Monday, August 30, 2010

Easy Star Records, Reggae's home here in the US

Here's my latest feature for the IODA Marketing Blog on the awesome NY Reggae label Easy Star Records:
By: Elijah Carroll

In its 15 year history, New York City's Easy Star Records has produced three of the best-selling and trendsetting reggae albums of the decade - the Easy Star All-Stars' Dub Side of the Moon, Radiodread and Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band - while building an international brand that has come to signify quality and class. Always embracing the ever-changing musical landscape artistically as well as technologically Easy Star has maximized the digital side of it's business through embracing these changes and a long standing relationship with IODA.

The independent label has created an impressive body of work that includes those above-mentioned in-house productions, along with progressive recordings from envelope-pushing acts like John Brown's Body, The Black Seeds, Tommy T and Ticklah; reissues of classic reggae from the vaults of Sugar Minott and Linval Thompson; new music from reggae legends The Meditations and Sister Carol; and collaborations with international reggae stars like Matisyahu, Luciano, Anthony B and Morgan Heritage.

Easy Star has steadily built a scene that extends in many directions, following any path where reggae leads, bringing together young producers and musicians, reggae stars, and even artists outside the genre who have been influenced by Jamaican music, like Citizen Cope and blues musician/musicologist Corey Harris. Now Easy Star moves forward with the newest member of the Easy Star family Cas Haley who's LP Connection drops September 14th. For Easy Star Connection continues an evolution of the company. “We have been stretching further from being strictly a roots-reggae-only label for a while, with progressive bands and artists like John Brown’s Body, Tommy T and The Black Seeds on the roster,” says Easy Star CEO Eric Smith. “Cas’s sound is unique, accessible, and a great way to keep expanding the Easy Star audience. And it’s not often we come across a singer-songwriter this talented, regardless of genre, so we had to work with Cas.” The label’s musical director, Michael Goldwasser, remixed a version of the single “Better” in a hardcore roots reggae style, which is being included as a bonus track.

I had the good fortune of conducting a brief Q & A session with Eric Smith and Lem Oppenheimer, Easy Star's CEO & COO respectively.

EC: What was the initial motivation for Easy Star All-Stars covering popular rock albums?

ES & LO: "We had been searching for ways to bring reggae to a larger audience without losing the true sound or essence of the music. In our opinion, the songs and albums that crossed over had tended to water down the music or get lost in translation. At the time, we had those thoughts rattling around our heads as a label, so when we had the idea that Dark Side might translate well into reggae, it all clicked. We felt like Dub Side of the Moon gave us a chance to reach out both to rock fans and to reggae fans and that we could be as hardcore reggae as we wanted and still succeed with the project. Once it worked, we wanted to try it again, because it was a fun project, so we turned to Radiohead and the Beatles."

EC: Easy-Star All Stars have managed to stay on the Reggae charts for an amazingly long time. How has the Digital music business helped Easy Star maintain a chart presence for so long?

ES & LO: "We always looked at the Digital music business as an important part of our label. We were one of the first reggae labels to have an interactive website back in 1996 when the online music community was very small and we got involved in digital distribution early on, partnering up with IODA back in October of 2004. This digital retail and marketing helped level the playing field for us. Without being held back by many of the financial obstacles indie labels have had in the physical market, we were able to build our brand more effectively. This has been a key factor in helping the Easy Star All-Stars connect to their global audience. Touring for the band in Russia, South America, the Middle East and other places may never have happened without the spread of our music online."

EC: How has embracing the changing trends in music and the music business helped Easy Star succeed in a time where so many labels are facing trouble?

ES & LO: "From the beginning, it has been about building loyalty from our fans in the Easy Star brand by investing a lot of time and energy into the music we put out. Our preference is to release a small amount of music that has a long shelf life and does not depend on quick sales out of the gate. We have been very careful to sign artists that complement this model. Also, most of our artists are strong touring acts as well, which is critical to marketing right now. All of these factors have allowed us to manage the current challenges in the business."

Grab some great free tracks including songs from Cas Haley and the Easy Star All-Stars:

Connection (Bonus Tracks Version)Cas Haley
"Better" (mp3)
from "Connection (Bonus Tracks Version)"
(Easy Star Records)

More On This Album

Until That Day EPEasy Star All-Stars
"Bed Of Rose" (mp3)
from "Until That Day EP"
(Easy Star Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Amazon MP3
More On This Album



AmplifyJohn Brown's Body
"Amplify" (mp3)
from "Amplify"
(Easy Star Records)

Buy at Easy Star Records
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon MP3
More On This Album


Solid GroundThe Black Seeds
"Slingshot" (mp3)
from "Solid Ground"
(Easy Star Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

Ghetto-ology + DubSugar Minott
"Dreader Than Dread" (mp3)
from "Ghetto-ology + Dub"
(Easy Star Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Amazon MP3
More On This Album