President, Merge Records & Bass, Superchunk
Laura Ballance is co-founder of Merge Records and Superchunk. Merge and Superchunk both celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2019. Merge Records has been home to bands like Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Waxahatchee, Lambchop, Versus, King Khan & the Shrines, Fucked Up and the Mountain Goats to name a few. Superchunk has released eleven studio albums, most recently the critically acclaimed What a Time to Be Alive. Laura plays bass guitar in Superchunk but no longer performs live with the band due to hearing problems arising from overexposure to sound at high volumes. This has given her more time to pursue other interests such as political activism, making art, sewing and being a parent. She advises everyone to use earplugs at rock shows.
In 1989, the year of our founding, the Presidency of the United States of America was passed from Ronald Reagan to George H. W. Bush, the Berlin Wall was opened, pretty much no one had a cell phone, the world wide web was invented, and Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan went on a road trip and were inspired to start a record label. These were DIY times and it was clear that if you wanted to put out records you had to do it yourself. Starting a record label meant hand dubbing cassettes, typing and drawing, cutting and pasting, hand folding paper sleeves and stuffing them into cases. It meant recruiting band members and friends (one and the same) to come over and eat pizza and drink beer and help put things together on your sofa.
The Evolution of the Indie Label – What Does the Future Hold?
10/13/21, 5:00 PM
How have indies evolved to compete in today’s music environment? From adapting to a streaming-dominated market, the migration of physical to chiefly vinyl, navigating D2C and other revenue streams, and the changed working environment and lack of artist touring during the pandemic, today’s indies are operating markedly different businesses than only a half-decade ago.
What are the advantages to artists to work with indies? Has the economics of a frothy new artist signing climate affected indies? How do indies compete and continue to offer a different value proposition from majors, service companies or distributors?
We’ll also look at what the pandemic has taught us unique to our business that we can utilize in future years; competing in a DSP-dominated streaming business; the roles of press and radio for indie labels and their artists; and the roles of digital and conventional distributors.