Bubble Bath Records will showcase four of their artists on March 3 at One Eyed Jacks, aiming to empower New Orleans musicians and spread the current New Orleans music scene globally.
Some believe that starting a record label in 2018 is a death sentence, but with a savvy business and marketing strategy, Bubble Bath Records thinks it has figured things out. Bubble Bath was founded by musicians John Maestas, Violeta Del Rio, and Alex Peña, alongside videographer and graphic designer Patricia Moscardó, and marketing strategist Elijah Carroll. Although Peña is the only New Orleans native, the Bubble Bath team has high hopes for its artists and the New Orleans music scene in general.
On March 3, Bubble Bath Records will present four of their artists at One Eyed Jacks: Max Moran & Neospectric, Kristina Morales & The Inner Wild, The GRÏD, and Jasper Smitty.
These musicians have established audiences, but not ones so large that Bubble Bath's releases will automatically drop with great commercial success. The GRÏD frequently opens shows at Tipitina's, and Kristina Morales has a residency at The Spotted Cat. Max Moran has played with Leo Nocentelli from The Meters, Bernie Worrell from Parliament and Funkadelic, and Christian Scott.
Bubble Bath is a label by musicians for musicians—the founders have worked with these talented artists and want to build them into stars. “A lot of the artists that play on Bubble Bath also play with the New Orleans legends in the New Orleans traditional music and community,” says Maestas. “We want to take how they fit into the musical lineage here and see what they take from it in their original music, mixing soul, jazz, funk. Having one foot rooted and one foot going in the direction of modernism.”
Labels in the past have acted as a bank for musicians to pay for studio time, production, and promotion. Technological advancements have made recordings from home higher quality, and streaming sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud allow artists to release and sell their music without the help of a label. Musicians are proving that they don’t need a record label to be their sugar daddy. Chance the Rapper releases all of his music for free and has made his fortune by touring independently. Dev Hynes refuses to sign to a label fearing it will restrict his creativity and has fostered a cult following online. Bubble Bath recognizes this transition in the music industry and is trying to work with it.
“We are a modern, digitally focused artists label. It’s by artists for artists, and the most incredibly artist friendly model possible,” says Elijah Carroll. At this point, Bubble Bath Records has signed 21 artists, and funding releases by this many artists would be impossible for a typical emerging record label if it were a conventional label. Bubble Bath sees itself and its artists as a collective where musicians support and inspire one another to make more challenging music.
“A single artist can do all this stuff for themselves," Carroll says. "But we believe that 20 artists doing it together presents a much stronger body of work and a much stronger community to grow from it.”
Bubble Bath sees itself as an artist incubator. The label made guides to help artists understand copyright and publishing laws, which the team hopes will make the production process flow more easily while also teaching artists about the business they want to break into. An educational model is atypical of a record label, but Bubble Bath hopes that the model will help musicians be better equipped for challenges they may face in the future.
“If you want to be successful in the music industry, you need to have the fire inside to accomplish the business side of things,” says John Maestas. “A lot of musicians expect that music is going to carry you from where you are to where you want to go, but the truth is you got to be on your business as much as you are on the music.”
New Orleans' Community Records has made the collective model its calling card for a decade now, but Bubble Bath sees what it considers key differences between itself and Community including a talent lineup that leans heavily on contemporary jazz/jam/funk/rock.
Bubble Bath is funded completely out of pocket by the five founders, which makes it impossible to fund recording and producing albums for their whopping 21 artists. Artist pay for their own studio time but under special “Bubble Bath Rates.” The founders have made strategic deals with recording studios in New Orleans and around the country where artists can get a week in the studio for the price of one day. Even though the label does this, it does not own any of the artist’s music publishing. “We insist that they retain 100 percent of ownership of all their music,” says Carroll. “The old model of a label throws all this money at you and then you’re in hock to them, and recouping that money is a nightmare. Then, additionally, they own all your recordings for 10 years or 15 years of half of them for a statute. That’s how labels have exploited artists for over a hundred years. We wanted to build this as a whole other model. That model is to support, empower, promote, market, and manage existing artists.”
This business arrangement makes signing to Bubble Bath low-risk for artists. Artists can continue to sell downloads, CDs, and merchandise without jeopardizing the rights to their music and their creative expressions. However, the economic stability of the label is elusive at this stage. "We’re all the founders so we don’t get paid,” says Maestas. “Things are set up to make money eventually, but we’re still in preliminary stages right now.”
The founders are in the process of partnering with studios, licensing companies, and producers, but they have made an intentional decision not to find outside investment. They believe that by being completely independent, they will retain their reputation as an artist-friendly label. While this decision may appear noble, it raises an interesting question. Bubble Bath’s founding principal is collaboration, so is it missing out by not investigating possible collaborative deals to the label's artists music out and to markets the acts might not reach otherwise?.
Bubble Bath Records is not dissuaded by the prospect of small profit margins. The founders are energized by the prospect of supporting their artists and the New Orleans music scene more generally. New Orleans musicians who want to challenge themselves and listeners often move to New York or Los Angeles to be successful—Frank Ocean, Christian Scott, and Lil Wayne to name a few. Bubble Bath aims to bring a stronger creative infrastructure to New Orleans to help keep those artists at home. “We’d like to raise this scene up and actually bring more attention and more awareness to the original music happening here in New Orleans,” says Carroll. “If Pitchfork starts to write more about New Orleans indie rock, or Red Light Management wants to set up an office here--if we are able to bring more awareness and therefore more strength and infrastructure to the local scene, I think that would be our biggest win.”
Bubble Bath is banking heavily on its distributor, The Orchard, to help make this happen. The Orchard is a leading independent distributer owned by Sony Music and specializes in distribution, marketing, and sales to reach global audiences. This partnership is also an avenue for revenue. The Orchard pushes for Bubble Bath’s artists to be featured in advertisements or in movie trailers, which is a huge source of income.
Bubble Bath’s success relies on distribution, marketing, and promotion, but the founders agree that the base of the label is community. “Everyone involved in Bubble Bath has to support everyone and everything,” says Violeta Del Rio. “Artists are actually contractually obligated to be active in supporting the whole community via social media.”
Events like “A Night in the Bubble Bath” at One Eyed Jacks advertise Bubble Bath’s collective brand and message as well as the bands. This communal effort to share music and curate an experience reflects the label's artist-friendly approach to music business.
“Bubble Bath was built on community,” says Carroll. “We want to put our artists under this Bubble Bath umbrella and try to lift up the whole umbrella, hopefully bringing everyone along with us.”
The founders of Bubble Bath Records have jumped into the tub, causing suds to spread onto the floor. Hopefully those bubbles will continue to travel down the stairs, throughout New Orleans, and around the world.