A lot has changed since 1992. People bought CDs then, lots of them. Nirvana was the biggest musical act in the world. People read album reviews in Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. The Internet, for all practical purposes, didn’t exist yet. MTV played music videos; it’s now dominated by pregnant teenagers, and no one buys CDs. Kurt Cobain is dead. The Internet is everywhere, all the time—it’s literally everything. Spin is online-only, and Rolling Stone is published by pregnant teenagers.
An awful lot has changed in the 22 years since Bela Koe-Krompecher founded Anyway Records, including how bands make money. A potential indie hit—for example, the album Into Sixes by Columbus band Connections—used to mean album sales; now it means commercial opportunity.
“There’s some people I know who own companies in New York,” Koe-Krompecher said. “I’m like, ‘I gotta try to get somebody to buy one of their songs, you know, or license it out to sell chewing gum or something.’ That’s where bands get paid.” That’s the economic model these days, along with touring, and though Anyway has never sold lots of records, no one in the industry moves anywhere near the units of the early-1990s during the label’s nascent years.
Koe-Krompecher first became fascinated with vinyl at the age of 12 and fell for college radio as a DJ with Wittenberg’s WUSO station in the mid-’80s. The phoniness of mainstream rock in that era drove him toward underground music, and he had an epiphany when he moved to Columbus: here, he could simply meet the anti-rock stars in the bands he loved.
He worked at Used Kids Records and hung in the underground punk scene, with the likes of his friend Jerry Wick, the lead singer and guitarist of the local band Gaunt. In 1992, the band had just released a split seven-inch EP with New Bomb Turks, which was in the process of signing to Crypt Records. Inspired by the punk DIY mentality, Koe-Krompecher told Wick they should put out a Gaunt single on their own; Wick said they should become partners, and Anyway Records was born.
That first single, “Jim Motherf*cker,” led to another and another and another, and though Wick was a partner in name, Koe-Krompecher devoted the majority of time and money to the label. (Wick died tragically in 2001 after a hit-and-run accident.) Eventually Anyway’s catalogue featured records by a roster of influential local musicians, including Guided by Voices, New Bomb Turks, and Jenny Mae, releasing more than 60 in all and gaining national and international distribution.
Though its circumstance differs from industry majors, Anyway has not been immune to the aforementioned tectonic shifts of the music business over the last 15 years. Music streaming services like Spotify provide great access to new music for fans, and maybe increased visibility for bands, but they are hell on labels—Spotify pays Anyway three-hundredths of a cent for each song stream. The biggest challenge now is simply getting reviews for the releases, as young music lovers no longer turn to Rolling Stone, Spin, and fanzines for reviews, and blogs are swamped with submissions.
Koe-Krompecher balances his part-time record-label duties with three jobs, his writing, and being a father and husband. Through it all, he has maintained focus on his only true goal: promoting local bands via his singular talent for finding quality music.
“I think the big thing still is making sure that people can hear the music,” he said.
“I didn’t think I was gonna be running a label for 20-some years. It was just one record at a time. I had no grand plans, and I still have no grand plans.”
In addition to Connections’ critical success, last year Anyway released the well-regarded debut from WV White and is preparing for a record from St. Lenox in January 2015, as well as a debut later in the year from Goners. For more information, visit www.anyway-records.com.