So making this video was slightly awkward, I guess, because I've known Jeremy DeVine--the founder of the renowned independent record label Temporary Residence --for years and consider him a good friend.
Also, I kind of owe him money.
I'm serious. In 2011 his label reissued my old band's records, and our sales have yet to recoup our advance and Temporary Residence's manufacturing costs.
That bit of business out of the way: DeVine is a pretty sui generis character in his milieu. He's an entrepreneur in a decidedly marginal sector--one devoted to brainy, off-center, and often difficult music that generally shares the DNA of various strands of the punk rock movement, even if few of the bands on his label actually sound like, say, The Sex Pistols or The Stooges. His label is now celebrating its 20th anniversary, and remains successful and wholly independent. Like a few other indie labels, it has kept going strong even as unprecedented carnage wrecked much of the rest of the music industry.
An accidental entrepreneur, he started his label solely to put out his own band's work, but then began releasing records by bands that hailed from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. "I liked their music," he recalls. "I had no idea what I was doing. But neither did they."
He got his start "the old way" he tells me. "Start out with $350. Which was the base beginning cost of the label. That paid for the first 7-inch. I would wait until that [record] would sell enough to pay enough for 7-inch No. 2."
"For the first seven years of the label, I ran everything out of a binder. And a phone," he says.
His life changed significantly when a band he signed in 2000--Explosions in the Sky--ended up hitting much bigger than anything he or they may have expected. They've since reliably sold records--sorry, does one still say "records" now? The music biz term "units" just seems so cold--in six-figure quantities, which is a massive number for a modestly-scaled independent label. The success of Explosions let DeVine leave his last gig in which he worked for someone else, in this case at a record store in Portland, Oregon, in the spring of 2004. (If you've seen the movie Friday Night Lights, you've heard Explosions in the Sky.)
Among the other key bands on DeVine's label are Grails, Eluvium, Pinback, and Japan's MONO. Those may not be familiar to the layperson, but all--still--sell music in significant quantities. As the business has changed and downloads and then streaming whacked sales of CDs and records, DeVine and the bands on his label have adapted: Revenues from "sync" licenses, which are paid by the likes of TV shows and advertisements that use those bands' music, are now a major contributor to the label's bottom line.
I've consistently found him to have engaging and thoughtful responses to the puzzle du jour that the music industry is trying to solve. As you will see in the video, when he starts talking about the effect that streaming services such as Spotify have had on his label. I was surprised by his answer. I suspect you will be, too.