Ani's big little label

A look at Righteous Babe.

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Despite Ani DiFranco's prodigious recording career and cultish fame, people are often more fascinated with the success of her Righteous Babe label, which she formed in 1990 in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. That's probably because DiFranco has been one of the few artists to really make it on the DIY. And remember, she started it well before the Internet gave artists instant access to potential fans the world over. Here are a few Righteous Babe factoids.

• The label was originally called Righteous Records on pressings of DiFranco's self-titled debut album; she changed it to Righteous Babe Records after discovering that a gospel music label had the same name.

• In 1997, Ms. Magazine included DiFranco in the issue's "21 Feminists for the 21st Century," noting that through Righteous Babe the singer made more money per album sold than Hootie and the Blowfish, and that her catalog sales exceeded 750,000. DiFranco issued an open letter to the magazine criticizing the publication for emphasizing her business savvy over her artistic achievements.

• In 1998, The New York Times reported that Righteous Babe employed 17 people and that DiFranco had sold 1.5 million albums. "Despite an explosive rise in album sales in the last three years, Ms. DiFranco has turned down repeated, ever-larger offers from big record labels," the newspaper noted. The article also explained that DiFranco "nets far more income — more than $4 for each recording sold — than a typical performer working for a big label, who nets $1 to $2 per recording."

• In 1999, former Lounge Lizards guitarist Arto Lindsay's Prize becomes the first album issued on Righteous Babe by an artist other than DiFranco. The label has since released discs by Andrew Bird, Utah Phillips, Hamell on Trial, Anaïs Mitchell, Bitch and Animal, That 1 Guy, Sekou Sundiata and others.

• DiFranco and manager Scot Fisher spent the past several years converting a Gothic Revival (circa 1876) Methodist church and Buffalo landmark into the "newly christened Babeville ... a state-of-the-art performance space and contemporary arts center, as well as headquarters for Righteous Babe," says DiFranco's official bio.

• In 2004, Forbes.com published a story titled "Righteous Tax Credit" about the New Markets Tax Credit and how DiFranco's label used the government money to transform the neglected church into Righteous Babe H.Q. Forbes reported: "The credits are supposed to create jobs in economically distressed areas. But Righteous Babe project manager Jessie E. Schnell admits the label isn't planning to add to its 12-person local staff; a live concert space in the project's plans, however, should mean work for part-time concessionaires in the gentrifying area. 'It's kind of cruel, says Schnell. 'We've been able to use these tax loopholes created by big government.'"

Sources: allmusic.com, buffalonews.com, forbes.com, nytimes.com, wikipedia.org.

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