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Published: 2009/07/30
by Lucas Samuels

A Decade of Ropeadope with Andy Hurwitz

It seemed as though Andy Blackman Hurwitz had chosen a pretty normal path in life. He went to college and law school and went on to become a music attorney in Philadelphia. However, the life of a lawyer was simply not keeping him happy, so Hurwitz decided to take the road less traveled. Music was always the underlying theme of his life, and would soon envelop it completely. His first real job in the music industry was as the General Manager of the Knitting Factory Record Group. Moreover, during his brief time with the Majors (Sony and Columbia), a disagreement regarding the release of an artist Hurwitz represented would ultimately act as the catalyst for another new career path, this time as a record label owner.

Hurwitz started Ropeadope Records as a channel of distribution for the DJ Logic album he could not convince Columbia to release. Things took off from there. Hurwitz signed then up-and-coming artists such as Robert Randolph and Antibalas to the label. Ropeadope continued to grow and even developed its own successful clothing line. I interviewed Blackman Hurwitz in light of Ropeadope Records tenth year anniversary. We spoke about producer Scotty Hard, an indie band called Carlon, the decision to go digital, Hurricane Katrina, and much more.

It seemed as though Andy Blackman Hurwitz had chosen a pretty normal path in life. He went to college and law school and went on to become a music attorney in Philadelphia. However, the life of a lawyer was simply not keeping him happy, so Hurwitz decided to take the road less traveled. Music was always the underlying theme of his life, and would soon envelop it completely. His first real job in the music industry was as the General Manager of the Knitting Factory Record Group. Moreover, during his brief time with the Majors (Sony and Columbia), a disagreement regarding the release of an artist Hurwitz represented would ultimately act as the catalyst for another new career path, this time as a record label owner.

Hurwitz started Ropeadope Records as a channel of distribution for the DJ Logic album he could not convince Columbia to release. Things took off from there. Hurwitz signed then up-and-coming artists such as Robert Randolph and Antibalas to the label. Ropeadope continued to grow and even developed its own successful clothing line. I interviewed Blackman Hurwitz in light of Ropeadope Record’s tenth year anniversary. We spoke about producer Scotty Hard, an indie band called Carlon, the decision to go digital, Hurricane Katrina, and much more.

This year marks the tenth year anniversary of Ropeadope Records. Can you talk a little about the all-star jam party that occurred at Sullivan Hall on June 10? How did you narrow down which artists were going to play the gig?

We were kind of stuck between really wanting to celebrate our tenth anniversary and also kind of not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. It’s a bit of a strange place to be because you would think that as a record label you should try and draw attention yourself, but we have always been artist first and a little bit shy about staying in the spotlight. When we decided to have a party the one thing we knew was that we should give the money to Scotty Hard. He’s been a longtime Ropeadope producer; he produced The Word, Charlie Hunter, DJ Logic, a lot of our great records, as well as being a really great guy. He was in an unfortunate accident last year where he was coming home from the studio. He was hit by a drunk driver and was paralyzed from the neck down, and he has no money. A big issue arose about musicians without insurance, so we decided to make it a fundraiser. The long and the short of it is, I called a lot of people who had been involved with Ropeadope from the beginning such as John Medeski, Billy Martin, Charlie Hunter, John Ellis, Big Sam and just put the word out to anyone who was going to be around. There was no setlist or soundcheck or anything, the guys were just going to show up and jam and that’s what happened. It was a great night; we rose close to $7,000. It was the first time Scotty has played publicly since the accident.

Ropeadope’s philosophy is to promote artists who are pushing the boundaries of their genre. Under this mantra, was it easy to justify signing bands such as The Benevento/Russo Duo, Charlie Hunter and Mike Gordon?

It was so easy that it seemed as though the mantra came as a result. We were surrounded by people that were redefining or pushing the boundaries of their genre. All of those people involved did not want to be called a jamband but I think what came out of that was this willingness to experiment and to express themselves in different ways. It was almost easy pickings at that time because I think The Benevento/Russo Duo was so far ahead of themselves and they get no credit in a lot of ways. There are so many duo-like bands now that are probably way more popular, but at the time they were the first. Charlie Hunter was the first to do his crazy eight string guitar and Mike Gordon was just such a freak. We were really looking for stuff that is original and unique in each artist’s world and something that people, whether they liked it or not, could say that this is something they had never heard. That was the goal from early on and it still continues to this day to a certain extent.

Carlon is one of the few “indie rock” bands to be signed to Ropeadope. What impressed you about their music and sound?

I have to give credit to my partner Lewis. I signed every single band in the history of Ropeadope. I think including the digital bands, it’s like well over 100 releases. That was the one that he picked. He kept saying “I love this band, I love this band”. I wasn’t so sure about it because I felt the need to push everything and make everything unique. He was like “If you don’t hate it let me sign it” and we did. That was before they put out Johari Window, and I still think that album is fucking unbelievable. I think it retroactively goes back and redefines their genre, whatever you want to call that style of rock. It is one of my favorite records of 2008 from beginning to end.

What were the main reasons for taking the label digital in 2007? Has it proved to be a positive change at Ropeadope?

It is extremely cash intensive to put out records, to manufacture 10,000 discs to put in the network of traditional distribution. You never make your money back. If you’re lucky it takes two to three years to get back to the break even point. When we started experimenting with digital releases we had a different model which was artists own the masters, we just license them. We split all the profits, we don’t pay out any advances, and we didn’t really have any upfront costs. Also, HMV, Virgin, and all the indie record stores were closing down so it became something that was really easy for us. We didn’t completely rule out traditional releases. We still put out CDs and vinyl it was more just the thought that we should started focusing on the digital realm because it seemed obvious. It was much more effective financially; it was quicker, it was easier. There was a great deal of talent available that enabled us to sign a lot of quality bands that we wouldn’t have been able to do years ago, because all the record labels were shutting down. Once we started we couldn’t stop, we couldn’t believe how efficient and productive it was and all of our bands were happy. We needed to try something new because the old way wasn’t working for anybody.

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