Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

End of an era: Touch and Go Records will stop distributing smaller indie labels

| 8 Comments | No TrackBacks

In a move certain to have a wide-ranging negative impact on the independent music scene in America, Chicago-based Touch and Go Records has announced that it's eliminating the part of its operation that has provided manufacturing and distribution services to dozens of smaller record labels across the country for the last two decades.

"Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our [Northside] warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records and Quarterstick Records," said a statement released Wednesday morning by company co-founder and owner Corey Rusk. "Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known yet important part of Touch and Go's operations.

"Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible."

The Touch and Go-distributed labels will need to find a new company to manufacture their CDs and, far more important, to assure their distribution to retailers across the U.S., by far one of the most daunting challenges in the indie music world.

Although some sources say as many as 20 of Touch and Go's 25 employees will be laid off, Rusk was hesitant to talk about personnel cuts. But he did say that, "I'm doing my best to be upfront with everybody as the transition happens over the coming months. It's painful for everybody involved."

Rusk said Touch and Go currently distributes about 20 other record labels, though many of those have smaller sub-labels associated with them. A quick look at the list includes some of the biggest names and most adventurous companies in the American rock underground, among them Merge Records (which has had gold-selling hits with the Arcade Fire), Jade Tree, Kill Rock Stars, All Natural, Atavistic, Drag City and Trance Syndicate.

Rumors that the Chicago company would cease all operations began to spread on Monday, but Rusk said that the stories that "Touch and Go is gone are not true."

According to his official statement, the label will continue releasing recordings from its own storied catalog: The company celebrated its history at the 2006 Hideout Block Party by presenting 31 of its acts ranging from industrial punks Big Black to art-rockers the Shipping News, California dance band !!! to Sicilian experimentalists Uzeda and the subtle guitar band Seam to the in-your-face hardcore group Negative Approach. But it's unclear whether the label will release new recordings from younger up-and-coming bands.

"Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label," according to the statement. "We'll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go's history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings."

UPDATE: For many years, Touch and Go did distribute Merge Records, which recently sold as many as half a million albums with "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire. But the Chapel Hill, N.C. label has been selling its discs direct through the distributor ADA for the past few years.

Nevertheless, the loss of Touch and Go as a distributor to the indie rock world was underscored by Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, who released the following statement:

Touch and Go basically allowed Merge to exist as something other than a singles label...we did our first full-length (the Superchunk Tossing Seeds comp) in 1992 because Corey agreed to take on Merge as a label under the Touch and Go umbrella. we've worked with Touch and Go since then -- 16 years -- and they are the most straight-up and ass-busting-for-music-they-love people we know.

Corey Rusk is the most meticulous, cautious, thoughtful business person i know which is what makes this whole thing so unbelievable and such a bad portent for the rest of the independent music business -- if a company that did everything the right way can't survive in this environment (and the environment existed before the current worldwide financial disaster -- the Bush economic legacy only piled on), then who can?

This is not even to mention the fact that Touch and Go put out some records that were incredibly important to me long before Merge existed -- Big Black, Scratch Acid, Die Kreuzen, Negative Approach, Butthole Surfers, and later on Slint, Jesus Lizard and the list goes on... -- a ton of records that are just important period.

It's a sad day for music, independent music and punk rock in particular, and the music business as we know it in the real world.

Click here for my 2006 profile of Rusk and Touch and Go.

A list of all Touch and Go/Quarterstick release can be found here.

The list of the labels distributed by the Chicago company is here.

Finally, here is the full text of the statement from Touch and Go's Corey Rusk:

It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go's operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We'll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go's history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/20075

8 Comments

The internet is great, and the fall of the major label's stranglehold over music is greater still...but the wreckage along the way is devastating. Too many fine people being hurt, and their great and wonderful ideas/companies sadly disappearing. All our Touch(and Go)stones are fading along with our youth. Not so misspent after all, was it?

Change is scary and sometimes sad... but perhaps as Corey mentioned in his statement, a new beginning is just that... Maybe this will push these artists, labels, and record buyers to sell/buy their music online more... perhaps even forgoing the record companies and dealing directly between artists and buyers... or at least having artists not being big financial burdens to labels. Instant downloadable purchases certainly make 'manufacturing' costs much smaller... a real 'green' way forward.

T&G still distributes Merge titles. They can also be purchased through ADA but T&G does still distribute Merge, at least until April that is.


I wonder of the label T&G stole Sctratch Acid from is as sad as y'all are today.

Pablo, if you are referring to the Rabid Cat label, you may want to look into that parting a little more carefully. I know there are two sides to every story, but the band's version does not put RC in a kind light... It portrays them as music fans who for some reason could not agree to a fair deal between the band and label.... and also says the band sought out T&G's help out of that less that fair situation with RC. There were not 'stolen' from RC as you state.

And to your query... I bet if Rabid Cat were still a label, they would find this news as terrible as the rest of us. If this is happening to such a fair minded, well run, and successful independent label/distributer like T&G, what does it mean for other smaller labels and bands and releases? Whether you are a fan of T&G or not, this is a bad sign for independent music.

Not about what the band wanted. Label had a contract with the band. Band wanted out, and Corey facilitated and actively encouraged breach of said contract. Courts call that tortious interference. Label was small potatoes so cause of action was never pursued. Label and band were friends (not fans) who had honest disagreements they couldn't resolve. Corey acted in bad faith by taking band in without compensating label for it's loss.
Probably not his primary M.O., but not Corey's most shining moment. The Butt's sued him after all. Just sayin'.

So the crappy economy's finally affecting the hipsters too. Aw, go figure. Hopefully it means the end of pathetic tattoo-revivalism as well.

More evidence that the economics of running a music label, let alone a distributor, have become brutal and unsustainable.

If a label can't sell enough CDs or downloads to cover costs on at least *some* of its releases, then they have to cut back on expenses such as promotion -- pushing things down the spiral the wrong way. If a label can't afford to keep its employees, then the 24-hours-in-the-day problem kicks those who are left. If a label cannot promote the music effectively, then what's the point (for a band) of being with a label?

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on February 18, 2009 11:50 AM.

Morrissey, "Years of Refusal" (Lost Highway) [3.5 STARS] was the previous entry in this blog.

Plastic Crimewave Sound: Noise this weird should not be taken for granted is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.