Local music stalwart Friends Records today announced a distribution deal that will take Baltimore music around the world and a slew of releases due out this summer and fall. Additionally, the label revamped its website, putting all of Friends' output into one place.
The deal with Sony/RED will bring Friends artists all across the U.S. and into the U.K., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It was brokered with the help of Bruce Gearhart, a new partner with the label who has 30 years experience in the industry, including stops at Polygram and EMI.
"It helps us reach a very large audience," says Jimmy MacMillan, who co-founded Friends Records in 2009 with Brett Yale. "It gets us out of being a regional label and becoming an international label."
But this new-found reach won't change the label's focus on putting out Baltimore music almost exclusively. In talking with people overseas, MacMillan says he gets asked questions about Friends Records' genre or identity. "I just say Baltimore."
"It's the identity of the label, and we would never change that," he says.
Fittingly, five of the six releases announced today are from artists here in town: Ami Dang "Uni Sun" on July 29, Other Colors "Natural Motion" on Aug. 5, Amanda Glasser "Purrer" on Aug. 12, Wing Dam "Glow Ahead" on Aug. 19, and Moss of Aura "We'll All Collide" on Oct. 3. (The sixth is from Raleigh artist Jenny Besetzt, whose release "Tender Madness" comes out July 15)
And there's more on deck, with albums from Bond St. District, Peals, Blacksage, Microkingdom, Natural Velvet, Garcia Brothers, Nicky Smith, and more to be announced soon.
Going forward, all Friends releases will be available on CD, cassette, vinyl, and digital. That's a change from the past, when funds only allowed for certain releases to be put out on tape or there wasn't any value seen in releasing a stand-alone CD (they've often been packaged with a record). Some of the label's back catalog will also be reissued on previously unavailable formats.
The label now has the resources to hire in-house artists, designers, tour bookers, and public relations staff. Friends is still in negotiations with Sony to become a subsidiary of Fat Possum Records, the indie label that's put out releases for groups such as Andrew Bird, Wavves, and The Black Keys, further expanding its marketing reach.
MacMillan says he first met his new label partner at his job at The Sound Garden, where Gearhart is a regular who will come in and share stories with the staff about his days in the record industry during the 1970s. When Gearhart expressed an interest in investing in a local band to Marc Miller of no-jazz group Microkingdom, a Friends band, Miller told him he should talk with MacMillan.
They hit it off.
"We share the same passions in music. Not particularly the types of music, but the reasons we like music," says MacMillan. "We like to watch that arc that a band takes."
Gearhart was able to work old connections to set up a meeting with the president at Sony/RCA Records, which got the ball rolling. Select Friends releases will begin being distributed internationally on Aug. 15—if something catches on overseas, the label now has the resources to send the artist over there for a tour.
"I never thought I would do this outside of my basement," says MacMillan. "I have an office now, I have employees. It's grown bigger now than we—me and Brett—ever thought when we started it."