After 14 years and approximately 130 releases by bands such as the Locust, GoGoGo Airheart, and the Rapture, GSL Records founder Sonny Kay and his partner Omar Rodriguez announced in October that they were calling it quits. Kay said the main reason for shutting down was a lack of sales and increased marketing costs.
"With each new release, the marketing and promotion expenses swelled more and more," Kay said. "There were these spiraling expenses and the inability for any of these records to really pay for themselves." Because of the amount of music vying for listeners' attention these days, Kay said smaller labels have been forced to spend huge amounts on promotions.
"To have any kind of impact whatsoever these days would cost a minimum $9000 or $10,000. The lion's share of that would be hiring a reputable indie publicist." He estimated GSL was spending about $4 in promotions for every $1 spent manufacturing the records and CDs.
"For us, we were spending $1500 a month per band [on promotions], and we were mortgaging limbs to make that happen." Because GSL put so much importance on the artwork and design of each release -- which included a lot of colored vinyl and eye-popping inks -- the industry's transition to digital downloads made Kay question his reason for continuing to put out music.
"More and more, and especially over the last year, I've been waking up to the fact that it's not really [as much] about quality of the record than [it is about] sales.... It's so far removed from what we were doing successfully years ago that I got to the point where I was really disillusioned with satisfying the distributors, satisfying the bands -- do everything we should be doing and at the same time swallow the fact that we're selling 800 records."