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The music business today is like Sutter's Mill, Calif., at the dawn of the Gold Rush - if you substitute Gibson Les Pauls for picks and pack-mules. It's wild, untamed, often lawless, rich in possibility, and full of indelible characters.
Yes, the era of all-powerful major record labels is fast sinking into a quagmire of ego and the typical artist & repertoire guy has a degree in accounting and wouldn't know a chorus if Paul McCartney sang one in his ear. As such, enterprising musicians are taking advantage of real-world alternatives that include independent thinking, technology, the Internet and social media. More and more artists are not only recording and touring with the help of small or independent labels, they're actually making money and developing global fan bases.
Based in New London - one of the most fertile music scenes in New England - the Telegraph Recording Company is a label that's slowly and steadily building a roster and reputation for quality bands and product. Home to 11 Connecticut acts, Telegraph is experiencing considerable attention and success - and the stylistic array of bands is incredibly diverse, spanning the spectrum of rock music.
"We've been working to place our acts in the national limelight through college radio promotions, regular outreach to music magazines and blogs, and general tour support when the bands are on the road," says Rich Martin, who runs the label with his wife, Daphne Lee Martin. "We're also encouraging our acts to do as much as possible with video, social networking and streaming services to make sure their goods are available to music lovers wherever they are."
Bands on the label include Fatal Film, Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Pocket Vinyl, Elison Jackson, Paul Brockett Roadshow, Jim Carpenter & the Hoolios, Daphne Lee Martin, Matt Gouette, Brazen Hussy, Fake Babies and the Jack Grace Band.
This is a superior amalgam of homegrown and Connecticut-wide talent, but Telegraph has been impressively successful in a much bigger sense, particularly in the vastly important context of college radio.
The last several Telegraph releases, including Elison Jackson's debut, Daphne Lee Martin's "Moxie" and Pocket Vinyl's "Death Anxiety," were all added at more than 75 stations around the country, including influential major-market terrestrials like KEXP and Internet leaders such as 3WK.
"In fact," Martin says, "'Death Anxiety' and 'Moxie' both made it onto the CMJ Top 200 national charts, where they lingered for four or five weeks each. We're seeing that, as our bands release their second and third albums, the relationships with college radio seem to really be paying off for them and the label."
Telegraph Recordings is based out of the Martins' Telegraph Record Store, an emporium featuring not just used vinyl and CDs but also books and videos. It also serves as a performance space, too, with in-store shows from area artists as well as touring acts. The Day shoots many of its "Live Lunch Break" music series there. As a working model, the idea came from the supremely successful Rough Trade, a seminal British label that not coincidentally operates one of the hippest record stores in the world.
Telegraph's services run the gamut from arranging and financing recording to packaging, distribution and marketing to helping with touring arrangements.
"Each project is unique unto itself," Martin says, "depending on the band and what their goals are. Some groups are heading out to tour nationally and require different support than those who are going to work a little closer to home. It's typically a collective investment between the label and the bands. We share as many resources as we can to help each band generate their own momentum while building that of the label at the same time."
Obviously, each act has its own priorities - and there's no right or wrong. Daphne Lee Martin, Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Pocket Vinyl and Elison Jackson, for example, are artists who have strategies and expansive touring schedules aimed at maximum exposure. Given the expenses incurred with long-distance travel, finances are an important consideration.
"Telegraph being a smaller label, it means one thing that's very important to us - there's not much money involved," says Eric Stevenson of Pocket Vinyl. "Rich and Daphne are not working with anyone on the label because they think we can make them loads of cash. Not to say they don't think we'll all become successful and accomplished working musicians, but they're not looking to us to put food on their table. They do this because they love music and community ... And they both certainly know a lot about the business as well. I've turned to them many times for advice."
Other business aspects are reflected by Bedroom Rehab Corporation, whose "Red Over Red" album was released by Telegraph in 2013. On their own, Bedroom Rehab is very accomplished at booking gigs and networking with other groups. But Martin was able to help out in other areas.
"Rich really made us understand the finer points of pressing and releasing a record both on vinyl and CD," says Adam Wujtewicz, the band's bassist/vocalist. "Also, we were so excited about how the recording sounded that we wanted to be sure we were equally happy with the presentation and packaging - and Telegraph helped us do that."
Other Telegraph artists, such as Fatal Film and the Paul Brockett Roadshow, have musicians who might be in several different acts and/or have day jobs and/or other creative outlets - but still, obviously, would like to make the next step to a national fan base.
"Rich and I have been friends a long, long time and he's been a huge supporter of Fatal Film," says Matt Potter, the band's vocalist/guitarist. "On one hand, when it came time to affiliate with a label, we didn't even look anywhere else. It was just natural. At the same time, beyond friendship, Telegraph does give us the best shot at taking the next step. All four of us work day jobs and one of us has a child, so national touring is out. Rich takes that situation and uses his contacts to push Fatal Film in a lot of other ways. He's very well connected and smart, and they work really hard for us."
Daphne Lee Martin, embarking on a national tour behind her new album "Frost," is in a unique position as both a Telegraph artist and co-owner of the label/store.
She says, "Rich has been releasing music for over 20 years under some moniker or other. Now, with the storefront, we've decided to take it to that next level - not just supporting the local music scene, but hopefully putting some of our artists on a national level, which in turn helps to put even the local scene here 'on the map.' We'd love to see Connecticut and even New London evoke the same kind of identity recognition that someplace like Portland or Omaha have when you think of music scenes."
In the next few months, as many of the Telegraph artists hit the road, the label will continue to handle things on the homefront with several new albums being readied for release.
"It's what we do," Rich Martin laughs. "I wouldn't know what else to try."
Pocket Vinyl's Stevenson seems to reflect the attitude and appreciation for every band on the label. "I guess Rich and Daphne just put out a great 'we're in this together' vibe. We feel like we're part of the Telegraph team rather than just another artist on a roster."
Two new releases
Two Telegraph acts celebrate new releases this weekend. Tonight, alt-rock band Fatal Film performs in New London's 33 Club behind their latest and self-titled CD. On Saturday, post-modern chanteuse Daphne Lee Martin appears at New London's Oasis Pub behind her "Frost" album.
Matt Potter of Fatal Film is excited about the possibilities of "Fatal Film," a record on which the band not only excels at their clever and joyously aggressive sound but also displays a bit of a vulnerable side - in the best possible fashion, of course.
"I'm not one of those people who can listen to their own music," Potter says. "But this album, I was listening to it so much I finally made myself stop."
As Daphne Lee Martin has grown as a songwriter, moving from a traditional roots background into sophisticated pop and jazz, her albums have naturally reflected such things. Her new album, "Frost," is the yang to the yin of last year's "Moxie" - bookend conceptualizations about an alter-ego character with many sides to her personality.
"I wanted 'Moxie' to sound like sitting alone on a barstool with a shot and a beer," she says. "'Frost,' on the other hand, had to sound like sitting at the soda fountain with a milkshake and two straws." It's amazing how well the moods, sounds and instrumentations on both records do exactly that.
Who: Fatal Film
What: CD release party for "Fatal Film"
When: 9 tonight
Where: 33 Club, 33 Golden St., New London
How much: $5, CDs available for sale
For more information: (860) 443-1193, fatalfilm.com
Who: Daphne Lee Martin
What: CD release party for "Frost"
When 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Oasis Pub, 16 Bank St., New London
How much: $5, $10 admission and digital download code, $15 admission and CD
For more information: (860) 447-3929, daphneleemartin.com