When American reggae band The Movement‘s sixth album Golden topped the Reggae Albums chart for the week of April 30, it was a testament to their supportive fan base, earned through years of consistent touring, and a triumph for an alternative to the traditional record label structure.
Golden is the debut release on Rootfire Cooperative, a not for profit company offering no interest micro loans to reggae acts, which pay for the production, manufacturing and marketing of their albums as well as administrative services.
“Rootfire Cooperative is dedicated to providing reggae artists with opportunities to make music of the finest quality and reach the largest audience possible,” said Seth Herman who founded Rootfire as a management company in 2010 while he was managing three American reggae bands, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, John Brown’s Body and The Green, and the North American manager for New Zealand’s Black Seeds. Rootfire Cooperative was created through a partnership between Rootfire and Ineffable Music Group, a full service artist management company based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Unlike Patreon, Kickstarter and other crowd funding platforms, the loans distributed by Rootfire Cooperative are privately financed by Ineffable through profits made from their talent buying and festival production divisions; Ineffable produces the Levitate Music and Arts Festival (July 9, Marshfield, MA) and has ties to the California Roots Music and Arts Festival (May 27-29, Monterey, CA) their lineups dominated by American reggae outfits, that is mainly white bands whose music, generally speaking, bears stronger rock influences than their Jamaican and Caribbean counterparts.
In recent years U.S. acts have consistently dominated the Reggae Album Chart; five American bands occupy six of the top 10 slots on the Reggae tally for the week ending May 14.
Ineffable lends to Rootfire Cooperative and the Cooperative transfers the funds to the artists. Loans typically range between $35,000 to $50,000 per album with expenses capped at $10,000 per month. Artists with proven significant sales history can be advanced an additional production loan not exceeding $25,000. “Artists lacking adequate financing are probably not spending enough producing, mixing or mastering their albums and if they spend money on those things, then they probably can’t afford promotion and advertising,” observes Herman, who is based in Charlottesville, Va. “We thought if we can impact the quality then create campaigns behind the music, maybe we can have an overarching effect on the reggae business.”
The Movement’s campaign began with Rootfire Cooperative printing two oversized posters of Golden‘s cover artwork, cutting them into 1,700 portions and then sending individual pieces to fans who signed up on the band’s Facebook page. “Automatically, that made a connection to the album among The Movement’s fans who bought it when it was released,” notes Herman. According to co-sign who are handling radio for Golden, it was the second-most added record to CMJ WORLD last week (4/25), the first week for reported spins.
Artists releasing their music through Rootfire Cooperative receive money from their album sales directly from their distributor, which they use to repay their loan. Rootfire Cooperative doesn’t take any portion of an album’s profits, recouping only its invested funds, and the artists maintain 100% ownership of their music throughout the entire process.
“I was never a fan of relinquishing ownership and I didn’t understand why a label should own my music forever or why there is a percentage on the back end years after any money has been spent on marketing a record,” comments Josh Swain, the South Carolina based lead singer, guitarist and co-founder of The Movement. In 2013 The Movement, also featuring bassist Jason “Smiles” Schmidt and drummer Gary Jackson, reached out to Herman for career guidance, which resulted in his managing the band (they’re now managed by Ineffable’s Reid Foster) and the subsequent financing of recording sessions for Golden with producer Danny Kalb, whose credits include Beck, Ben Harper and The Green.
When the project attracted label interest, Swain’s reluctance to sign led to the formation of Rootfire Cooperative. “I didn’t see any need to outsource this album to a label,” Swain recalls, “so I told Seth to start a company and we could put out our record out with him.”
Herman agreed but didn’t want to impose standard label terms on the band. He discussed with Ineffable the concept of no interest micro-loans as a means of financing an album, they endorsed his progressive approach and Rootfire Cooperative was created.
“Rootfire Cooperative is part of a larger trend of breaking down the barriers of entry that makes the traditional major label paradigm obsolete; it’s the logical extension of live music and access to channels that were previously guarded,” observes Thomas Cussins, talent buyer and artist manager at Ineffable.
Other Ineffable principals are Matt Bailey, artist manager, business development; Igor Katz, director of operations, artist manager; Dan Sheehan, talent buyer and co-producer of California Roots Music and Arts Festival, and Seth Herman, operations, business development and artist management.
Branded events such as Rootfire Presents Rebelution (featuring The Green, J Boog and Stick Figure, the latter managed by Cussins) at Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, California, contribute to the company’s revenue stream, as does Herman’s assistance in the promotion of American reggae band-dominated events across the US, whose audiences remain quite distinct from those of their Jamaican reggae counterparts.
Rootfire Cooperative’s release schedule for the remainder of 2016 includes albums by Hawaiian female singer Hirie and Rochester, NY based Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Releases by Jamaican acts are also an intended focus of the company’s future plans, which would help to bridge reggae’s geographical divide and bolster the genre overall.
“There are so many reggae elements in major hits right now, I think reggae could be the next EDM in terms of different sub genres blending into one big genre that just takes over,” asserts Cussins. “Working with great Jamaican talent and bringing together different types of reggae acts could mean topping charts across the board, not just in the reggae category.”