UPDATED: Bloodshot Records, the beleaguered independent label that announced it was closing its office earlier this week, has been acquired by Exceleration Music, a company formed earlier this year to invest in indies.
The Bloodshot catalog includes many historically important releases by artists that existed somewhere near the intersection of roots-rock and punk, with albums from Neko Case, the Old 97s, Ryan Adams, Robbie Fulks, Justin Townes Earle, Jon Langford, the Waco Brothers, Lydia Loveless, the Sadies, Alejandro Escovedo and many others.
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Exceleration said that, with its acquisition, it was “beginning a long-term campaign to revitalize the presence and availability of the Bloodshot catalogue, both digitally and physically.” As for whether there will be any future releases from the label beyond maintaining and promoting the catalog, Exceleration says it’s too early to say.
The announcement comes right on the heels of the label declaring on its website that its office was “permanently closed” and co-founder Rob Miller posting a long farewell message saying that, “regrettably, it is time for this phase of Bloodshot Records to come to an end. I will no longer be a part of the label I started over 25 years ago as an impossibly ill-conceived hobby.”
A representatives for Miller’s estranged co-founder, Nan Warshaw, issued a statement to Variety suggesting that she was not happy about Miller’s goodbye address Monday not mentioning the sale. “Bloodshot Records has been sold to a company who will keep the label and catalog alive,” said the rep. “Mr. Miller was well aware of this when he published his statement earlier this week, but chose not to reveal that for reasons that only he knows.”
Warshaw released a statement to Variety later Friday afternoon that stood in contrast to her former partner remaining mum about the acquisition, sounding enthusiastic about the deal. “During the last couple of years, I have worked steadily and quietly behind the scenes to bring this to a positive resolution that would benefit the artists,” she wrote. “Throughout this time, I fought to ensure that every artist would be guaranteed their compensation in full. There were various options considered to allow Bloodshot Records to continue without me, including selling my half to my co-founder, but we ultimately made a mutual decision to sell to Exceleration Music. Thankfully, Exceleration can provide our artists a creative path forward, breathe new life into their catalog, and offer them meaningful opportunities.” (Read Warshaw’s full statement below.)
As for whether Bloodshot will be an ongoing imprint for new releases or exist to promote existing ones, Exceleration addressed that in an FAQ. “Given the recent difficulties at the label it is too early to say exactly what will happen with new recordings,” wrote the company. “There is a lot of work to be done at this juncture to right the ship and stabilize the operation. Once that is done, we intend to speak to artists to work out how we can work with them to ensure their work is represented in the market as effectively and powerfully as possible. Once we start to do that, we will have a better idea as to whether new releases will be part of the plans.”
With new releases not necessarily in the cards, the purchase represents a different kind of transition than the one that went down in January when Exceleration announced its first deal, to partner with the blues label Alligator Records (coincidentally also, like Bloodshot, a Chicago-based indie). In that case, Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer stayed on, and the label declared plans to continue on much as it had prior to the new partnership.
Bloodshot came into this sale as a much more visibly troubled enterprise, with Miller having split with co-founder Nan Warshaw about two years ago in an unamicable dispute over sexual harassment allegations publicly made by artist Lydia Loveless against Warshaw’s longtime domestic partner, resulting in Warshaw announcing she was leaving the company; later she claimed she’d been forced out. When that dispute triggered an internal financial investigation, it was revealed many artists were due money the label did not seem in a position to pay out, resulting in further bad PR. The label had been known to be up for sale last year, and an article in the Chicago Reader said an external valuation had placed the value for Bloodshot at $3.2 million, although that may not have accounted for the roughly $500,000 known to be owed in artist royalties.
Terms of the newly announced purchase were not revealed.
“As has been well documented in the press, there has been an irreconcilable breakdown between the founders, (and) the label has effectively stopped operations,” the company said in a statement. “Exceleration has no comment to make on the label’s past difficulties. We are focused solely on ensuring the label’s identity stays alive, that its legacy is properly recognized and celebrated and that the Bloodshot artists and recordings are properly positioned and remunerated, with a view to maximizing earnings for all.”
Exceleration has some big names from the world of independent music at its helm. Glen Barros, its founder, is the former CEO of Concord Music Group. Exceleration’s other leaders are Dave Hansen (executive chairman of Merlin and ex-GM of Epitaph Records), Charles Caldas (former CEO of Merlin), Amy Dietz (previously the GM of Ingrooves) and John Burk (former president of Concord). Other moves made by Exceleration since its startup this year include partnering with the Ray Charles Foundation for releases from that legend’s vaults.
