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Indie Record Labels Search for New Key to Success

A slump prompts the industry to explore new approaches to business.

Amid a chronic slump in the music industry, independent record labels are searching for innovative ways to make original content profitable.

Only time will tell if they will be successful.

Linus Of Hollywood, a recording artist and owner of Los Angeles-based Franklin Castle Recordings, says some elements of his small, independent label are becoming easier to oversee.

"Over time, I have established what Franklin Castle is as a label and what kind of music it represents, so it gets easier to attract artists as time goes on," he says. "In the beginning, it was just me finding acts around town that I wanted to work with and convincing them that they should sign with my label."

Carl Caprioglio, president and CEO of Oglio Entertainment, also celebrates his label's indie status. When asked why a top comedian and sit-com star like George Lopez opts to go with Oglio -- rather than


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-- for his CD releases, he answered, "We can offer a custom deal made just for the artist, with the artist's agenda in mind." He added, "It doesn't make sense for a guy like that to go to a major label that will try to fit him in their corporate mold."

Beyond Lopez, Caprioglio's label has released albums by prominent major-label refugees like Brian Wilson, Cyndi Lauper and Kool Keith. But these and other projects are generally not found through traditional means of A&R. "Artists come to us through our network of friends, other artists and attorneys."

In other words, Caprioglio is not really looking for new talent on the stage. "We rarely go out clubbing on the prowl for new talent. I believe that those days are over, especially in Los Angeles."

While not looking for new talent on the stage, Caprioglio is looking for talent that regularly hits the road. "We now look exclusively for artists that are self-motivated and willing to tour.

Producer Don Was is quoted as saying 'Get on the radio or get in a van' ... it is more true today than ever before with 'radio' now meaning any wide-reaching media."

John Davis, the front man and songwriter of Tennessee-based Superdrag, agrees with the viewpoint of Was. "It's really difficult to drum up press of any sort if you're not on tour or going out on tour."

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After two albums with Elektra Records, which is owned by

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, Davis experienced the benefits of the aforementionedcorporate mold.


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-owned MTV, he says, "was certainly themost effective, at least for a short time ... That's how we went fromplaying to 200 people every night to 2,000 people every night in afairly short time."

However, that instant success came with a price for Davis and Superdrag.He explained, "The people you reach in that way tend to be the types offans that don't really pay attention to anything that doesn't get thatlevel of across-the-board mainstream exposure, so when it goes away, forthe most part, so do they."

With that knowledge, Superdrag went back tothe indies in 2000 and later began releasing its own albums throughSuperdrag Sound Laboratories.

An artist manager for Nada Surf and Elvis Perkins at FlatironManagement, Ben Weber also gives a thumbs-up to artists hitting theroad. "Touring is incredibly important for any artist, not just in termsof reaching an audience, but also in regards to developing as anartist."

Weber says that touring could be what brings an artist on an indie intonational prominence. "These days an artist can be 'known' on a nationalbasis without MTV or commercial radio, but without support from eitherit seems like there is a sales ceiling that most artists hit." But Weberexplained, "there are some exceptions, as most indie labels are notfocused on commercial radio."

Davis agrees with Weber's assessment, yet does not believe commercial radio to be heading down the drain just yet. "I think it probably serves a lot of people that still refuse to get on board with the new technology."

Even if sales are down across the board, Davis views long-term success as boiling down to some basic concepts: "Having great songs and having something to say are probably two key factors."

Unlike many, Caprioglio does not point a finger at lackluster product for the industry's decline. "The overwhelming feeling we get from retail and consumers is that there is too much competition for entertainment attention -- music, TV, Internet, video games and so on."

Caprioglio is realistic, furthermore, about his label's role in the industry. "We can't compete against big major label advances and their fancy offices," he says, "but we can offer better, more personal support. Oglio releases about 12 records per year. Many majors release 12-plus records per week." With "continued attention" to aid artist and project development, he added that Oglio "works records for six months or more."

Reflecting on his time as a major label recording artist, Linus believes that indies help foster better music. "You really become part of a corporate entity and it becomes more about selling records at any cost than making great and original music. On an indie level, the pressure is less and better art can be made."

Darren Paltrowitz has contributed to dozens of publications and completed an editorship with Long Island Entertainment. He holds a master's degree in library and information studies from Hofstra University.