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Arts and Entertainment | Maine Life | Tuesday, July 27th, 2010, 3:47 pm

Making Nice Friends with a young independent record label

Courtesy photo
Jordan Stowell, at right, and Cam Jones are In The Audience

In a city where all-ages concerts have fallen out of frequency, making it as a young band in Portland can be a tough endeavor. There’s this strange age gap where some musicians are too old to get help from youth organizations like the Maine Academy of Modern Music, but not old enough to usher in the majority of fans at local Portland clubs because of age restrictions. And it’s considerably more difficult in the Portland music scene where connections can mean everything.

This is what Jordan Stowell, 20, says he’s up against as he operates his own record label, Nice Friends, and fronts the indie-pop band In The Audience.

Originally started as a side-project in 2008, In The Audience struggled to find permanent members until Stowell was recommended to Cam Jones as a drummer in the summer of 2009. “It didn’t really click that much at first — and Cam went away for a few weeks — but I didn’t really have many prospects and Cam seemed pretty skilled, so we gave it a shot again when he came home,” Stowell said in an e-mail interview.

After self-recording an EP and seeing some radio play on local stations, they decided to record another EP — this time in a professional studio. It started with a single called “Shine,” and right after the recording session they received an e-mail that changed everything. It was from a record label in Japan called MOORWORKS that wanted to release In The Audience’s first full-length album. Suddenly Stowell had funding and distribution for an album from the other side of the planet, but that meant he needed a way to bring the album to the States.

At the same time, an online contact of Stowell’s, Sonia Sturino, was trying to find a more legitimate way to promote and release her own music (under the name The Box Tiger) in Toronto. Stowell discovered Sturino’s music online and wanted to see if she could perform backing vocals on some of his songs. But from there, a greater musical relationship developed. It was this mutual desire to market and produce music that led Stowell to pitch the idea of running a record label together. It wouldn’t be anything complex, but it would be a means to helping each other out, along with other musicians in the future. Sturino agreed to the idea, and they set up shop as Nice Friends in December 2009.

As a record label, they began working on various releases including the forthcoming In The Audience album, the debut Box Tiger EP, an EP by Cam Jones, and a small Nice Friends compilation. The label didn’t have any funding besides the advance from MOORWORKS, so most of the money was coming out-of-pocket and from various shows the bands have played. Since the label is still in its infancy, they have yet to see any big results, but Stowell has been happy with progress so far.

“The releases we’ve done so far have been free digital releases for the most part,” Stowell said, citing “Drum Keys & Cymbal Trees” by Jones. “We’ve done these with little [to] no advertising and we’ve been pleased with everything so far.”

In addition to the recording projects, Nice Friends has been working on small marketing campaigns to increase the visibility of their artists. This includes more than just plastering the town with posters for upcoming shows. In The Audience played at a Maine Red Claws game to celebrate their first single, and a few months later they played on FOX 23′s Good Day Maine to promote an upcoming show with Canadian buzz band Land of Talk. “Doing things that are a little bit unusual can help spread the new and expose the band to audiences that might not normally attend a show,” Stowell said.

But despite the marketing and recording efforts being pushed by the label, Stowell feels that Maine’s music climate can be rather exclusive and hard to penetrate. “I started the label with no connections and it’s taking a long time to finally start making some,” Stowell said. “ A lot of people don’t care about what you’re doing and what you’ve done.”

He also envies other local bands that get larger opportunities, but never properly capitalize on them. “For young artists and people who really are trying to advance themselves and take becoming a professional musician very seriously, it’s endlessly frustrating. It’d be nice to see the big opportunities go to people who are looking to go beyond Maine and make a name for the state,” Stowell said. “It may sound very petty or obnoxious, but I feel it’s a very real issue.”

Notwithstanding Stowell’s pessimism about the local music scene, he has already accomplished a great deal as a 20-year-old musician and entrepreneur. With In The Audience’s debut album coming out in August and a set at the upcoming KahBang Music Festival in Bangor, Nice Friends might see some greater opportunities coming their way. After all, this is only the beginning.

Dylan Martin is a Media Studies student at USM and a staff writer for The Free Press. He also writes a blog on MaineToday.com called Geek Street.

