Music industry

Meet the entrepreneurs who are taking Denver’s music industry to the next level

(From the left) John Baldwin, Chris Voss, Jason Edelstein and Andrea Hoang of The Salt Lick Records. Photo courtesy of The Salt Lick Records

Music

A new generation of local labels and arts agencies are striving to make Mile High City the next global music hub and nurture art while they are there.


In music, there is a term to denote the force with which you bring the noise: “the attack”. By definition, attack describes the force with which a sound is launched – something an artist can change manually (think of the beat of a drum versus the strike of a violin string) or by turning a knob in. the production studio. It’s something Denver’s dark pop phenomenon N3ptune is proud of.

“My settings on my attack are just different,” he said with a smirk. The 23-year-old (whose stage name is pronounced “Neptune”) doesn’t just speak of his powerful gospel-inspired voice that has delighted audiences for four years. He also refers to his drive to grow big and shake up the traditional business model while there – something he took charge of by launching the Atlantean Records LLC label earlier this summer. The company was born out of the frustration of seeking outside support in Denver and observing how other labels were running their businesses. “I don’t have time to wait for you if you’re not ready,” he said.

N3ptune, who grew up in Denver, plans to release all of their self-produced music through Atlantean. But he also hopes that the label, which is still in its infancy, will be able to collaborate with young artists and teach them production techniques. His efforts are part of a growing movement within the Denver music scene to better support burgeoning talent and attack the business side.

Denver pop artist N3ptune singing into a handheld microphone
N3ptune. Photo by Justin Day

“The problem with the music industry is that nobody really knows what they’re doing, and nobody wants to talk about it, but they have a definite way of doing things. [in Los Angeles and New York]. And they have a formula, ”explains N3ptune. “There’s no formula out there [in Denver]. Here you can break the rules, start a business, say “I want to create a label”. Boom. I can do whatever I want. ‘ It’s more collaborative here.

Before COVID-19 brutally brought the world to a halt, Colorado’s music scene was booming. Statewide, the industry accounted for $ 1.4 billion in annual revenue (Denver was responsible for about 840 million) and about 16,000 jobs in 2018. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, revenues Global recorded music grew seven percent in 2020, according to MusicWeek. Independent music labels and artists, who make up the bulk of Denver’s music scene, have dominated the market, collectively growing 27% annually and increasing their combined streaming market share to 31.5%. The majors, for their part, recorded a slight decline.

Kyle Hartman, co-founder of local music agency Future Garden, says he felt Denver was on the precipice of a big-city-like musical success. But Hartman was also increasingly frustrated that many of the artists he was passionate about would never move beyond the local level due to a lack of business resources or advice to do so.

“There are these amazing artists who, they’re no less talented than these artists from LA or New York or Austin, but I just don’t think the infrastructure was here in Denver for them to reach. this higher level, ”he said. said. Hartman, who has worked on the Denver music scene for over 10 years, most recently reserving talent for Larimer Lounge, Globe Hall and Underground Music Showcase, established Future Garden in 2019 to fill that void. “My goal is to build this infrastructure. I want the artists to start coming in denver to do it as an artist.

Future Garden now provides booking, management, advisory, and public relations services, among others, and has since grown to represent nearly a dozen artists, including hypo-pop / cosmic jazz group Ramakhandra and the Ecuadorian electro-pop prodigy Neoma, who was scheduled to perform at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, before the pandemic. The agency also recently added N3ptune to its list.

Some of Mile High City’s last entrepreneurial music ventures were also the result of necessities born out of a pandemic. The Salt Lick Denver, a collective launched in December 2020 by Jason Edelstein and Andrea Hoang, has started producing live music sessions called Songs From the Pond in the tiny, eclectic basement of their former Capitol Hill home. Shows served as an outlet for artists and music fans while live concerts were limited. Joined by their sound engineer Chris Voss and assistant cinematographer and engineer John Baldwin, the group aimed to cultivate high-quality musical discovery, reminiscent of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts and other popular studio session series, that could pay off even after the live performances return. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize how many bands are here,” Hoang said. “So it’s a way for them to hear it and see it, and hopefully make this conversion to go buy concert tickets to actually go out there and support the bands.”

The ultimate goal, however, was to eventually launch an independent label to help bring this music to the attention of more people. Last September, the group officially announced The Salt Lick Records, with its five inaugural artists, including Bear and the Beasts and Mlady.

Typically, national record companies lend artists a large amount of money up front to create a record, and continue to take 80 percent of the revenue. The Salt Lick does not rely on such predatory income models. Instead, Edelstein and Hoang forgo contractual requirements such as early loan and structural agreements with city sound engineers so artists can use their studios, including the basement of the Salt Lick, and their services at a reduced rate. “The barrier to entry is not as high because there is not this feeling of, the artist is taking a big loan, and they are going to owe us for years to come,” Hoang said. .

Edelstein and Hoang note that they are slowly generating profits. They are yet to hold full-time jobs other than The Salt Lick for now, but they envision the label being fully sustainable for years to come.

Hartman and fellow Future Garden director Kori Hazel also do not currently earn a salary from their work with Future Garden, citing artists’ career growth as their main focus. Hazel says that if an artist or a group they represent signed with a national agency or label, they would consider it a victory. He and Hartman simply hope to serve as a bridge for these artists at the incubation level, helping them develop their art and focus on art with a “quality over quantity” mindset. As Hazel sees it, there’s a pressure to perform economically once you hit the national level – and they’ve noticed that the art crumbles as soon as people rush to sign with agencies in more domestic markets. important like Los Angeles.

“When you’re at a big agency you understand that you’re also a number on a huge roster with a bunch of other national artists, and it’s not the same kind of attention,” says Hazel. “And [the national agencies] can help you, but I don’t believe they can help you the same way someone cares about a very localized sense [can]. “

Part of that appeal seems to lie in the ecosystem that creators like N3ptune, The Salt Lick, and Future Garden are building, in particular, as Hartman and Hazel note, music originating in Denver continues to push boundaries and change genres. . “I see us as creators of taste. Those [national] agencies, they are not leading the trends. They catch successful artists. They don’t set the agenda, ”says Hartman.

“They don’t change the culture,” adds Hazel. “We meet culture where it is. We also try to push him “

It also doesn’t hurt that Denver’s art scene has built a unique collaborative culture. “We’re in partnership with all of those people that, in any other music scene, you would compete with. And instead, we ask ourselves, “How can we help you do this thing?” How can we build this music scene together? ‘ “Edelstein says. All three groups agree that a nurturing sense of community is a critical part of the city’s recipe for success.

“There is literally a renaissance that we are witnessing before our eyes, in terms of entertainment, in terms of institutions. … We all feel it, ”says N3ptune. “When I join the company, I see it, I feel it and I’m already there. As for the Denverites on the other side of the compound, all you have to do is be sure to listen to their attack.

Madi Skahill

Madi Skahill

Madi oversees social media strategy for the 5280 and 5280 Home accounts, as well as writes and edits stories for 5280.com.