While many people consider Los Angeles as Southern California’s, or even the West Coast’s, epicenter in the music scene, Orange County music labels prove that this may not the be the case.
After holding its own in the punk music scene in the 1970s and ’80s and being home to some notable bands such as The Adolescents and The Vandals, Orange County has been overlooked as a place where music is produced and bands play live.
Owner of the Garden Grove-based independent label The Militia Group, Rory Felton, 25, said while the heart of the music industry is Los Angeles and New York, Orange County still has a fertile music scene.
“Similar to Orange County is New Jersey and Long Island, New York, where they’re just outside the city, but they’re suburban neighborhoods and you see a lot of those bands doing well and creating scenes up there. A lot of kids want to see bands, and a lot of kids are into music,” Felton said.
Felton started The Militia Group in 2000 while he was a music management student at USC. After attending USC for two years, he left school to devote his time to the label. Since then, the label has put out 55 records from about 30 bands, including Rufio, Brandston, Umbrellas and Cartel.
“I feel like all the artists we work with are fantastic and the highest quality records we’ve ever put out we’re putting out right now as a company. That’s all I care about. I’d rather put out high quality records and sell five copies than put out some MySpace Records band or some B.S.,” Felton said.
Revelation Records has also recognized the importance of focusing on quality music versus just selling records. The company’s A&R, Robert Shedd, 25, works at finding and developing bands at the Huntington Beach independent label.
“Revelation has a rich history of music, but each band has an opportunity to define what exactly they are on their own terms. It’s different than if a band signs to a label where it kind of brands them, like ‘Oh this is who you are,’” Shedd said.
Being based in Orange County has not hurt the label’s success; instead, it has helped the label to stay focused on the music’s importance, Shedd said.
“Being in LA you can certainly get lost in the shuffle, and you can probably get caught in a lot more of the industry minutiae and tend to lose sight of why you’re doing the label and what music is important to you, especially on an independent basis. If you’re in LA you’re more likely or more susceptible to having to play the same games the majors do,” Shedd said.
“At the root of it an independent shouldn’t be trying to imitate a major label and I’d say in L.A. you’re more likely to have to follow those footsteps or tread in that vein. There is that distinction between being based in Orange County and over there [Los Angeles]. Being in Orange County you’re free to do your own thing, more so than L.A.,” Shedd said.
Revelation Records was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1987 by Jordan Cooper and his friend Ray Cappo, a singer for the punk-hardcore band Youth of Today.
After moving to Huntington Beach in 1990, the label’s sound shifted from its primarily punk and hardcore sound to a mix of indie rock with Revelation bands Elliott and Sensefield, to punk and hardcore bands such as Shai Hulud.
Fearless Records’ president Bob Becker, 42, said since the Internet is instrumental in breaking new bands, record companies no longer need to be based out of L.A.to be successful.
“I think you can have a successful label in Portland, Ore., or Louisiana. If you do it right, I don’t think it matters where you’re at for the most part as far running a small, independent label,” Becker said in a phone interview.
More important than the label’s location or even the label itself is the bands that are on the label.
“The label is only as good as the bands that are on it. We work hard and do a good job, but it’s all about the bands. And when the bands put out good music and they work hard and we can help enhance that, then we have something,” Becker said.
Becker started the Garden Grove-based label in 1994 after his friend’s band needed help putting out a record. What first began as a hobby grew into the label.
Becker said Fearless gained recognition after signing the El Paso, Texas band At the Drive-In.
The label has been home to bands such as Rock Kills Kid, The Plain White T’s and Sugarcult.
“I’ve never really thought our label was that successful and I still don’t and I think that’s what keeps us chugging along the way we are. I tell bands when we sign them – we’re not the biggest, coolest label, but we’ve been around a long time and we’re consistent and we work hard,” Becker said.
“Orange County has a very rich music scene, especially on the independent side of things,” Shedd said. “Being in Orange County there’s such a thriving music scene, when bands come through here they always enjoy some success. I’m involved with booking shows locally and promotion and in L.A. it’s often hard to find shows, in San Diego it’s very hit or miss and in Orange County you always find something and there’s always people there. There’s definitely a very positive side to being here in Orange County,” Shedd said.
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