June 19, 2013

This Is American Music Helps Bands Navigate a Changing Industry

Dana Swimmer

We can start with a truism: the music industry has been overhauled in the last few decades. In some instances, this has meant that once-stable institutions, like record labels, have gone the way of the dodo and disappeared into the ether. For some, this consequence is cause for celebration. For Corey Flegel and Jay Cooper of This is American Music, an Atlanta-based label with myriad Athens ties, this simply encourages innovation and a changing of roles on their part.

“Whatever a modern record label has become, we’re that. We do it ourselves,” says Flegel. The two friends (a word they both emphasize in discussing their business venture) formed TIAM with their comrades Sean Courtney and Nick Nichols, of Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively, a few years ago with the mission to help their friends in bands navigate the changing industry. Flegel says he got into the business after going on tour with Glossary, an alt-country outfit from Tennessee, and wanting to help out his friends in any way that he could.

Cooper, an attorney by trade, joined the fold because of what he describes as “being sympathetic to the cause.” He began by setting up the initial contracts and getting the company’s legal issues sorted out. Although he may hold a degree in law, Cooper is hardly a suit—his passion for great music shines through in conversation, and he’s adamant that his label functions more as a support system for his friends rather than a cash cow.

Existing in a nascent form since December 2010, TIAM’s mission depends on the band and the record that it's working with. 

“We don’t do the same thing for all our artists, and we don’t do the same thing for all our records,” says Cooper when asked to describe TIAM's vision. Although Athens indie aficionados will recognize many of the bands who have worked with the label (Dana Swimmer, The District Attorneys, Grass Giraffes and T. Hardy Morris, among others), Cooper, Flegel and their partners remain in a background role, willing to learn any facet of the business in the interest of helping their bands. (Cooper is blunt when he says that he doesn’t like to involve the label in booking, but he also says that TIAM is willing to go that route if it means its artists will benefit.)

TIAM has made headway in the Athens scene in addition to working with local bands. The label will be hosting the unofficial festival kickoff party at the 40 Watt Club on Thursday night, headlined by local power-pop legends David Barbe and the Quick Hooks. The label had a hand in putting together the lineup for Little Kings' AthFest showcase Saturday, featuring Dana Swimmer and Ruby the Rabbitfoot, among others. 

In discussing his label’s role with this year’s AthFest, an event that he describes as “a gathering of the tribe," Cooper mentions that he hates the word “networking,” and that while he’ll be plenty busy with his label's events, he’ll also be having his share of fun. 

Flegel agrees that AthFest is the perfect mix of business and pleasure. “AthFest is so laid-back and not at all like South by [Southwest]. I’m not sure Athenians know how well they have it.” As he sees it, events like this one give the label an opportunity to get to know fans and artists that might not be affiliated directly with their venture. 

“Because of the way our deals are structured,” Cooper says, “we don’t have a clear bright-line that says, ‘These are our people, and those aren’t.’”

What’s next for the upstart label? Flegel is optimistic that good things will continue to come—especially since TIAM is planning “an aggressive release schedule” for the summer, with albums being released every Tuesday in June and July. “My business card says ‘Quarterback,’” Flegel says with a laugh. Although the title may be a joke, his label's commitment to helping bands negotiate an unsteady industry is anything but.

WHO: This is American Music Presents David Barbe and the Quick Hooks, Dana Swimmer, Brothers, Tedo Stone
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Thursday, June 20, 9 p.m.