Houston has a multitude of music within - and bleeding across - its borders. By our own quick estimate, there are about 500 active musical acts in the metropolitan area, and that's probably still a lowball speculation.
With all these acts, it's only natural that yet another label would spring up, and the latest addition to the cadre of local labels is Deer Park's A-Blake Records. Founded by Blake Barnes, a businessman with a background in insurance, and Daniel Sanders, an entertainment attorney with over a decade of music-industry experience, the new label is eager to break into local, national and global markets.
"[Blake] and I have always sort of seen eye to eye on music," Sanders explains, regarding the duo's decision to start up a label, adding that Barnes was "in a position to do stuff with clients of mine and other acts that we became aware of." Combining prior business connections and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, the pair are determined to tout another roster of Texas artists.
"We pretty much had the vehicle," says Daniel, "we just needed some artists that we believed strongly in, that we can fund and get going - that's what we're doing." For now, those artists are rock group Pale, country artist Jason Cassidy, and Galveston hip-hop crew Them Island Bois.
Sanders cites a connection with some clients that provides A-Blake with "real physical distribution through Sony Red" as well as an additional distribution deal through Universal Music Group.
The A-Blake credo paints the label as an "atypical label for atypical artists." While the artists themselves line up with fairly traditional genres, it's the diversity of genres assembled that has Barnes and Sanders making this claim. In addition, they hope to operate in a manner that avoids the common complaints artists often have with their labels, focusing on putting creative control in the hands of the artists and making them feel like family.
"Some of the stories that I've heard, artists get with labels and they get lost in the whole process, the whole machine that's out there," Barnes relates. "Our artists come to my house probably once a week, I cook for 'em, we sit around and talk - it's really a tight personal relationship between the label and each artist," he says with an earnest delight.
"The deals that we're offering are unbelievably fair, very artist-oriented and artist-friendly," Sanders chimes in, adding describing the relationship as "a true genuine partnership - and we won't offer cookie-cutter deals, every deal can be a little different."
In addition, the label boasts its own unique recording studio: a three-story house in Bolivar that sleeps 36 people. This provides A-Blake artists with a place to escape, focusing on their music and "really letting them work at their own pace," according to Sanders.
The official launch date of the label coincided with the April 28 record release party for Pale's new album, In The Time Of Dangerous Men. The group's sophomore release is A-Blake's initial offering, currently available in digital format with a physical release set to come in mid-July. Jason Cassidy's first album on the label is due out at the same time, and Them Island Bois are currently re-recording songs and preparing for what will be A-Blake's third release.
"They were head and shoulders above other things we were looking at," praises Sanders as he discusses the artists they've signed thus far. Barnes was drawn to Jason Cassidy in particular because of some stalwart supporters of the young country artists. "The Houston Fire Department loves him," Blake explains. "When those guys are off [duty] and Jason plays, they all go see him."
A-Blake is also choosing to showcase another form of local talent, by opting for local production companies and scouting nearby areas for locations. Pale's new video, for the song "That Sinking Feeling" was shot in Deer Park by Konstantine Creative Group. The same production crew is set to begin shooting a video for Cassidy's single "Honky Tonk Heaven" this Tuesday.
Music videos are important to Barnes and Sanders - not only as promotional tools for their artists, but also as methods of uncovering bits of the city. Plans for a video to accompany Them Island Bois' release are in the works as well.
"Honestly, we've got a full plate right now," Sanders states, "but we're absolutely looking at anything that comes our way." Asked what it takes to get signed to A-Blake Records, the pair responds with "just a good work ethic, combined with good music and some content that we can work with."
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At the end of the day, the duo is beaming and optimistic about their chances. Should things falter for some reason, however, they are bound to retain that sunny outlook.
As Sanders relates at the end of our conversation, "The motto that we have with our artists is that if it doesn't work out on the label, at least each individual artist will be a better golfer by the end of the day. We like to golf."