Domino Records


By: Whitney Calk, Drew Cohen, Chase Plesofsky, and Devon Hodovsky

“Domino stands for everything that music should be about.”
Jonathan Dekel, Incendiary Magazine [5]
In the early 90’s, the sound coming out of the UK at the time was “Brit Pop,” which was considered a sub-category of alternative rock. [12] The big names of the time were bands such as Oasis, Blur, and the Boo Radley’s. Not everyone was a fan of this style, however. One man in particular disliked the style so much that he started looking towards the U.S. for inspiration and a sound that made sense to him. Enter Laurence Bell.

Laurence Bell is essentially the founder, current owner, and head of A&R for his made-from-scratch label, Domino Records. He is also a self-proclaimed child of the punk-rock era. Bell became insatiably fanatical about music at an early age, around 11-12 years old. He was so passionate and so desperately eager to get out there and make a name for himself that he started a fanzine at the age of 13 to help promote one of his favorite labels at the time, Black Records. He also began to get very involved with his local music scene in his hometown. Bell was active in helping local bands produce and promote their albums and also organize their tours. Bell even volunteered his time at several merchandise tables just so that he could stay surrounded by everything that was going on at the time. As soon as he was old enough leave home, he moved to London and started working at Tower Records. At the same time he was still helping friends’ bands put out records and promoting bands under the table at Tower. His hard work finally paid off when he was approached by the independent label Fire Records and was asked to come work for them. If this is any indication as to how passionate he was about music and getting involved in the industry, he actually worked at Fire Records for a few years completely unpaid. [2]

As stated earlier, in the early 1990s, the sound coming out of the UK was Brit-Pop, which Laurence absolutely hated. He started looking towards the US for music that he enjoyed. He heard about a band called Sebadoh from the US and knew right then that he must have them in the UK so that “good” music could once again fill the airwaves. Because of his eagerness and persistent hammering of Sebadoh’s American label, SubPop Records, Bell soon after started up Domino for the sole purpose of distributing Sebadoh in the UK. Domino was granted a licensing deal with SubPop to release the bands 4th album as the first release off of Domino Records. [6] Bell also worked with Drag City Records in the US to get licensing rights from another American band called Royal Trux to also release on his label.

An inspiring and admirable thing about the A&R aspect of Domino is that the label only signs bands from word of mouth. Bell has stated that when he goes out and looks for bands to sign, he looks for acts that would still be making music even if labels didn’t exist. Bell has dubbed this quality the garage aesthetic. [5]

Since the creation of the Domino Recording Company in 1993, Laurence Bell has acquired a reputation for taking risks when it comes to building a roster and recording albums. Their first release was by a low-fi rock band named, Sebadoh, that was formed by Lou Barlow previously of Dinosaur Jr. The album was called Bubble and Scrape and the single of that album, Soul and Fire, for Domino fully represents their direction, “A passion for music, a back to basics approach… something home-made that’s put together with love.” [3]

Domino became a home for distinctive and innovative artists when they signed Sebadoh, Royal Trux and Palace. Signing these artists recognized Domino as a label that could understand and work with their artist’s vision and give their artist’s creative control. [1]

This artist friendly approach attracted American bands like Smog, Pavement, Elliot Smith to record their music and release albums. Domino recognized the British music scene revival in the late 90’s and began to sign bands in Britain that were displaying similar musical sound and appeal Domino had been signing in America. [4]

In 1999 Domino signed UK artists Clinic (who toured with Radiohead and Flaming Lips), Four Tet, James Yorkston, Archie Bronson and later on signed the The Kills in the early 2000’s. [3] These bands released albums with little recognition, but were able to record with keeping their artistic creativity intact.

Domino records initial success came in the form of a Scottish rock band called Franz Ferdinand. Their self-titled debut album released in 2004 quickly became an indie favorite, debuting at #3 on the UK Albums Chart. As their popularity continued to increase their second album, It Could Have Been So Much Better, released in 2005 gave Domino their first #1 UK album, and worldwide recognition. [18]

Domino’s next big success came from the unknown UK band Arctic Monkeys. The Arctic Monkeys initially launched themselves into the music mainstream by giving away burned demos at gigs and having fans upload these demos to the internet causing a downloading frenzy between fans. They signed with Domino in 2005 because of their Do It Yourself approach to recording music. [19]

After signing with Domino, Arctic Monkeys released their single I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, which debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart. Because of their large fan base online, their albums release date was moved forward to counteract the album’s leakage onto the internet early. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released in January of 2006, and became the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history and the second fastest selling debut indie album in America, debuting at #24 on Billboard. [19]

After these charting successes, Domino continued to cater to individualistic artists like Juana Molina, Sons & Daughters and Junior Boys. Domino also began to sign electronic artists like Psapp and Animal Collective to expand their eclectic roster. [7]

