City Paper is not for tourists
Sean Peoples, founder and owner of local imprint Sockets, has decided to pull the plug on his eight-year-old record label. He dropped the news on last night’s episode of Dissonance, the biweekly Radio CPR program hosted by City Paper contributor Mike Paarlberg.
On the show, Peoples told Paarlberg, “It was actually a really tough decision, but I feel like I had made a lot of moves to do what I wanted to do with the record label, see it evolve, and I was really happy with what we put out.” (Disclosure: Peoples and I are friends. We met in 2005 when I booked his old band, Hand-Fed Babies, for a show in Northampton, Mass.)
Sockets began in 2004 as Sockets CDR, a CD-R label with an experimental bent. In 2007, he lost “CDR” from the label’s name, and gradually transitioned to CDs, vinyl, tape, and digital formats. Since then, it’s been Sockets Records. He’s put out recordings from local bands Cornel West Theory, Deleted Scenes, Buildings, Laughing Man, Hume, America Hearts, Bluebrain, and scads of others.
When reached today, Peoples acknowledged that he is planning to make a formal announcement about the label’s end. But he was kind enough to send us this statement, which spells out his reasons for bringing the label to a close. One major factor: putting out records is expensive.
“Earlier this summer I set aside some time to plan out next steps for Sockets Records. And, after a lot of thinking, I have decided to shut down Sockets Records. Over the last three years, I saw the label become what I knew it had the potential to be, which was a small home for a stable of like-minded experimental bands from Washington, D.C.—-as well, at times, from Brooklyn. I learned a lot about how the music industry functions. And, in many ways, I learned the power of community—-especially the community of musicians here in Washington, D.C.
Record labels, aside from curating and serving as a base for like-minded bands, are changing. And that is a good thing. The tools for bands to connect both musically and financially with their audience is expanding in ways that I see as really positive. But to stay relevant, the amount of money needed to compete with similar indie labels, from the small ones like Sockets, to the bigger ones like Matador is staggering. Promotion and publicity are driving a lot of the profits around bands. And, if you don’t have the money, the serendipity that comes with bands rising to the top via their own grit and hard work seems like a vanishing prospect.
This is isn’t a complaint. It’s an observation. Making a record label sustainable (not necessarily profitable) is expensive. And, at this point, sustainability requires the kind of resources that neither Sockets, nor the bands currently have banked.
I’m really proud of the label, especially the last three years. This was a really tough decision. For me, the bands, and the community of people involved with the label over the last eight years, it’s been a beautiful experiment. I can’t thank those involved enough for their time, energy, and encouragement.”
Peoples is planning to host a final blowout showcase at the Black Cat in early February. Sockets-affiliated bands Deleted Scenes, Hume, and Buildings are already confirmed.