Goner Records has staying power in local music business

Launched by Eric Friedl in 1993, Goner Records has played a major role in the modern Memphis music scene. Motivated to release records that no other label would, Friedl ran Goner Records out of his house for a decade. In 2003, Zac Ives joined Friedl and the two opened Goner Record's retail store in Cooper-Young.

"We thought that between the record store and the label, we might have a halfway sustainable business," said Ives.

Named one of the Top 10 Record Shops in the Nation by Rolling Stone, the Goner Records shop is stomping grounds for locals and tourists alike. 

The two ventures naturally segued into an annual music festival in 2004. Twelve years later, the annual four day Goner Fest music festival attracts considerable attendees from all over the globe. 

"We were releasing our first two albums, talked two vagabonds from Germany and Canada (King Khan and BBQ Show) into stopping through Memphis on a tour, and figured we should try and make a big weekend out of it. So we called the Black Lips and a few other bands we liked to see if they wanted to come play, and they all said yes. Before we knew it we had semi-legit Italian label heads walking around midtown, spontaneous sidewalk hot dog parties, and all sorts of late-night hotel pool shenanigans. And lots of rock n roll. Goner Fest was born." 
Their approach to the business is unique. As a label, Goner Records does not tie their artists to future projects so they do not maintain a firm roster of musicians-- currently they're working on projects with nine artists.

"Our business is not a normal business," said Ives. "We don't necessarily measure success in sales. It's what gets us to the next project, but to us the success of a project relates more to the project itself. Is the music something we feel people should hear? Did we do what we could to help the project succeed? Will the artist be in a better place to be successful after the project? Are we proud of the record? We feel like we've done a pretty good job in general meeting those goals. We have to look at the bottom line, but we can never let it dictate what we will and will not put out."

As for the future of the label, Goner intends to continue putting out music they think people should hear. 
Ives credits Goner's success with the networks they've built both inside and outside of Memphis for everything from business and legal advice to artwork, video and studio help. "Peer collaboration has been extremely valuable for our growth as a business. And I've learned as we've gone along, it can be just as valuable to give advice as it can be to receive it. The sharing of ideas is a powerful thing." 
In regards to launching and operating a music business in Memphis, Ives admits that the lack of infrastructure has been tough at times.

"We love Memphis, and love being in Memphis. Most of the time the ability to be outside of the gears of the music industry in New York, L.A. or Nashville is a good thing. Being in our own little bubble here can be good; it's easier to stay focused on doing what we want to do, and not be too concerned about what everyone else is doing or how they are doing it. On the other hand, there are times where it would be nice to go out to a show and see music supervisors, licensing and publishing agents, digital reps, publicists and media. Having to create and maintain those connections by phone or on the road just isn't the same." 
For Memphis to improve things for music entrepreneurs, Ives urges that there needs to be ways for the various people in the music community to collaborate and interact.

"Creating meaningful collaboration and the sharing of ideas is huge."

He views Memphis' music identity as one of the city's biggest assets. "I love the history of music that exists around every corner here. We've got our problems, they are out there and visible, it hasn't been covered up or glossed over. But I think there is power in authenticity. Memphis is real. There have always been talented people here making amazing music that impact people around the globe. We are happy to be a small part of that continuum."

Ives urges potential entrepreneurs to share ideas, trust their gut, and stay true to their vision. "If you are proud of the work you are doing you are doing something right."

Join Zac and other Memphis music entrepreneurs at Music in the City presented by High Ground News and the EPIcenter on February 23. For more information contact Amy Hoyt.

Read more articles by Amy Hoyt.

Amy Hoyt is High Ground News' Community Engagement Specialist, which suits her love of Memphis and its inhabitants. 
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