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Third Man Records finds its groove

News, 27 May 2016

NEW YORK: Third Man Records, the music label and retailer owned by Jack White, believes it is better positioned than many of the industry's major players when it comes to being a "face for vinyl" as sales in this category rise.

Ben Blackwell, Chief Archivist/Third Man Records, discussed this subject at BRITE '16, a conference held by the Columbia Business School's Center on Global Brand Leadership.

While Third Man currently boasts a couple of stores and has released approximately 350 titles, he suggested its unique ethos offers a greater point of connection with vinyl enthusiasts than most giant music companies.

"We're a good face for vinyl," said Blackwell. (For more, including further details of its strategy, read Warc's exclusive report: How Third Man Records became the "face for vinyl".)

"No one really looks at Sony and says, 'Man, they're doing so many great vinyl things'. It's so big, it is hard to get a feel for them. But for us: we do small; we do interesting; we do craft things."

While Third Man's roster of releases has included material from famous names like Tom Jones, Loretta Lynn and Beck, it simultaneously extends well beyond the mainstream.

"We love bits of everything, so we release bits of everything," Blackwell said. "If it seems interesting to us and it compels us, we'll put it out in the hope that maybe it will compel some other people.

"We've done spoken-word instructional records with burlesque dancers or auctioneers talking about their craft, all the way through to obscure reissues of punk bands from the late-'70s that barely existed and that no one has ever heard of."

A paradigmatic example is "A Glorious Dawn", where electronic musician and science enthusiast John D. Boswell remixed poetic words uttered by astronomer Carl Sagan on the TV series "Cosmos".

This song was discovered by Third Man on YouTube, and it then contacted Boswell and Sagan's estate before issuing just 1,500 records.

"We sold those first 1,500 out in about two weeks, and then for the next three years, we've been in print. We've sold over 10,000 copies of that on 45," Blackwell said.

"This is a thing that if you were looking to make money – if you were looking at, 'How could we blow the doors off?' – you would never do."

Data sourced from Warc