The success of bands like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys also gave Domino a chance to make compilations and reissue the labels earlier catalog of post punk bands from the late 70’s and early 80’s including artists like Orange Juice, Young Marble Giants, The Fire Engines, Josef K, Sebadoh and Liquid Liquid. [20]

As Domino Records began seeking acts to sign to its roster, Lawrence Bell, both owner and A&R executive, devised an interesting approach to finding new acts. Bell does not listen to any unsolicited material including demo tapes, CD’s, or mp3 files. [14] His approach is to personally see an act’s live performance before signing them to Domino. Also, another unique approach that Bell takes is Domino only releases twelve albums a year. “One fantastic record a month,” he says, “is enough to nourish us.” [13]

Domino Records also practices basic online promotion activities including a Flickr account with live performance photos, YouTube channel, Myspace account, free downloads on the label’s website, and a constant stream of Domino Artists on the label’s websites, Domino Radio.

Additionally, Domino owns a subsidiary label called Geographic Music which is able to focus on more obscure British and World Music. They use this label for releasing music that falls outside the typical indie rock/pop of Domino. Geographic is run by Stephen Pastel and releases more experimental music from bands that may have a hard time getting a record deal on a classic indie label. Geographic Music’s artist roster includes Bill Wells Trio, Empress, Future Pilot AKA, Maher Shalal Has Baz, Kama Aina, and International Airport. [15]

The label website, domino.uk.co, also offers some industry rarities. Domino’s Twitter-like feeds at the top of each page are an interesting way to connect with fans, tell them new music to check out, and stay on top of current social networking trends.

Domino also offered an industry first with its latest release of Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective by releasing it early on deluxe 2xLP 180 gram gatefold vinyl and including a full album download with the purchase of a vinyl. Also, Domino hosted vinyl listening parties across the nation two weeks before the release of the 9th Animal Collective album and teamed
up with record stores and college radio stations to promote the album. Domino records also
continues to sell rare 7” and 10” on the Domino Records website of a variety of their artists for DJ’s or even just the vinyl-loving listener. [16]

As the history of independent labels shows, it is profitable, if not essential for a label to keep all activities in-house. Domino’s publishing company allows for Domino to run more effectively by keeping money circulating “in-house”.

On Domino Records USA website, they claim to “try to respond to every email you send us”. As proof, I personally sent them a message asking for information for a class project. Less than 24 hours later I received a response from the manager of the US offices, Kris Gillespie. [4]

As Domino continues to set themselves apart from other labels, they emphasize on interacting with their fans. With the 3rd album from Franz Ferdinand, Domino sporadically dispersed 20 signed copies of the album into all of the pre-orders. The Junior Boys and Domino Records also partnered with imeem, a social media network, on an interactive music video contest. [11]
The winner receiving a $1000 cash prize and exposure on Video Vinyl, a weekly music video show [10]. Franz Ferdinand, Domino Records, and Beatportal teamed up to challenge aspiring producers and fans to remix the then unreleased track ‘Ulysses.’ [9]

Domino Records has also teamed up with April 77 apparel company to form a deluxe package for those trendy polo-wearing musician types. The box set they offer includes a 12” vinyl, an April 77 ‘Manchester’ Polo with accompanying pick holder, and a limited edition Domino/April77 guitar pick. [16]

Through Domino’s existence of 15 years, Domino has a mound of achievements on which to look back. In October 2005, both Franz Ferdinand became Domino’s first #1 album “You Could Have It So Good” and the Arctic Monkeys were also at the top of the singles chart with ” I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor.” [1] Franz Ferdinand was recently nominated for three Grammy Awards and five Brit Awards. Domino also currently holds the title of one of the longest running and most successful independent record labels in the UK. [7]

References:

[1] http://www.xfm.co.uk/news/2008/the-domino-documentary

[2] http://midemnetblog.typepad.com/midemnet_blog/2008/03/the-2008-conf-1.html

[3] http://www.dominorecordco.com/

[4] http://www.dominorecordco.us/

[5] http://www.incendiarymag.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=30

[6] http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/8144

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_Records

[8] http://www.xfm.co.uk/news/2008/the-domino-documentary

[9] http://www.blogcatalog.com/search.frame.php?term=domino+records&

id=093854172c888742f1e3c88217b89144

[10] http://www.imeem.com/juniorboys/blogs

[11] http://www.dominorecordco.com/uk/albums/15-10-08/tonight-franz-ferdinand

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britpop

[13] http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4659246-1.html

[14] http://www.incendiarymag.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=30

[15] http://musicians.about.com/od/indielabels/p/dominorecs.htm

[16]http://www.bpmmagazine.net/tag/merriweather-post-pavilion/

[17]http://www.blogcatalog.com/search.frame.php?term=domino+records&id=d524216362743f7c94a448ee60b1f1e3

[18]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Ferdinand_(band)

[19]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_Monkeys

[20]http://www.dominorecordco.us/usa/reissues/

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