Label Spotlight: Bloodshot Records

posted August 11, 2008

by Corinne

Bloodshot Records

Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I'm Nan Warshaw, Co-Owner of Bloodshot Records.

When and why was the label started? What was the first release?

In 1994 Bloodshot released "For a Life Of Sin; Insurgent Chicago Country." It was a compilation of Chicago bands, all of whom were playing in the underground rock clubs around town, and each of these bands had some element of traditional country running through their music. It was a snapshot of a scene at that time, a sub-set of the Chicago indie rock scene that hadn't yet been identified.

At that time Alternative rock was being co-opted by the Major labels, and they were signing and churning out every Nirvana knock-off. My partner and I had come of age with punk rock as our soundtrack and identity. Once the punk/alt rock scene began to be forced into the square hole that is the music biz and popular culture, we began searching for new forms of music that spoke to us. Bands like The Waco Brothers, Freakwater, and the Bottle Rockets all had a punk edge and attitude yet also wove traditional American roots forms into their songs.

What kind(s) of music does the label put out?

Indie rock, with roots inflections. We're attracted to artists that find new ways to interpret traditional country, folk, bluegrass, soul, R&B through a punk/alt rock lens. Over the years we've had the luxury of broadening that scope to include bands like The Detroit Cobras, Andre Williams, Firewater, and Ha Ha Tonka. We're still on the same road, it's just a bit wider now.

How was it financed [the first release]?

We each put in two thousand dollars of our own money. We didn't pay ourselves at all during the first 3 years.

What is the most recent release?

Firewater "The Golden Hour."

In 2005, Firewater's Tod A embarked on what would become a three year sabbatical through the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. He had recently split with his wife; George W. Bush had just been re-elected; New York, his home for the last 20 years, had become a cold and foreign place. He wasn't even sure he wanted to make music anymore.

Recording with a single microphone and a laptop in his pack, he captured performances with a vast array of musicians across India and Pakistan--and eventually Turkey and Israel. Bhangra and sufi percussion would form the basis for the songs he wrote along the way--songs about the world he left behind ("This Is My Life," "Electric City"), politics ("Borneo," "Hey Clown"), and dislocation ("6:45," "Feels like the End of the World"). Tod's acerbic wit shines on "The Golden Hour," elucidating both the beauty and the absurdity of the world.

How do you feel about sharing music on the Internet?

Home taping is killing the record industry. Seriously, I value the sharing of information, and shared enthusiasm for a band. However, musicians need to earn a reasonable living. Purchasing music from a band at show, in an indie record store or an on-line store, directly financially supports your fave artist and enables them to tour to your town. When you buy a CD from a band at a show, you are helping that band stay on the road.

Any words of wisdom for those brave souls interested in running their own label?

Don't do it! It's a thankless task, and much much harder today than when we started. If you insist, the only reason to do it is if you're so passionate about some artists that you can't help yourself. If you're wanting to get into the "music biz" or if you're doing it to make money, I recommend you shoot yourself now -- it will be less painful.

What has been your most successful release?

Ryan Adams "Heartbreaker"

What are the best ways and the worst ways to get a label's attention?

The best way to get a label's attention is to do everything yourself, and build your own grassroots following. Then labels will come to you. The worst way is hire a high paid lawyer to "shop your record," where the lawyer charges you back for shipping costs of the anvil they overnighted in the box with your CD to some pee-on who could care less, and then the lawyer will show you the list of the labels they pitched.

Musicians, PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH before submitting music to any label. Every day artists and bands waste my time sending me music that clearly doesn't make sense for Bloodshot. If they read the FAQ on our site, they'd know what might work for us. If they listened to a cross section of our current artists, they could at least know the styles of music we like. Please do not think you are the exception to our guidelines; when we say we don't do Hip Hop or Pop, please don't send us Hip Hop or Pop. Not only is it wasting your time and ours, we would not be the best label (or even a good one) to market and promote it.

Regardless of genre, what do you look for in the artists and bands you sign?

Hard touring -- over 90 dates a year. Tour dates are required in order to gain national press. Smart, serious touring is necessary to sell many records.

There are a lot of legalities involved in running a label (signing bands, releasing records, everyday work, etc.). How does your label deal with these things?

I've learned as much as I can about contract and entertainment law myself, and handle 95% of our legal type work. We were super lucky to find a great lawyer at the get-go who's willing to teach us, then we only have to directly use her when there's new legal concerns.

Anything else you would like to add?

Running an indie record label is a thankless task. It is primarily the same grunt work of running any small business. Today I bought a replacement toaster oven, took 7 tubs of mail to the post office, had a staff meeting to discuss replacing a dead computer, I paid bills and did some bookkeeping. It is very rarely glamorous. We run our business frugally, and live frugally so we might continue to do this.

All that said, I wouldn't trade my job for the world; I get to work with and for the musicians I love.

Thanks for your time!

You're welcome! Cheers, Nan