Houston Gets New Record Label: Are We Finally Legit?

W. Ross Wells of ZenFilmI remember talking to Peekaboo Theory early last year when they were considering packing up ship and relocating to Austin. They were frustrated with the lack of musical infrastructure in Houston. While we had musical talent up the yin yang what we seemed to be lacking was a network of managers/producers/festivals/booking agents/and labels that could get behind a band and lift them into a regional and national spotlight. Now, while that sentiment wasn’t entirely true, it can get frustrating to watch band after band break from Austin, LA or New York when Houston should be the national focus of innovative and ground breaking music. We just got it going on like that.

Then over the last couple of years we’ve seen a slew of huge successful festivals that have nudged the national spotlight closer to our edge of the woods. Then local booking agents and promoters like Pegstar, Super Unison and Jetspeed Entertainment, established themselves by not only showcasing local talent but putting them on shows with larger national acts. The only thing that seemed to still be missing is for a strong indie rock label to announce its presence and declare that the Houston musical renaissance is officially here. Well, it seems that time has finally come.

Dan Workman photo by Everett TaasevigenDan Workman, record producer and SugarHill Studios President (ZZ Top, Beyonce, Smashmouth, Kareem Salama…etc), along with filmmaker W. Ross Wells (Zenfilm, National TV Commercials, National Music Videos, Social Marketing) recently announced the creation of ZenHill Records. ZenHill Records was a label born of the need to fix a broken system of how traditional record companies operated. Considering themselves an anti-label because of the non-traditional ways they operate, part of their modus operandi is “to promote artists in a way that prevents them from going into debt in order to launch their careers.” Their artists retain the rights to their intellectual property and are not bound by an exclusive agreement.

“If anyone gets hurt on this arrangement, it will be us.” says Workman, “This type of business arrangement is precisely what is needed to develop strong working relationships and trust between artists.” Their initial roster includes indie rockers Winter Wallace, the Southern Backtones and the satirical Americana band Trigger and Some Dudes Named Roy. They are currently in negotiations with several other Texas acts from pop, rockabilly, alternative rock and more, looking to round out their current roster to seven or ten artists.

Zenhill Records marks the latest collaboration between the two partners to further promote and elevate Houston’s music scene, and derives its name from elements of the two companies. “We wanted a name that trumpeted the collaboration of our two strong established brands, SugarHill Studios and Zenfilm, yet could stand on its own in the larger marketplace” says Wells. For the past three years the duo has brought us the internationally syndicated live music web and pobcast, Live From SugarHill, promoting local and regional music around the world. Then along with Matthew Wettergreen (Caroline Collective, Do713), and Gina Miller (lead singer of The Kimonos, Grammy Board of Governors, TX), Workman and Wells founded The Houston Sound, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Houston music. The Houston Sound kicked off its free concert series in Market Square Park this past Saturday with the help of sponsors Houston Downtown District, KPFT Radio, and Niko Niko’s.

Southern BacktonesNow don’t get me wrong, I recognize that there are hundreds of Houston record labels out there, but when it comes to labels outside of the rap genre who are more than just a group of friends burning cd-r’s on their laptops to give to friends, what labels do we have besides Mia Kat Empire that are promoting our indie and rock scene? ZenHill is a welcome addition for cementing the legitimacy that Houston fully deserves.

For more information about ZenHill Records visit their website at http://www.zenhillrecords.com.

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20 Responses to “Houston Gets New Record Label: Are We Finally Legit?”

  1. Jeremy Hart on September 1st, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Awesome news, man; hadn’t heard a thing…

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  3. VINSANITY on September 1st, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    YAY! I need some mastering…

  4. Houston Gets New Record Label: Are We Finally Legit? Space City Rock | ZenHill Records on September 1st, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    […] Read Entire Article… Share this article: […]

  5. New label ZenHill Records releases new music from Southern Backtones on September 2nd, 2010 at 10:08 am

    […] Space City Rock for an article on the new Houston-based indie label, ZenHill […]

  6. theairalone on September 2nd, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I have never ever thought that Houston has “musical talent up the yin yang”. At most there have only ever been 2 or 3 bands at any given point which were making music deserving of a larger audience. If the bands in Houston would step up their game, from songwriting to playing more shows out of town, instead of constantly crying about lack of infrastructure, we would have a cooler scene.

