The ACME Creative Group, helmed by veteran music executive Jeff Bowers and TV On The Radio co-founder and producer Dave Sitek, officially launches today.
Among the independent vinyl manufacturer, design and development company's first contracts is a deal for a catalog campaign with Caroline Records which will include vinyl reissues by Swans, The Fall and Bad Brains, among others.
"Caroline is thrilled to partner with ACME to help support our vinyl strategy," said Caroline president Dominic Pandiscia in a statement. "Vinyl continues to be one of the most aggressive growth formats across the industry. We are thrilled to forge the partnership with ACME to help mine the wealth of new and catalog titles across Caroline’s family of labels as well as the depth of titles over Caroline’s thirty-plus-year history.”
ACME is Bowers and Sitek's second venture after having launched the Federal Prism label in 2012 and releasing work from a wide range of artists, including Chuck Inglish, Oh Land, Cansei de Ser Sexy (CSS), Holly Miranda, Kelis and Scarlett Johannson. The label is distributed through WMG's Alternative Distribution Alliance.
The new venture's genesis, like so many startups, was born out of necessity -- or in this case, a near-blown deadline.
"We wanted to release four unique single/album bundles for Record Store Day 2014 and missed our internal production deadlines," Bowers tells Billboard. "We quickly built this creative services, manufacturing pipeline based on a successful model we had created when I was consulting for Warner Bros and Atlantic Records. We were able to package and produce these configurations from concept to product in three weeks."
Chuck Inglish (left) and Jeff Bowers
(Photo: Courtsey of Federal Prism)
The fruits of that project led to Federal Prism's best seller, Chuck Inglish's The Convertibles, a 7" vinyl/CD bundle that reached No. 8 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart and jumped from No. 53 to No. 24 on the Billboard Hip Hop Albums chart. That project's success, which required the know-how to manufacture four different bundles quickly, led to ACME's eventual formation.
Bowers, who started DIY label Soul Force Records in his native Tempe, AZ at the age of 15, worked for eight years as a creative consultant for Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic. While at Warners he worked on classic vinyl reissues by Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Neil Young, as well as Nirvana and Sonic Youth (for which he secured licenses from Universal), and more contemporary Record Store Day releases by Skrillex, Fun., Portugal. The Man and Grouplove.
In fact, Bowers is credited by Record Store Day as taking the annual event to a whole different level. “Without Jeff Bower’s enthusiasm and passion for music in general, and vinyl in specific, we would not have been able to launch Record Store Day,” said RSD co-founder Michael Kurtz in a statement. “In doing so, Jeff helped the indie record store community take vinyl sales from a few thousand dollars the first year to millions by the seventh year.”
While at Warner between 2007-2014, Bowers helped the label secure the number one marketshare in the vinyl format, moving from mid-six figures when he started to eight figures by the time he left. He worked directly with WBR executives Tom Whalley, Todd Moscowitz, Livia Tortella and Tom Biery as well as Atlantic Record's Craig Kallman. "Those guys are like all-star coaches who know how to get the most out of their teams," he says. It was also here where Bowers first identified gaps in the vinyl manufacturing and production processes that would eventually lead to the founding of ACME.
"I had REM's manager once ask me why it takes a major label three to four months to make a seven inch, when I can call up a manufacturer and make it in eight weeks," Bowers recalls to Billboard. "The system is built on making a hundred-thousand CDs for Michael Buble or whoever; but the thing is you can't be cool and credible anymore unless you can do 5,000 pieces of vinyl for The Flaming Lips and every 500 are in a different swirl vinyl color and hand numbered. People want customization and each market demands to be served in a unique way, and the big labels are not set-up for it."
The spark towards ACME, though, was TV on the Radio's 2008 vinyl release of Return to Cookie Mountain, which Bowers released on his Original Recordings Group label. Later, in 2012, when Sitek was working out of his Brooklyn-based Federal Prism studio (which he's since moved to L.A.), he decided he wanted to start a limited edition vinyl label, and reached out to Bowers. The music exec agreed to help as long as the new enterprise would function as a full-service label. In a year's time, the label has put out three full-lengths (Inglish, Oh Land and Stardeath & White Dwarves) and some 45 seven-inch singles including music by Vic Mensa, Mac Miller, Sia, Action Bronson, Chicago Kid and Chance The Rapper.
"Sitek has a massive creative output," Bowers tells us. "He's a producer, he's a songwriter -- so he wakes up, walks to his the studio and works until two in the morning, goes to sleep, wakes up, and then does it again. He never stops working. So when I say to him, 'Remember when we couldn't find anyone to press our records last year? Well, now we can.'"
Word of mouth on ACME has spread quickly. "Before we even had an office or even launched the business," Bowers says, "we secured close to $150,000 in billing; and by the end of the week we were nearing half a million -- just from our cell phones and laptops."