Said Hansen in a statement, “Bloodshot is a vitally important part of American music history, a genre-defining label founded on passion and vision, dedicated to bringing a unique set of artists from its musical orbit to the world. It represents exactly the kind of company that fits Exceleration’s founding ethos, which is to preserve and enhance the legacies of extraordinary independent companies and artists. We are honored to have the chance to work with the music from Bloodshot’s artists, to make sure the future interests of those artists are protected. We look forward to working to keep the Bloodshot history alive and relevant for many years to come.”
The company provided quotes from several artists or managers who are pleased that the sale guarantees their releases won’t go into limbo.
Said Howard Greynolds of Overcoat Management, which represents Loveless, “The team behind Exceleration Music brings to the table a level of experience and integrity that is much needed in this moment. I look forward to working with them in both protecting and creating new opportunities on the catalog Lydia Loveless has with the label.”
Laurens Kusters, representative of the Justin Townes Earle estate, commented, “We are happy to see that the team at Exceleration Music, a team that includes people I’ve known and worked with for over two decades, has taken ownership of the label, safeguarding its catalog and artists en-route to a prosperous future.”
And William Elliott Whitmore, whose album “I’m With You” was one of the last Bloodshot releases to come out under the previous regime, said, “I am both happy and relieved to hear that the Bloodshot catalog has landed in the hands of independent-minded folks who have a long history of looking out for artists’ interests. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”
Variety also reached out independently to several artists or managers formerly affiliated with the label. Those that responded indicated a mixture of hope, given Exceleration’s promise to clear up the payments that are due to many, and at least a bit of remaining skepticism given the tumultuous recent history of the label.
Said Kathie L. Russell of RedKats Artist Management, which represents Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: “We learned today via email of the new ownership. I informed them that we were no longer on the roster and were now with Thirty Tigers and that our main concern would be making sure we are paid our royalties. They responded that they were aware we were no longer signed to the label, and that not only would they be paying royalties, but they intend to increase the visibility of the catalog to provide more opportunities for artists.
“We were not happy about leaving Bloodshot, not happy that Nan Warshaw forced the sale and essentially backed Rob Miller into a corner, as we were very happy being Bloodshot artists,” continued Russell. “We left due to the situation created by Nan.However as to the new ownership, as long as they pay our royalties, I don’t think we really have an opinion on them one way or another. Time will tell.”
Also reached for comment by Variety, artist Jason Hawk Harris said: “I was encouraged to find out that the catalogue was bought by people who seem to care about the legacy and cultural importance of Bloodshot as an institution. That said, they’ll have to work hard to gain the trust of myself and the other artists whose music they’ve purchased. Actions speak louder than words.”
Asked how he felt about the prior version of the label coming to an end, Harris said, “In a word? Heartbreak. For Rob. For the staff. For the artists that were working on records that are now in limbo, and if I can be so vain, for myself too. Bloodshot was the perfect label for me. They trusted me and I trusted them. I don’t know where to go from here. I’m sure I’m not alone there. I love Rob Miller. He is a gruff, hard-assed teddy bear with mountains of integrity.”
A representative for Exceleration said it was too soon to know whether any previous staffers will be on board as the label transitions. Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Warshaw’s statement about the sale, as in full:
“From the early days of the Bloodshot Records office in my basement, it was a label where artists could freely create, never having to force their unique sound into a square genre hole or a widget assembly mold. The sale of Bloodshot to Exceleration Music will ensure that the legacy of nurturing and celebrating exceptional indie music will live on.
“Bloodshot was my life for more than 25 years. I devoted my time, heart and soul to the artists and the amazing music they were making. During the last couple of years, I have worked steadily and quietly behind the scenes to bring this to a positive resolution that would benefit the artists. Throughout this time, I fought to ensure that every artist would be guaranteed their compensation in full. There were various options considered to allow Bloodshot Records to continue without me, including selling my half to my co-founder, but we ultimately made a mutual decision to sell to Exceleration Music. Thankfully, Exceleration can provide our artists a creative path forward, breathe new life into their catalog, and offer them meaningful opportunities. Bloodshot has been working with Exceleration’s team for a decade, and they are indie leaders who will honor Bloodshot’s history and are ideally suited to carry Bloodshot’s artistically rich legacy onward.
“My huge thanks to the wonderfully loyal and fervent fans who formed the backbone of our welcoming and spirited community. I hope you continue to seek out and champion original great music, because the bands need your support now more than ever.
“I want to thank each of the artists who made the crazy idea of Bloodshot Records a reality. I’m truly honored to have worked with and for you. You gave me the opportunity to witness mind-blowing artistic development from your first record to your second and from your 10th show to your 400th show. There were the country-as-punk guitar non-solos that almost went off the rails but somehow didn’t, and there were the edgy songs with the most gorgeous harmonies that sent chills down my spine, and so much more. Thank you for it all.”
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