least once a week, so there's a constant dialogue going on. His focus and concentration right now is the international side of the business, working on relationships with all the different digital partners, physical distributors, and marketing people in the international community. That's really been useful for us. It's different, but I have to say, we're big enough that it's pretty seamless. Lots of people are involved in the company leadership, and the directors are all making decisions and helping lead and push the company forward every day. He and I are just a part of that; we're not the only way we move forward.
When we last spoke, you said you still get excited just talking on the phone with the musicians on your label. What's the last moment like that, where you were just like, "I love my life"?
It happens a lot, I have to say. I was in New York and got together with Peter Zaremba, and hung out with him for a couple hours and just talked about the Fleshtones and the back catalog. I still remember the influence that those guys had on me as a younger person. I still think they're one of the best rock 'n' roll bands ever.
That night, I went to see Paul Weller, another of my heroes as a young person. We don't put out his records anymore, but we're still good friends. I still get to have the fringe benefits of a ten-year relationship, get to go see his shows and hang out. So I'm still blown away by the greatness of these people, and seeing them live kind of reinforces it every time.