Touch and Go Records closes its distribution wing and cuts back on new releases

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; but more on all that later. First let me give you a little background on Touch and Go and their importance to the punk and independent music world.

Touch and Go started as an east Michigan fanzine back in 1979. In 1980, the Necros (an Ohio punk band) were looking to release a 7"record. Necros bassist, Corey Rusk, turned to his friends at T&G for help. In 1981, T&G released it's first two records, the 7"by the Necros and then a 7"by Michigan punk band The Fix. Rusk then came on board and helped to run the label's business end. By 1983, Rusk had left his band, took over T&G with his wife and moved operations to Detroit. After a successful run in the Motor City (which included opening a club in conjunction with the label), Rusk moved the label again, this time to Chicago. This all may seem mundane, but Touch and Go would prove to be an integral part of the punk scene in the 1980s.

While indie labels were popping up on the east and west coasts, there wasn't much in the middle of the country. These labels all started with the purpose of releasing records from bands in their area. As some of these bands grew and embarked on larger tours, they relied on the indie labels and bands in other regions for help in booking shows and for a place to sleep while on tour. Touch and Go provided a crucial link between the east and west coast. Not only were they releasing records from bands that may not have had the means, Corey Rusk routinely gave bands a place to crash when they came through on tour. These bands would return the favor when T&G bands would head out to Los Angels, New York, Boston and the like. These bands and labels assisted each other in booking tours and helped each other with distribution in places one might not have contacts in. Would labels such as Dischord, SST, Alternative Tentacles, Sub Pop and Merge been as successful as they were without Touch and Go? Maybe, but Touch and Go was the final piece of the early 80s punk scene puzzle that made it all possible.

After 28 years of being a model independent label and distributor, Touch and Go is falling victim to the horrid economic conditions that have been plaguing the world. While other indie labels have come and gone, Touch and Go kept growing and was one of the good guys. They treated their bands with respect and paid them, too. They have been responsible for countless legendary releases and have introduced the world to bands that have gone on to greatness.

Below is the full roster of Touch and Go's bands:

The official statement from Corey Rusk is as follows:

"It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

"Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go's operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

"Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We'll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go's history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings."

So what exactly does this mean? Here is the list of the labels that Touch and Go distributed:

What this means is that it may be harder to find records by Nels Cline, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Silver Jews, Alkaline Trio, Jets To Brazil, The Thermals, The Decemberists, Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, Superchunk, M. Ward, Arcade Fire, Dinosaur Jr. and hundreds more. Are you starting to get the picture? The Chicago Tribune quoted Mac McCaughan, of Superchunk and co-founder of Merge Records:

"Corey Rusk is the most meticulous, cautious, thoughtful business person I know, which is what makes this whole thing so unbelievable and such a bad portent for the rest of the independent music business," McCaughan said. "If a company that did everything the right way can't survive in this environment ... then who can?"

One would hope that the labels Touch and Go distributed won't go anywhere any time soon. Some of them have been around for quite some time and have talented artists to help keep them afloat. I'm sure that most indie labels are currently pouring through their books to make sure they're on solid ground. The independents labels have always been trend setters and risk takers. Now, they've become the canary in the coal mine. The record industry has been in trouble for some time. One could argue several causes, but it's moot. A craptacular economy coupled with new digital means (both legal and not) to get music have started to take their toll. The major labels have significantly more capital on hand to hide their struggles in hopes they'll pull through. The indies don't have this luxury. The "release it yourself online like Radiohead" method is a route worth investigating, but it's not perfect. And for the record, Radiohead didn't pioneer this. There are plenty of "digital download only" labels out there. Radiohead just happen to have enough money in the bank to take that risk and ATO Records handled the LP and CD hard copy releases of In Rainbows. Ok, back on track...

What this signals is that a huge shift as to how the indie labels operate is going to take place. The indie record buyers and audiophiles will keep the LP format alive, but prices will undoubtedly rise. Digital only releases are cheap and easy to do. The CD format seems like the expendable one in all of this. As changes in the indie world happen, we'll probably lose one or more of the major labels along the way. At some point, the economy isn't going to be willing or able to sustain yet another Brittany Spears comeback. The record buying public at large is being forced by the economy to be more discerning about what they albums purchase and what concerts they go to.

It's not going to get better any time soon. Hopefully, Touch and Go will come out of this relatively unscathed and will continue to provide an outlet for the underground. After all that Corey Rusk has put into T&G, I don't think he's going down without a fight. I'm sure he's doing everything possible to insure that the labels he distributed don't get screwed in all of this. Hopefully those labels will find new distribution soon. Touch and Go's situation should serve as a wake up call to the indie labels and the music industry as a whole. They need to adjust and cater to the economic conditions that dictate what you and I spend on music.

The current state of the music industry and the economy raises several questions. Some, but not nearly all are mentioned here. There were a few more things I wanted to bring up, but I don't expect you, the reader, to spend all day reading my ramblings. Over the next few weeks, be on the lookout for more pieces related to the declining health of the music industry. Please comment below, let get a conversation going about this. If you read this far, you obviously care about music, so let's hear what you have to say. Thanks!

On February 18th, both the Chicago Tribune and Pitchfork ran stories that put a knife through the heart of the punk/indie world. Venerable Chicago label, Touch and Go Records would be closing it's distribution wing and massively scaling back it's own output. This decision, that I'm sure was made after all other options were exhausted, effects more than just T&G's roster. They provided distribution for 23 other labels

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