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Rounder Rolls With The Changes

Rounder Rolls With The ChangesThirty-fouryears after its founding by a group of friends that included twoTufts graduates, Rounder Records is one of the nation’spremier independent music labels, thriving in an ever-evolvingmusic universe. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.15.04] In 1970, two music-loving Tuftsgraduates and a third friend embarked on a journey that noneof them knew would turn into a full-fledged business, let aloneone of its caliber. Little could Ken Irwin and Bill Nowlin haveknown that the journey from the Tufts campus to Rounder Records’offices in North Cambridge would be so eventful, dynamic and rewarding.

"Rounderhas certainly grown as a business enterprise," Nowlin writeson Rounder’s website. "From three friends all sharinga living and working space to around 120 or so people workingtogether as a real business.”

Founded asa small label focusing on bluegrass and folk music, Rounder hasexpanded to embrace the pop and rock markets. The results arepositive – a 17 percent jump in income this year and a positionas the third-largest independent label in the country, TheBoston Globe reported.

The enterprisingspirit of Rounder’s founders has been buoyed amidst thechanging musical tides by an influx of talent from major-labelemployees – Irwin described them to the Globe asa “different generation” – who came to Rounderbecause of its independent spirit and focus on the artist overthe money.

''At a majorlabel you might have only one in 10 people who lives, eats andbreathes music all day,” Troy Hansbrough, a vice presidentof A&R (artists and repertoire), told the Globe.“But all of us do here."

Many formermajor-label stars – like Grammy-nominated Boston musicianTracy Bonham, who scored a hit with the song “Mother Mother”and recently signed with Rounder’s Zoe imprint – eventuallyland at labels like Rounder, which place far fewer pressures onthem than corporate labels.

''I was burnedout by being with a major because there were so many fear-baseddecisions,” Bonham described to the Globe. “Icouldn't do anything creative there anymore, so I don't want togo through that again."

Mike Dreese,CEO of New England’s Newbury Comics CD chain, said to theGlobe, “Rounder's success – and why it'sin a sweet spot today – is really based on the competitivefailure of the major labels.”

This year,Rounder has released records by nationally known artists suchas Alison Krauss, They Might Be Giants, Lisa Loeb and up-and-comingartists like Madeleine Peyroux and Sarah Harmer. Rounder has alsoreleased DVDs from hot bands like Godsmack and rock stalwartslike Rush.

Besides theirpopular music catalog, Rounder sticks to its roots with seriesof releases in world music, Americana, and other classic artistsfrom multiple genres. In fact, Rounder’s expansion intomore lucrative pop markets gives it the flexibility to supportmore roots and heritage-oriented musical projects, general managerPaul Foley told the Globe.

Regardless,the record sales pile up on both ends of the musical spectrum.

''It's a balance,"Irwin told the Globe. ''Some months a roots record mightbring in the most money, and another time it will be 'Buffy theVampire Slayer.' You just don't know."

It appearsthat Rounder’s level of success still comes as bit of asurprise to Irwin.

''None ofus ever wanted to be managers,” he remarked to the Globe.“We were just hobbyists. We never dreamed of how this woulddevelop over the years."







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