For Glenn Dicker, it was watching The Monkees on television. For Tor Hanson, it was bonding sessions with the family around the living-room piano. Two significantly different starting points, but the results were the same: Both guys got hooked on music young. They also became friends young--they were kindergarten buds to be exact--and played in bands together in junior high, senior high and beyond. The pair has gone from sharing van space and putting out their own band's records to sharing letterhead space and putting out other artists' records.
And if June at Yep Roc, the Graham-based label for which Dicker serves as manager (with a focus on purchasing and A&R) and Hanson as sales and marketing director, is any indication, the lessons they've learned are paying off.
Dicker and Hanson are overseeing six high-profile Yep Roc releases this month, including the first solo album from Chris Stamey in well over 10 years and the new record from roots-rock stalwart Dave Alvin (see capsule reviews). Their responsibilities have changed a bit in the years since they got their first inside look at the record business.
"We both began at Rounder, picking records and sticking them into shopping carts and shipping them out," Hanson recounts. "From that very rudimentary foundation, we both moved into other positions learning about the various aspects of running a small independent distribution business and record label."
Hanson went on to work for Boston's Hear Music, a mail-order company that championed such underdog artists as Alejandro Escovedo, Greg Trooper and Michael Hall, and then moved to North Carolina to become the director of merchandising and marketing for Planet Music, part of The Borders Group. In his post-Rounder years, Dicker started a label named Upstart to which the world owes a large debt of gratitude for, among other things, releasing two Nick Lowe albums.
When Borders decided to consolidate its staff in Ann Arbor, Mich., Hanson stayed in North Carolina to make a go of it on his own, leading to the creation of Redeye Distribution. Soon after, a compilation titled Revival, featuring the Backsliders, Whiskeytown, 6 String Drag and other acts that were making central North Carolina a strong candidate for alt-country ground zero, became the first release for Yep Roc, a fledgling record label tied to a fledgling distribution company. At the time, Dicker was still in Boston, but he helped get Yep Roc off the ground and eventually moved to North Carolina to become partners with Hanson.
In the seven years since Revival's release, Yep Roc has found its groove and, perhaps, its niche. Lowe followed Dicker from Upstart to Yep Roc, and other veteran artists and bands have signed on as well: Paul Weller, the Scott McCaughey-led Minus 5, Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, Jason Ringenberg, and, most recently, Alvin. "We really built the company for this type of top-level artist. One that had a fan base but was no longer, or not yet, viable for the majors but desired the kind of attention and priority that their music and career deserved," explains Dicker. "There's a huge gulf between what the majors need to sell and what the really small indies need to sell. We hope that we can fall somewhere in between."
If nothing else, Yep Roc's ambitious June release schedule might serve as a wake-up call to anyone who hasn't been paying attention to this middle-ground label. You've got to think that the excitement level is high for Dicker, Hanson and the rest of Yep Roc's hard-working staff, a group that Dicker and Hanson are quick to praise at every turn. "Honestly, we've been excited about every release we've ever put out," says Hanson. "But there is a certain added satisfaction when you get to work with folks that are among your personal heroes--for example, someone like Chris Stamey, who's been on our personal radar since his days in the dB's."
Of course, not everything is under the control of a set-in-stone master plan, at least not at Yep Roc. Alvin only recently came on board, giving the label much less time than usual to prepare for the album release, an event that needed to coincide with a tour that kicked off in mid-June. "So what do we do? Do we say, 'No, we can't get it out because we have to stick with our schedule because it's so all-powerful and all-knowing'?" offers Dicker with a laugh. "No, we're going to put it out."
So you want to be a rock 'n' roll impressario?
GLOSSARY OF TERMS:
Distributor: In the barest-bones sense, a distributor takes a line of product, in this case CDs, and gets it to retailers. It's your standard middleman concept. However, some distributors, Redeye Distribution included, take on a retail marketing function as well and work with retailers on how the CDs should be positioned and displayed.
Major Label vs. Indie Label: According to Dicker and Hanson (and, they're fairly certain, the industry trade group NARM), it all comes down to distribution; that is, a major label owns the distribution for their records. Dicker takes a reverse angle when he offers, "What makes Yep Roc not a major label is that we're not distributed by one of the big four or five."
Subsidiary Labels: One or more labels that are directly affiliated with another label, often serving an artist-development function or housing a specific genre of music. For example, in addition to Yep Roc, the Redeye (breaking/developing artists in the Southeast), Bonfire (traditional and bluegrass), and Eleven Thirty ("creating an artist-driven environment") labels are all subsidiaries of Redeye Distribution, Inc.
Record Label: Dicker and Hanson feel that the function of a record label can be summed up in two words: distribution and promotion. As Dicker sees it, "A label doesn't have to do its own distribution. And they don't have to do their own promotion really. But they have to have the means to provide those two things."