Friendships forged around a downtown recording studio have spawned a new venture aimed at helping Richmond-area artists get their music to the masses.
Shockoe Records, a new indie record label, has formed out of In Your Ear Studios, the Shockoe Bottom production facility led by co-founder and president Carlos Chafin, who’s leading the label along with co-owners Craig Martin and Queon Martin (no relation).
Chafin, who started IYE three decades ago with the late singer-songwriter Robbin Thompson, said the label came about out of necessity when one of its five inaugural artists, Elizabeth Wise and Her Guys, finished an album but were left without a way to promote it, after a promotion associate bowed out for personal reasons.
“When that happened, I went, ‘Well, this sucks: we’ve put all this time and energy and effort into this, the album is in our hands almost, but we have nowhere to go with it,’” Chafin said. “What do we do now?
“I started talking to friends about it, and everybody I talked to was very enthusiastic and went, ‘This isn’t a problem; this is an opportunity,’” he said. “We can go in and create something that works for the artist, a new business entity that’s a holistic solution for their marketing and their ability to distribute, put out product, and get paid for it. But how do you actually do that?”
To get answers to that question, Chafin reached out to friends and colleagues he’s worked with over the years or met through Shockoe Sessions, the eclectic business-networking concert series he puts on at IYE. Among those who offered help were brand strategist Zane Gibbs, Plan 9 Records owner Jim Bland, and Jen Finn, a strategic advisor who helped open Capital One’s 1717 Innovation Center.
Also lending advice were the two Martins, Craig and Queon, who both signed on to share the label’s ownership with Chafin. Craig is a creator and co-host of “The Good Road,” a TV docuseries that’s partially produced at IYE, while Queon – who goes by “Q” – is chief operating officer at Soulidifly Productions, a local media company that’s called on IYE for music and sound in its films.
Q, whose other ventures include a hip-hop and history-themed magazine, said he suggested the name Shockoe Records after doing an internet search for the word “Shockoe.”
“When I did it, it directed to In Your Ear Studios, Shockoe Sessions and Plan 9 Records. I was like, ‘That’s the name!’” he said, laughing.
Noting “Shockoe” is derived from an indigenous phrase referring to a flat rock or foundation, Q added, “Not only are we creating something that is aligned with historical meaning, we’re also being that foundation of new music and what the sound of Richmond looks like.”
Making up the label’s roster out of the gate are Wise, a blues and roots singer-songwriter and guitarist; rapper Chance Fischer; jazz pianist Weldon Hill; folk group Holy River; and Rodney “the Soul Singer” Stith.
Craig said the roster represents a diversity, in both people and musical styles, that Shockoe Records aims to promote.
“I’m really excited about the parallels between not only the diversity in the music styles, but my vision is there will be diversity in the makeup of the performers themselves,” Craig said. “Because, when you start to embrace a musician or music artists, people look up to them. They want to be like them and learn from them.”
Added Chafin: “We’re going for real diversity here. This label will not be one genre or one flavor; we don’t want that at all. Part of the push of this whole thing is education and information. We want people to learn to appreciate music styles and things that they’ve never even really considered before. It’ll be just like Shockoe Sessions: we represent everything.”
While each of the five artists has worked with Chafin or performed at Shockoe Sessions, he said use of In Your Ear’s studios is not required or expected for an artist who wants to sign on with the label. In fact, he said the label is not aimed at creating albums or discovering new stars, but rather to promote and help guide established musicians who have already started work on an album.
“We want to help them take it to the public so that they can actually sell the thing. We want to help promote; we want to help them with their marketing efforts and distribution and all those tough business things that you have to do on the backside of creating the art,” Chafin said. “That’s where most artists fall down, and that’s where we want to step in and go, ‘We’ve got you.’”
Chafin said many artists find they run out of money after making an album so there’s none left for marketing and promotion. By providing its resources and industry connections, Shockoe Records would provide an investment in an artist with the goal of a return on that investment over time.
The label will make money from the artists’ sales of CDs, vinyl, merchandise, sync licensing, and specialty services provided for the artists.
Chafin described the label’s business structure as more co-op than for-profit, where the artists are considered part of the company by providing an equal amount of investment, with the artist taking full profits after the label’s contribution is recouped.
“When we start approaching 20 artists, and we have 20 artists with product out there that we have promoted and are selling in the thousands of units for each one, we’ll be profitable,” he said.
Chafin added that the label would solicit participation from Richmond’s business community, including investors who may be interested in helping a given artist.
“We want to reach out to the business community and say, ‘Here’s how you can participate, here are things you can do, events you can sponsor, things this artist is going to do that you may be interested in being involved with to grow that artist and to grow your connection with the arts community in Richmond.’
‘It just has to happen’
The label marks a new chapter for IYE and Chafin, who sold the building that houses the studios last year along with business partners Kathy Allsbrook, Paul Bruski and Terry Stroud.
The group, who created the facility at 1813 E. Broad St. through a rehab of four dilapidated rowhouses along 19th Street, sold the 18,000-square-foot complex to Michael Congdon, a music producer and entrepreneur who’d collaborated with IYE for years. Congdon produced Chris Brown’s Grammy-winning F.A.M.E. album, which was recorded at IYE.
Congdon’s 1813 E Broad LLC purchased the property for $1.7 million, city records show.
Chafin said the sale was prompted in part by the retirement of Stroud, who was IYE’s COO, a past president of the Virginia Production Alliance and a longtime lobbyist for the state’s film industry.
“We wanted the vision and the mission of the building to remain intact, and Mike Congdon was that guy,” Chafin said. “I wanted to focus on what we do and not be a landlord, so when Terry left, that was a factor. But it wasn’t the (only) factor.”
Shockoe Records also continues a tradition at IYE of doing something extra for the artists it works with. Shockoe Sessions, which started six years ago as a business-networking series centered on a musical performance, has continued over the course of the pandemic via livestreaming in an effort to help artists make money and provide a place to play when live concerts weren’t possible.
Wise, who’s performed on several Shockoe Sessions, returns to the series this Tuesday with a performance at Hardywood in Richmond that’s also a release party for her new album, Reckless Sophistication. She said she’s grateful to the IYE community and the Shockoe Records label that formed in large part because of her situation.
“Most musicians cannot afford the marketing stuff,” said Wise, who funded the album through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $20,000 from 74 backers. Additional donors brought the total to about $30,000, which she said contributed to but didn’t cover the marketing costs.
“Record labels, to me, are really terrifying, because you just hear so many horror stories,” Wise said. “This just kind of happened, and if it wasn’t the people behind it that it is, then I probably wouldn’t be doing it. I’ve lived around the world, I’ve met a lot of people, and these are some of my favorite people.”
As for Chafin, after decades recording, composing and producing music with IYE, he said he’s getting used to the idea of doing what he’s avoided in his career up to this point: running a record label.
“Honestly, I’ve avoided this like the plague,” Chafin said. “I’ve considered myself to be the person that makes the sausage, doesn’t sell it. That’s just been a career focus for me. But I’m just so tired of seeing artists that I work with having absolutely no path to go with their work after they leave our studio. You might as well throw it in the middle of Broad Street.”
He added, “This is born of necessity. It just has to happen. Artists cannot continue to exist in this framework that we live in right now. I’m not going to stand by and watch really good, talented people’s work be squandered or taken advantage of by these streaming services and whatnot. It’s just making me crazy. They deserve to have a career like anyone deserves to have a career. This is their livelihood.”
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