Vinyl surges for Thrill Jockey

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Thrill Jockey's 15 big ones

December 12, 2007
By ROBERT LOERZEL Contributor

Bettina Richards started Thrill Jockey because she didn't like the way big record labels did business.

Richards' mission was simple: Put out records she liked and share the profits equally with the artists. Fifteen years later, she's still doing it.
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Eleventh Dream Day members include (from left) Rick Rizzo, Janet Bean and Doug McCombs. The band performs Saturday at Logan Square Auditorium.

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Bettina Richards: "I really prefer the dynamic to be that the label works for the artist, not the other way around."

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THRILL JOCKEY 15TH ANNIVERSARY
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago. $25 each night; $50 two-day pass. ticketweb.com.

A Chicago label known for adventurous rock, jazz and music that's practically uncategorizable, Thrill Jockey celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend with two nights of music at Logan Square Auditorium.

Richards, a Pilsen resident who grew up in Delaware, was living in New York at the time she started Thrill Jockey. Working for Atlantic Records, she had signed Eleventh Dream Day, but she was dismayed at the way the company failed to promote and nurture this Chicago rock band.

"I just really didn't like the dynamic that existed between a large company like that and the artist," she says. "One definitely worked for the other. I really prefer the dynamic to be that the label works for the artist, not the other way around."
Cheaper rent

Richards moved the label from New York to Chicago three years after starting it, drawn by the city's music scene as well as the more affordable rent. Her connections to Eleventh Dream Day led her to sign other bands featuring musicians from that group, including Tortoise, Freakwater and Brokeback.

Every deal between Thrill Jockey and a band lasts for just one album. "They all have the right to leave or come back," Richards says. "It's their choice."

Thrill Jockey started out as a one-woman operation. Richards now has seven employees in Chicago and one in London, but she's still the one who decides which bands to sign. "You can blame me," she says.

The label's Web site streams full albums, so people can decide whether they want to buy the CDs. Richards notes that sales of vinyl records are "surging" for Thrill Jockey.
Downloading no downer

In recent years, many independent record stores have closed, which hurts labels like Thrill Jockey, Richards says. But she believes that illegal downloading eventually benefits musicians by exposing listeners to their songs.

"People can naturally discover something, and it doesn't have to be force-fed to them," she says. "The people who trade stuff are obsessive music fans … They're going to buy a pretty high percentage of it in some form or other."

The anniversary concerts will feature many of Thrill Jockey's best-known artists, but the label is not revealing the schedule for either night, promising surprise guests. Playing on Friday are Arbouretum, Archer Prewitt, Bobby Conn, Brokeback, the Fiery Furnaces, School of Language, the Sea and Cake, and Thalia Zedek. Playing on Saturday are Adult, Califone, Eleventh Dream Day, Fred Anderson, Frequency, Pit er Pat, Trans Am and the Zincs.

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