    I applaud Dan and his crew for doing their part to focus attention here. I just hope they hit the mark and present the right acts to the rest of the world. Presenting mediocre (or otherwise sub-par) muscians to rest of the world as being from Houston can only be detrimental. Good luck. Don’t screw it up.

  7. Jeremy Hart on September 2nd, 2010 at 11:07 am

    To each their own; personally, I think there are a *ton* of excellent bands in town right now, bands easily beat 90% of the music that comes across my desk, even the stuff from well-respected labels with decent bands on their roster.

    I’ll definitely agree that bands from Houston should be playing more out-of-town shows, and I think that *is* happening — a lot of bands I love from here have gone out on tour in the past year. I do think the city still lacks some of the infrastructure that other scenes have, however.

    I’ve seen a ton of record labels come & go since I’ve been here, and only a handful, like yours, Mia Kat, & the sadly-departed Esotype, have ever made a concerted attempt at promoting their bands & releases on a non-local level. I get a lot of local releases sent my way, but in a lot of cases it’s the bands doing the sending, not the labels. And most H-town bands don’t even bother with the national publicity angle — I’ve gotten a whopping two local CDs (Bring Back the Guns & Indian Jewelry) sent in by big-name PR companies who push their clients nationally/globally.

    You may not agree, but I think the music’s there, in terms of Houston-area bands; it’s getting it out to the world and getting the world to pay attention that’s the hard part.

  8. Bill Fool on September 2nd, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    what labels do we have besides Mia Kat Empire that are promoting our indie and rock scene?

    What a bullshit statement. Every week at Cutthroat Records we send out records to all over the world (distros and just plain ole folks who love vinyl) with a majority of our releases being Houston bands. This year alone we have been putting out an average of 1 vinyl only (with free download coupon) a month (by the end of the year we will have 14 new releases out). What a fucking slap in the face. Another label you are forgetting is Team Science. Do a little homework on your local labels before typing up some crap like that.

    With that being said, Dan Workman, I am always down with any project you are involved in. Thanks for being there for so many bands including a few of my own.

  9. Jeremy Hart on September 2nd, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Sorry, I knew I was missing a couple of ’em — I just threw out the ones I could think of off the top of my head, honestly. I *do* love both Cutthroat & Team Science!; y’all put out some awesome stuff.

    I still think the statement stands, though; I’ve seen a *ton* of local labels pop up around here, and even when they put out amazing music, the majority don’t seem to seriously promote it much outside of Houston. That’s what I’ve seen, anyway. I’d love to be totally wrong.

  10. Jeremy Hart on September 2nd, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Er, whoops. Thought you were talking to me, Bill…

  11. mrshl on September 3rd, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Seems like Dull Knife should get a mention here as well.

  12. Aarondanger on September 3rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I love that the H-town mixtape to the top right has 7 bands that I’ve worked with either through: Releasing Records, Tour Managing, Distributing or Managing.

    Looks like I need to get more legit.

  13. Jeremy Hart on September 3rd, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Aaron: totally different department, man. :^) The opinions of the writers here vary pretty widely; Dre’s got his feelings on the local labels ’round town, and that’s what the post is (only slightly, really) about.

    I *do* think it’s true that the vast majority of local labels here don’t really have much impact outside of Houston, but that’s partly because there are a *ton* of ’em; I’ve seen a crapload fall by the wayside because of that, over the years, even the labels that start out like gangbusters. I sincerely hope that’s changing, these days — it’d be great for everybody.

  14. Daniel on September 4th, 2010 at 1:34 am

    “Houston should be the national focus of innovative and ground breaking music.”

