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Dualtone Records Looks To The Future Of Music While Honoring Its Past

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 6, 2021

Dualtone Records marks 20 years as an independent label today with the release of Amerikinda: 20 Years of Dualtone, a collection of current artists and alumni covering each other’s songs. Popular tracks by June Carter Cash, Guy Clark and The Lumineers are covered by Drew & Ellie Holcomb, Hayes Carll and Langhorne Slim, among others. Dualtone President and Partner Paul Roper conceived the album concept and says the project is representative of the spirit of the company as its artists are friends, frequently tour together and respect each other.

“Like any good brand, word of mouth grows everything,” Roper tells me. “And that’s what was reflected on this record – the camaraderie and the spirit of Dualtone on an album.”

Since Dualtone was founded in 2001, the label has sold more than 12 million albums, amassing 5 billion streams across its catalog. Dualtone has released more than 200 albums and garnered four GRAMMY Awards. After a year where a tornado leveled the company’s East Nashville compound and a global pandemic hit weeks later, the boutique label is seeing its best sales and streaming numbers in its two-decade history.

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“We have maintained our vision, philosophy and model,” CEO and Co-Founder Scott Robinson says. “We’ve always been focused on artist development and partnerships and that is still true today. When we started Walmart was the No. 1 account. Today Spotify is the No. 1 account. Some of the variables have changed but the formula is still the same on how music is developed, marketed and consumed.”

An early business move that set Dualtone apart from other labels is the development of the net deal. Co-Founders Robinson and Dan Herrington decided to build fair partnerships with the artists they signed instead of offering the traditional label deal. With a net deal if the label doesn’t make money the artist doesn’t make money.

“It’s not lopsided one way or the other and that’s really helped drive a lot of the spirit of the company because we make decisions with our artists as partners, not as the label is the bank and it’s going to drive all these things,” Roper explains. “We’ve tried to flip that whole mentality on its head and really help artists understand that the recorded music is much more than just a marketing driver. Our business wouldn’t exist otherwise.”

Within the past 10 years the company also has embraced vinyl as a new revenue stream. Customers often want a tangible experience with their music beyond listening to one track or a playlist, so Dualtone purchased the Magnolia Record Club two years ago. The vinyl subscription service offers exclusive pressings of new releases beyond the Dualtone roster.

“We’ve seen vinyl explode, especially in the past 24 months,” Roper says. “We’re seeing growth month over month. [It’s] something that we can then redirect our marketing resources and ad buys in real time, pivoting our strategy and pouring gas on the fire for something that’s really exploding and then developing a playbook that helps us get better for the next record that we release.”

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Dualtone launched in April 2001 with Hayseed Dixie’s A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC. The project had the band performing bluegrass covers of AC/DC’s biggest hits including “Highway to Hell,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Hell’s Bells.” The following year the label released Jim Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley’s Lost in the Lonesome Pines which won a GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album while 2003’s June Carter Cash project Wildwood Flower, released four months after her death, won two GRAMMYs.

Working with the late country icon was a memorable experience for Dualtone co-founder Robinson. Around the time he met her Dualtone was trying to grow its catalog by buying and licensing content and he acquired the masters of some of her older music. The singer set up a meeting with Robinson at her home in Tennessee and informed him that she wanted to record another album. She then proceeded to invite him into the living room and played The Carter Family classics on Mother Maybelle Carter’s autoharp. With her husband seated beside her, Carter Cash told Robinson those were the songs she wanted to record.

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“I think she knew that would be her last record,” Robinson says. “She goes, ‘I want to go back home to the Clinch Mountains where I grew up and make this recording.’ This was about history and that record won two GRAMMYs. …  We continued to sync their music in major network shows and major motion pictures. It’s a beautiful thing that their music can continue to live on. It’s really a magical, beautiful record. I’m so glad we did that.

“That was the backbone of who we were as a company,” he continues. “It was just greatness: Putting something out that you know would live forever. Those records, most of them, did really well. I think they just reconfirmed our DNA of who we are as a company.”

Dualtone continues to push boundaries with its releases. Following today’s reveal of Amerikinda: 20 Years of Dualtone, the label will unveil Mouse Rat’s The Awesome Album on cassette, CD and digitally Aug. 27. Chris Pratt’s fictional band from Parks and Recreation, Mouse Rat also will release the project on vinyl in October.

“It was an idea that I had a couple years ago and just took a minute to get with NBC and sort out the licensing agreement,” Roper says. “It’s a perfect Covid record. This is a great example of finding that unique opportunity, developing a great strategy and connecting it with fans. It’s really taking on a life of its own. Unfortunately, most Parks and Rec fans think that Chris Pratt is going to go on tour which is not going to happen.

“It’s been a cool bookend on the 20-year anniversary because one of the first records we ever put out was A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC and it was a tongue in cheek marketing project that ended up selling a couple hundred thousand records,” he adds. “We like to say that we’re in the fun business and so Mouse Rat and Hayseed Dixie are two special projects that help remind us of that fact and coming on the other end of 20 years is a fun bookend.”


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