The Year in Tastemakers

Stephen Colbert


On the June 23 episode of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert performed the song "Charlene II (I'm Over You)" with the Black Belles. The track, a follow-up to a 2006 bit that featured the stalker ode "Charlene (I'm Right Behind You)," was made available on 7-inch vinyl and at iTunes through Jack White's Third Man Records. The label had pitched the show on the collaboration to promote its motto, "Your Turntable's Not Dead," during the program's music week.

"We were looking for something to do television-wise that was a little bit out of the ordinary instead of doing the regular late-night-circuit-type thing," Third Man label manager Ben Swank says. The imprint, founded by White in 2001, is home to his various bands and acts like the Greenhornes, Conan O'Brien and rapper Black Milk. The label's headquarters also serve as a record store, live venue and rehearsal space.

On June 24, Colbert and the Belles performed "Charlene II" alongside White at a New York park, while Third Man's Rolling Record Store truck sold the 7-inch. The label isn't planning any future releases with Colbert, but Swank says, "[We do] a lot of one-single deals. If it does well and he wants to do it, we're open to anything." -Claire Lobenfeld



Sing-jay I-Octane (born Byiome Muir) ascended to dancehall reggae's upper echelon in July 2010 with his performance at Jamaica's Reggae Sumfest. Now heavily in demand on the North American and European reggae circuits, I-Octane's fusion of hauntingly sung vocals with rapid-fire rhymes, as heard on hits including "Bloodstain" and "Lose a Friend," reaffirm dancehall's significance as a vehicle for compelling commentaries and praising Jah, despite its infamous vulgarities and gangster imagery.

I-Octane has digitally released his singles on various Jamaica-based labels and licensed tracks to dancehall compilations released by reggae independents Tad's Record and VP. Currently unsigned, he's considering offers regarding the intended October release of his debut album, "Crying to the Nation."

"I have invested heavily in the I-Octane brand, financing videos, publicity, even managing myself, so it's a great accomplishment reaching this far on my own," I-Octane says. "I won't sign a deal just to get an advance. Promotion is more important because it brings more shows, tours and a wider fan base." -Patricia Meschino

Corey Smith


For most indie acts-the goal is to sign with a major. But that was never Corey Smith's approach.

"The goal was never... even to go after mainstream media," Jefferson, Ga., native Smith says. "The goal was always to make a living doing something I was passionate about." Smith has done just that. He released six albums on his own before signing with Average Joe's, which issued his seventh album, "The Broken Record," on June 21. It debuts this week at No. 17 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. He's sold 900,000 digital singles and 200,000 albums during the course of his previous releases and, according to Cass Scripps (Smith's booking agent at Buddy Lee Attractions), he has grossed more than $6 million in touring in the last five years-$2 million in 2010 alone.

He performed for the first time at the Country Music Assn. Music Festival in June. He'll appear on "Fox & Friends" July 10 and perform at New York's Mercury Lounge July 11. "I guess you could say I'm the most popular guy no one has ever heard of," he says with a laugh. "It's nice to finally get a little recognition."

His new single, "Twenty-One," is gaining momentum at country radio and the video is airing on CMT and other outlets. "Sincere art is infectious," Smith says. "It's like a good meal. When you have a good meal or a good experience with music, you want to tell your friends about it. That's where it starts. I've been blessed that my music resonates with people."

Smith encourages file sharing as a way to expand his fan base. "Especially my earlier albums-because they were made at such a low cost," he says. "I paid the albums off within the first few weeks in most cases, so I didn't have a problem with file sharing and people burning the CDs. It sort of took the place of radio. Sites like Myspace and Facebook were a huge help-and near-constant touring."

He says signing with Average Joe's was a natural move. "The record was already done and [they said], 'Wow, you've made a really good record. We think we can sell it,' " he recalls. "That's not the way most labels work. Most labels A&R the album and have a lot of say in making it. That's not Average Joe's. They understand that an artist's uniqueness is the most important thing." -Deborah Evans Price