Dylan Martin is a Media Studies student at USM and a staff writer for The Free Press. He also writes a blog on MaineToday.com called Geek Street.

6 Responses to “Making Nice Friends with a young independent record label”

  1. mikerattlesnake says:

    “It may sound very petty or obnoxious”

    It does. People get gigs because of their music and the relationships they build, not based on their ambition. Some of us work full time jobs and our music is our outlet. Some of us are around 30 and not in a position where touring regularly is an option (or maybe we just ditched those wide-eyed rockstar dreams when we realized the reality of the music business). There are also different ways to build an audience, especially in this digital age. None of my favorite bands started out playing on the local news and at basketball games, they gained respect as artists in communities of artists. Many would scoff at the phrase “[I] take becoming a professional musician very seriously”.

    There’s nothing particularly wrong with that approach, but it’s a pretty specific trajectory that usually either ends in a major label gig or nothing. You have to accept that there are just some gigs you won’t get and some people who you just won’t connect with. It’s like if I made noise tapes in my basement and complained that I wasn’t getting played on CYY.

    And, btw, the fact that local bands have opportunities that they don’t cash in on shouldn’t be disappointing to you because it should be “your turn” (that ain’t how it works), but because those bands are really good and should be getting more widespread attention.

  2. mikerattlesnake says:

    that said, This dude’s ambition is admirable and it seems to be paying off. He seems to have had a lot of opportunities that many bands don’t get, and it’s most likely because of the effort he put in. I also understand that context can be lost when people are quoted in an article and the sense of entitlement that I was responding to may not be portrayed accurately.

    It can be hard to become a part of a community when you aren’t old enough to go to many shows, and I understand that frustration. The only way to become a part of a community, though, is to find bands and venues you like*, talk to them, put on shows and invite them to play, and generally get involved. Making a professionally recorded album and a slick press kit may be good for getting the attention of reviewers and radio stations, but on the local level they don’t get you very far.

    *if you have a hard time thinking of any, this is your first problem. Get out, go to any all ages shows or 18+ shows you can, talk to people who run the venues, etc.

  3. jordan says:

    Mike, I think maybe a little bit of context might have been lost in the quotations. In my head it still reads the way I said it, but maybe something might be missing based on the way you’ve interpreted it. I just wanted to respond to a few things/give a little extra information. I understand that none of your favorite bands got started playing basketball games and news shows, neither have any of our bands. The bands have played many shows (the TV performance was promotion for In the Audience’s first 21+ show as well as for their Memorial Day performance at SPACE with Land of Talk). These types of special/unusual gigs are not things bands were approached about. We went after them and asked if these might be possible. We’re trying to do things a little differently and not simply work the flyer/handbill game. We want the bands to be experimenting in how they can get their name and music out there. In the Audience has an album coming out on August 31st, so the band released a free instrumental album today at http://intheaudience.bandcamp.com to help try to raise interest and name awareness.

    You’re free to feel however you’d like about what I say or what we’re doing, I just wanted to throw that little bit of extra information in there so you’d get a better idea/fuller picture of our intentions. Hope this message didn’t come off as rude, I certainly don’t intend to be! I just know sometimes things can get lost or misinterpreted online.

  4. mikerattlesnake says:

    Yeah, that’s why I made the follow-up comment. even if it wasn’t your intention to come off sounding entitled, there are those that think that way and I think it was relevant to address it. There’s nothing wrong with playing basketball games and the news, I just figured I would point it out because it’s important to look at the career trajectories of bands you like and respect and figure out the identity you want to project as a band. Promotion is important, but it’s also important to pick your venues. Some paths will limit you from exploring other paths and some bands will have different opportunities than others. Also, sometimes it’s just dumb luck and who you know.

  5. [...] are the band at the center of the local (international) label, Nice Friends (who you may have read about recently). Their album What Lives will be out in August, but they’ve got a free, instrumental [...]

  6. Jay says:

    Independent record-labels are definitely the way forward, in terms of promoting creativity and originality. And with the collapse of the current climate in the music industry, it’s understandable why independent labels may be making a comeback. The independent label Champion Records seem to have found the right winning formula. Have a look here -http://www.championrecords.co.uk/ A lesson for all!

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