NYC Indie Labels: Temporary Residence Limited

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Temporary Residence Limited is a record label that has defied most of the recent trends in the music industry. As record sales deflated during the first decade of the twentieth century, Jeremy deVine and the bands at his label enjoyed their greatest spurts of growth. And, in a business that’s been moving steadily toward download sales, fans of Temporary Residence Limited still overwhelmingly prefer to buy their music on physical formats.

Est. 1996

“Perception is often very far from reality,” says label owner Jeremy deVine. “Generally, it’s way cooler to have a vinyl record with a download on your merch table than it is to have a CD, so you might hear a touring artist say something like ‘fans don’t care about CDs anymore.’ But for us, CDs are still about 70% of our total sales.”

When he adds vinyl and CDs together, deVine says physical sales account for around 80% of the business at Temporary Residence. This is a significantly greater proportion than in the rest of the industry, and it’s not because fans of TRL are luddites.

“A huge part of it is that we’ve always been obsessive about the packaging – about the overall look and feel and presentation of the music.”

“Downloads are great too, and even I don’t care about the album artwork when I’m listening to music on my iPod. But even though that’s how I listen to music, that’s not how I consume music – if that makes sense. I get that a lot of people don’t care about packaging. But I do, and a lot of other people do as well. That’s who we’ve chosen to cater to.”

deVine was barely in college when he started his label more 15 years ago. Even then, album artwork was a primary focus, and deVine says he never wanted records released on TRL to seem like “just another piece of plastic.” This has remained one of the two defining hallmarks of the label. The other is that deVine has consistently managed to recruit bands that inspire small, but intensely loyal followings.

Explosions in the Sky's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011)

When asked, deVine says that his main strategy is to select only the artists he’s certain he will care enough about to promote hour after hour and year after year, and that this is what has allowed him to help those artists reach a larger audience than they might otherwise. Even established critical darlings like the Books were able to find their greatest successes on TRL, and the label’s small team has helped niche post-rock artists like Explosions in the Sky and MONO sell tens of thousands of copies and maintain sustainable and uncompromising careers.

Since TRL relies so heavily on traditional sales of physical CDs, it’s curious to find that one of their  flagship artists, Zammuto, has made his entire new album available for streaming on his website.

“Part of it is that Nick [Zammuto] is a very particular kind of artist,” deVine says of the former member of the now-defunct collage-pop duo, the Books. “He’s very process oriented, and involving other people in that process is very important to him. The way that he makes music, and the process behind it is almost as fascinating to watch unfold as it is to listen to the finished product. For him, streaming songs as they’re completed is just a natural part of that.”

“There aren’t a lot of bands that are like that, and it wouldn’t work for everybody,” deVine admits. “When you have a few thousand people who are so supportive of your music that they’re following your blog on a weekly basis, you have to imagine there’s a level of goodwill, and people aren’t there just to get free stuff. They’re there because they care.”

Although deVine was an early innovator of a subscription model for record labels (he released a series of CDs that were paid for in advance by fans and included appearances from artists like Mogwai, Low and Will Oldham), he says this was a rocky proposition with physical releases and is skeptical of whether that model would translate to a digital world. For now, he’s happy to continue to offer up TRL’s catalog for sale the traditional way, and is hopeful that fans will continue to buy.

Zammuto (April, 2012)

“We’re not pleading with people for support, but we do rely on it. We live and die by it, and the bands can either continue what they do – or not – based on that.”

So far, Temporary Residence Limited is still going strong. What was once a part-time passion as Jeremy deVine worked a series of retail day jobs is now a full-time source of income for himself and two employees.

At first, deVine worried that transitioning to working on TRL full-time would make the art of the label take a backseat to the business. But for anyone who’s followed the label, things don’t look much different on that front than they did back in 1996.

This year, Temporary Residence releases include new albums by Zammuto and the post-rock power-trio Turing Machine, as well as retrospective collections from the Books and proto-emo hardcore band Moss Icon.

Click to visit Temporary Residence Limited online.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn recording engineer and studio journalist. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

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