Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Touch and Go exits distribution business

Bad music news out of Chicago today as Touch and Go Records announced the shuttering of its manufacturing and distribution arm. The label itself will continue, but an untold number of employees will be laid off and Touch and Go-distributed labels such as Merge, Drag City, Kill Rock Stars and Estrus will have to find new ways to manufacture and distribute their products.

During the 80s and 90s, Touch and Go distribution was key to helping many smaller indie upstarts achieve enough cachet to get into more record stores, receive more college radio airplay and send their acts on European tours. For fledgling indie bands trying to build a following through shoestring tours, getting on a label with Touch and Go distribution or (gasp) Touch and Go itself was a vaunted goal.

Trance Syndicate, the Austin-based noise rock imprint started by Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey in 1990, was one such label until the Surfers sued Touch and Go to retain their back catalog. I interviewed Coffey in 1998 when Trance shut down and he still had nice things to say about Touch and Go owner Corey Rusk despite the lawsuit. Many consider Touch and Go to be a model operation in its reconciliation of punk spirit and music business reality.

"I guess maybe one of the reasons that we have made it this long is that I'm a very responsible personality, and things weigh heavily on me," Rusk told Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis in 2006. "If something is not getting done or I feel like a situation is not being handled right, it bothers me. I take the responsibility of accounting to and paying our bands on time and properly as my highest priority, and it's one of the things I've prided myself on through our whole existence. The world of indie labels that we live in is constantly full of horror stories of 'I never got paid for that record.'"

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