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Published: 2016/03/31
by Larson Sutton

Ben Rector Lets It Roll

The success story that is Ben Rector is defined best with one word: independence. The Oklahoma native took his college hobby of writing and playing music not to the industry doorstep, but to the people. The reward has been steady touring and half-a-dozen albums reportedly totaling over 250,000 sold and over 2 million downloads, all on his own Aptly Named independent record label. Rector, back with Brand New and its rapidly rising title track, took a few moments ahead of a tour stop in Los Angeles to talk about the path he’s taken, the things he’s learned, and those show-closing group selfies.

You are about halfway through this leg of the tour. How has it been going?

It’s gone really well. We did a fall run that was mostly major cities that weren’t on the West Coast. Generally, in life, I’m pessimistic. Some of these cities are ones we haven’t played quite as much, so I didn’t have crazy-high expectations for this tour. But, I think the entire tour so far, except for San Francisco, has been sold-out, which is awesome.

You have done all this essentially on your own, without the support of a major label. Was the changing shape of the industry the cause?

I started doing music professionally when I was in college. When I graduated, and things kind of picked up some, a lot of the money in major label deals had started to dry up. It felt like things were changing so fast. We have talked to labels on every release since college. I felt like it never made sense for me. About that time, iTunes was really gaining steam. That felt like an opportunity to not have as much of a ceiling as an independent artist. There weren’t as many gatekeepers. If you were making something people enjoyed, they could find it and they could share it. I’ve been fortunate that people have continued to care about it. (On this record) now, I have a label partner. I’m in the Capitol family.

Despite having to finance your own albums, you have been extremely prolific in the eight years you’ve been doing this. This is your sixth album? That’s a career for some people.

I was doing such quick album cycles when I started because that was the only way I knew how to do it. When my hobby became my job, all I knew how to do was work and write. I’ve slowed down a little bit because I want everything to be really good. The way I was doing it, three years out of college, was not a sustainable way for me to do it. I’m not 19 anymore. I still feel that age, but it feels like a separate lifetime.

Can you explain the role you play as both artist and as your own boss on your Aptly Named label?

I came up doing those things together. A lot of times people think of artists as not knowing what’s going on, but for better or for worse, I enjoy both sides of it. It’s my label, but that sounds more official than it really is. We needed an entity to release music, so, alright, let’s set one up. There is not an office. It’s more of a name for me to release my music independently.

Was there an influence, on the business side of things, for doing it this way?

It’s been a moving target for me. Part of the reason I’ve done it is out of necessity. I needed to figure out things like if playing a fundraiser, could I sell enough CDs to pay for my gas and back. I enjoyed that. Early on, Dave Barnes and Matt Wertz were inspirational to me. They made fantastic music and were always great live. That was a model I saw. I thought I would be in a troubadour, singer-songwriter world playing clubs. It has grown more than I thought it would. I’m not someone who says, I’m going to be famous and you’ll see my name in lights. I’m just not that guy.

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