    “nudged the national spotlight closer to our edge of the woods”

    This is never going to happen. Even if ZenHill breaks one of their bands, which, nothing against them and I hope they do, is unlikely, nobody is ever going to look at Houston as a hotbed of indie rock talent. I am saying this as a huge fan of Houston bands, who *ahem* has bought a lot of actual records from Houston labels. There are just too many structural reasons for people outside Houston not to care what goes on here.

  15. SCR on September 4th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    National *focus*? Nah, probably not – that’d be a bit of a stretch, sure.

    I think, though, that it *is* entirely plausible for Houston to become at least someplace with a nationally-recognized scene; hell, it’s no less likely, to me, than Omaha being known nationwide for indie-rock. I think all it could take would be one local label really making an impact outside of this city – our Saddle Creek – and then more eyes would be turned this way.

    Whether or not that’d be a *good* thing is a whole other matter entirely. :^)

  16. John on September 4th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    There are other labels who work with Houston artists that get records distributed and noticed not only nationally, but INTERNATIONALLY.

    What about Dull Knife? The Balaclavas LP, Roman Holiday, is one of the best albums to come out of Houston in years! What about The Wiggins(who recently released a 7″ Needless AKA Dum Dum Girls) or Hearts of Animals? The records Brent puts out typically sell quickly and are very well recieved on a national level. Look into it.

    What about Team Science? Aaron has been putting out records on Team Science for over 5 years. He’s released records for national artists such as Franz Nicolay(of The Hold Steady and Against Me!), Matt and Kim, The Swellers, Bomb the Music Industry(now on Asian Man) and more. On a local level, he’s also released records for By The End Of Tonight(Temporary Residence AKA Explosions In The Sky, Maserati, Mono etc), O Pioneers!(now on Asian Man Records), Papermoons(now on Deep Elm), Teenage Kicks, Black Congress, The Energy, and countless other awesome local bands. He’s also THE guy to talk to if you have questions about how to put out records. He also tours constantly and is the tour manager for The Wild Moccains. He’s also clearly unnapreciated by a lot of people in Houston.

    In the last few years Cut Throat has been putting out tons of killer punk records that have all been sold and distributed on a national level. The Born Liars, No Talk, The Secret Prostitutes, Pride Kills, etc.. we can’t forget to mention other strong punk labels like Death Exclamations, Psychowolf, Heavy Leather, and countless others.

    There are more labels I don’t have time to mention but this article kind of seems like a slap in the face to the people who have put countless hours and countless dollars into releasing records and promoting bands. I’ve been to almost every city in the country and you would be surprised just how many people are not only familiar with Houston record labels and bands, they are excited about the music coming out of Houston.

  17. Dremaceo on September 5th, 2010 at 7:47 am

    No, no slaps in the face were intended here, my focus was on “indie” and “rock” as opposed to “punk” or “hip hop,” or other. No disrespect to Cut Throat, I’ve been to see plenty of their artists perform over the years. Team Science, could have been an oversight, as I’m sure I missed many other labels. But when I asked what other labels, It was a legit question for which many of you have shed light.

    PS – Last year I saw 3 Houston bands sign deals or take a huge step towards advancing their career, so I do disagree that we’re not going to become a hotbed, it still may be years and years off, but it’s coming.

  18. W. Ross Wells on September 6th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    One thing that gives me tremendous optimism is the tone of this discussion. There is a lot of clear thinking, maturity and honesty here. A lot of solid ideas. It is very good to hear your thoughts and opinions.

    Thank you Dre for writing the piece and thank you all for participating in the feedback…

    ZenHill’s goal is a realistic one… born in the conditions of our current music climate. Climate can change, maybe not overnight, maybe not drastically. We do believe there is some tremendous talent here. By raising awareness of some of our talented artists, the whole scene benefits… We want to help our artists and our city get some much deserved attention… and encourage others to get involved.

    We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of people that do great work. We can make things happen.

    All the best, Rock on,

    Ross Wells
    ZenHill Records

  19. creg on September 19th, 2010 at 1:24 am

    dang! y’all know a lot about local rock!

  20. Geniedamms on January 21st, 2014 at 12:53 am

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