From Indigo to Indie Girl
By Russell Hall
When it comes to big-label record deals, you can take the artist out of the indie world, but you can’t always take the indie out of the artist. Just ask Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. After several years spent recording for an independent label, her folk-pop duo (which also includes Ray’s childhood friend, Emily Saliers) was signed to Epic Records in 1989. A year later, Ray was smitten with the idea of starting a non-profit label whose roster would include some of her favorite songwriters from around the Southeast. In the midst of an Indigo Girls tour in 1990, she founded the small Atlanta-based label, Daemon Records.
“I had a lot of friends I was a big fan of, musically,” Ray explains, “and they weren’t putting records out. They either didn’t have the money, or...the know-how. I felt like this [label] would facilitate their doing that. Beyond that, political considerations were sort of over-arching everything—the idea of trying to do things that would help create change in the industry power structure. I felt this was one way I could work towards that for myself, by creating a label where musicians would have an active part in things.”
According to Ray, the primary benefits a musician receives from Daemon are publicity and product distribution. Touring frequently and getting heavy radio play can give a band a lot of exposure, but it’s extremely difficult for a band to sustain success without good distribution, which, Ray explains, “is definitely the key to everything.”
Although revenue earned from CD sales is usually put into projects by individual artists, on occasion the label sponsors albums promoting humanitarian or environmental causes. One such CD, Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection, featured a host of Georgia musicians who reconstructed the famous ’60s rock opera. So far the album has generated more than $50,000 in profits, all of which go toward various gun control and gun education efforts.
When asked about the type of music one might expect from a Daemon artist, Ray says she bears no allegiance to any particular style. Given the emphasis on songwriters based in the Southeast, however, it should come as no surprise that the label’s roster is weighted toward a Dixie-fied brand of folk-pop. The work of two of Daemon’s most popular performers, Terri Binion and Danielle Howle, offers testimony to this Southern flavor.
While her career as an Indigo Girl continues to soar (the duo will soon begin their second stint as integral participants in the highly successful Lilith Fair tour), Ray has gradually delegated most of the day-to-day operations at Daemon to her staff. Yet she closely supervises activities at the label—often communicating instructions through e-mail—and all major decisions are hers. Most important, she’s excited about the future of the organization. Having abandoned a short-lived attempt to branch out geographically, Ray characterizes Daemon today as “focused and tight,” and anticipates releasing four or five records a year by Southeastern
“I think we’ve finally hit our stride,” she says. “The label’s been around for a while, and we’ve been through a lot of problems, and it’s been a learning experience. Emily and I are so different from other musicians in a lot of ways, in the nature of our relationship and the way we work together. I got into this expecting everyone to be like us, and they’re not. That’s been really good for me.”