It’s a common refrain on the Austin music scene: âThis city needs more labels. There is a lot of raw talent, but without a supporting infrastructure, artists find themselves in dead ends. At best, when discovered by strangers from other big cities, they leave their hometown. For the live music capital of the world, Austin lacks a beat.
A recently publicly launched Austin label aspires to change that, starting with a European tour for its flagship artist and aiming for a very slow and intentional build of their roster.
BlackDenim Records has been a label for four years and has focused on developing a single act. Zach Person, a blues-sounding indie rock recording artist, charmed co-founders and industry veterans Christopher Durst and Will Loconto not only with his fiery roots aesthetic but his strong character. The relationship began as a simple management and production agreement. When Person’s debut album was finished, the trio began discussing how best to protect intellectual property and decided to keep the team together by creating their own label for the release.
“The music was fantastic,” says Durst, music entrepreneur and former rock photographer. He and Loconto, a producer and musician known for his work with Information Society and T-4-2, felt a spark. “We knew who Zach was, Zach knew who he was, and it all felt very natural.”
In August, Kaylin Karr signed on as BlackDenim’s second charge, bringing a softer pop sensibility with the same freelance singer-songwriter attitude. The team now includes the three co-founders, the two groups represented (Zach Person on both camps, touring with drummer Jake Wyble) and two more in Austin: Juice Consulting founder Heather Wagner Reed as vice-president. senior president of marketing, advertising and and Kelly Mosser of Austin City Limits Live as senior vice president of brand partnerships. With Jennifer Smits, based in Brussels, as President of BlackDenim in the UK and Europe, production is going global.
“Our entire strategy is to ensure that each of our artists really gets the attention they need and deserve, and that we are financially able to represent and position them,” Durst said between box office shows. Zach Person closed in Sweden. âWe don’t see any reason to go out and sign four or five artists who sit and wait and have nothing to do. It is therefore a slow growth strategy, which we consider extremely effective.
Although slowly, the label is growing its ranks and has started planning for a 2022 showcase that will result in a $ 100,000 recording and publishing deal. The production will feature 24 Austin artists to begin with and ultimately boil down to a winner. Casting a large network for talented Austin artists in need of support, the label aims to keep the submission process simple and open to a variety of styles.
âIt’s not just about talent; that’s the whole package, âsays Durst. “We’re looking for someone who will really come in and be ready to support the other artists on our team, and be ready to represent us in the best possible light as we position them around the world for global success.”
It’s a big commitment, but the effort results in a unique position. The basic business model includes equity capital for each artist represented. Starting with a management contract and going through recording, an artist with a successful first release will move on to an equity contract, ensuring that the success of the group built through their work comes back to them on every level possible.
“I don’t think a model like this has ever been made before,” Person says of the specific deal developed between him and BlackDenim. âIt’s something that I think really benefits artists and the industry. Everyone is working for the best interest; no one is greedy. I think it’s a really innovative and successful model and I’m happy to be a living example of it.
Knowing that BlackDenim’s progress seems slow from the outside, Durst wants to continue reaching out to artists for advice, whether signed or not. Echoing almost everyone in the music business in Austin right now, he believes the city has the potential to become a dominant city in the music industry, given the resources.
âI think it’s really important that artists are able to position themselves independently,â says Durst. âYou have to have that entrepreneurial spirit and that fiery, discerning desire to really want a career in music. And, you know, we’re ready to help anyone.