Faster Than Sound: Austin Imprint Keeled Scales partners with Polyvinyl Records: new joint office expands landscape for local labels – Music
Tony Presley, owner of the Keeled Scales label (Photo by John Anderson)
Over the past year, Keeled scales label owner Tony presley visited the post office almost daily to fill increasing orders for Austin Imprint’s online store. When he started chatting with a major independent media Polyvinyl discs, co-founder Matt Lunsford asked, “If we took shipping off your plate, how many hours would that free per week?” Presley guessed about 15.
In a new partnership, Polyvinyl is handling customer orders for the 7-year-old company, with Presley retaining creative control.
“The fulfillment is the big piece,” he says. “We also have a weekly strategic call. These are all tips I can take or leave, but I really appreciate their 25 years of experience. along.”
Polyvinyl would eventually take over tasks like bookkeeping and paying artist royalties, allowing Presley to do what he does best: find new ears and opportunities for his roster of bespoke artists across the spectrum. folk, pop and indie rock. Polyvinyl bought a 25% stake in Keeled Scales, joining Presley and KS staff Bri Aab in co-ownership. In 2018, a similar investment in Polyvinyl helped develop the Brooklyn label Double double whammy.
The deal follows a surprisingly important pandemic year for Presley and Aab. Profits doubled last year, fueled by physical sales and Bandcamp revenue sharing Fridays. Keeled Scales kicked off 2021 with five LP releases, including Texas catalog leads Sweet buck, guitarist of Big thief, melancholy pop group from Austin Sun June, and eclectic artist from Spicewood Katy kirby.
The new partnership also results in a small joint office, tucked away in a business park in the far east of Austin. Polyvinyl Art Director Janelle Abad and project manager Natalie Davila, both former Texans, moved from the label’s headquarters to Champaign, Illinois. Polyvinyl also has hubs in San Francisco and New York.
“With the intention of partnering with people from the area, Tony and I started brainstorming ideas,” says Dávila from her new office. The Austin office plays an important role in the growth of Polyvinyl, with a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ perspective.
Polyvinyl has already reached a local connection when signing Alexalone, rock project Alex peterson (Hovvdy, Lomelda) – also announced at the end of last month. Abad explains: “The two big news [items] in shape that week, so we were like, “let’s make texas like hell.” It’s part of what we hope to do: connect the conversations between industry and local music. “
Austin Chronicle: How did you decide on this partnership?
Tony presley: [The label] would eventually get to where we want to be on our own, but it takes maybe 10 years. With the help of Polyvinyl we can get there much sooner. I want to be able to evolve alongside our artists. At one point, smaller labels are doing the A&R work for bigger independent labels and majors, and I don’t want our artists to move on because we can’t keep up with them. the Sun June [release of Somewhere in collaboration with Run for Cover Records] was a wake-up call, and it was the best of times.
IT: How has your business – often called a folk label at the start – evolved?
TP: I am very aware that we should not be labeled as folk. I don’t want indie rock bands like, “Why would we work with you?” If everyone sounded like Buck Meek or Will johnson, from a business point of view, we would be competing with ourselves. It is more important to have a diverse list of people, who share the same ideas in their philosophy and the way they look after their works of art and behave, than to look alike. The goal for anyone setting up a label is to build enough trust with a listener that they can take a chance on something.
IT: What was the impact of Austin on the musical philosophy of Keeled Scales?
TP: It’s hard to find your community within the Austin scene because it’s so massive, with little bubbles. When Punctum discs was still active at Studio space, what were they doing [KS] wanted to do – bring together very authentic songwriters like Julia lucille, RF Shannon, and Jess williamson.
These coherent spaces that have arisen, like [Dripping Springs’ annual] Cooling phases, Tyler andere with Father / daughter records and Portals, and Lord Neil with Future museums, everyone feels really connected to the [KS] community. The line of conduct is really sincere and passionate people, but accessible. There is no such ego. People will roll up their sleeves and play a show with anyone whose music they love. The music business has not stood in the way of collaboration.
IT: Do you see untapped potential for labels here in Austin?
TP: I do. It’s frustrating that every time an Austin band gets really big they sign with a label outside of Texas. What does it mean that the city is presenting itself as the capital of live music? We have 200 bars that pay bands to play, but there is no infrastructure. For an artist to have a successful career, live music is one of the few healthy income channels, like physical sales, digital income, syncing, and publishing.
It’s heartbreaking to see amazing Austin bands never tour, or record an amazing album and put it on Bandcamp. Having great music is one piece of the puzzle. A big part is having people on your side to help spread the word. I would like to see more labels and industry develop here.
IT: Your advice for a new label?
TP: Really plan every outing, get as much mic as possible, and talk to artists before signing them, to make sure your goals are aligned. This is not a cookie-cutter situation. You’re probably not going to make any money in the first five years, and if you do, you should probably pass it on to the artists anyway. But if you can continue to tune in, the road is longer in front of you.
Eric Burton of the Black Pumas at Stubb’s on May 26 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
Austin Events Center relaxed rules for special events, such as festivals. Organizers applying for permits will not have to require proof of vaccination and “can anticipate changes in social distancing and masking requirements.” Director of Development Services Denise lucas called the overhaul a “signal that we are able to get back to normal. We are ready for events to return safely so that we can all support our local event planners, vendors, artists and musicians.”
Las Vegas Hotel bring back the live music tonight. Lord Friday the 13th launches free patio shows, from Thursday to June. Paid concerts start on June 12 with Lie, Pleasure venom, and A giant dog, whose singer Sabrina ellis posted: “When I think of what a real live show should be like, I think of the sweaty summer nights on the Vegas patio.”
A lot Austin sites emerged from the pandemic strand last weekend, including Black pumas‘five night race at Stubb – Friday reprogrammed by thunderstorms – and Mohawk two nights with Heartless Bastards.