By Oakland L. Childers
By Kelsey McClure
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By Christian Schaeffer
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In that same spirit, Red Pill is active on Facebook and Twitter. The label views the networks as avenues for the artists to reach and interact with fans directly, as well as a way of fostering community among other forward-thinking outfits such as the Web-based musicians' resource network Artists House Music. Instead of simply broadcasting links and expecting fans and followers to do the rest, Markow, Detering and the Red Pill artists foster two-way communication with their networks — interacting, responding and building one-to-one relationships. This focused, organic approach might reach fewer people in the short run, but it creates a more immediate emotional connection with those ever-elusive fans. Thanks to a million rock biopics and Behind the Music episodes, we've been conditioned to believe that labels exist to rob artists and cheat consumers, so all of Detering and Markow's good intentions might just seem like more pavement on the proverbial road to Hell. For their artists, however, Red Pill has proven a refreshing change of pace. Javier Mendoza took advantage of these expanded possibilities with a pair of 2009 releases for the label: the English-language You and a companion album, Tú, which offered Spanish translations of the songs. Saying he "jumped at the chance" to work with the label and calling it "a very positive experience," Mendoza says, "What I enjoyed about recording with them was that we could work on a handshake, and there was good faith in both parts. I also feel they truly believe in the music of the artists they represent."
Amy Petty echoes the sentiments of a lot of current artists when she says, "I would never have imagined that I would want to be signed to a record label" — but she quickly follows that by adding, "the term 'record label' as it's become known doesn't really apply to Red Pill. They're good people, funny, creative, adventurous and supportive. I couldn't have handpicked a more complementary team." The New Hampshire-based Petty's signing to Red Pill underscores the label's use of the Web — Markow introduced herself to Petty on MySpace — as well as their willingness to embrace an unproven talent who, at the time, had barely begun recording demos. This faith was rewarded with her label debut, 2008's Mystery Keeps You, which found enough success to justify the follow-up Petty's currently recording between bouts of touring.
"We have never been interested in being a traditional label," Markow says. "Never. What we have been interested in is helping each artist make progress in their career by creating a great recording and then working with that artist to strengthen their business skills in order to increase their career viability and hopefully grow marketing opportunities."
Adds Detering: "We have a studio [Red Pill Studios, the south St. Louis recording house affectionately referred to as 'the Pillbox'], so we make records in a fiscally responsible manner. Our standard contracts are simple and attempt to establish controlled risk and partnership with artists. And too, we expect our artists to connect with their fans in authentic ways."
It obviously isn't an approach that suits every artist — but then, it isn't meant to. Red Pill — and, perhaps, most other labels that will succeed in the new music business — is built for small sustainability, a model that blends love of music with the cold, hard truth that each artist is a brand and needs to work to position itself as such. It is also, in Markow's words, "a family tree with roots and wings."
As it turns out, maybe music and money aren't as mutually exclusive as some of us thought. Maybe you can believe in both. Maybe the key is in believing.