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Given the beloved alt-country label’s recent troubles, this is probably the best news we could’ve gotten—but it’s too soon to say whether Bloodshot will keep releasing music.

by Mark Guarino

October 22, 2021

Bloodshot Records, the Chicago record label that launched the alternative-country genre in the mid-1990s, was purchased this week by a newly formed global investment group that plans to manage and monetize its back catalog.

Exceleration Music announced the deal Friday, October 22. Through a spokesperson, Bloodshot said it will “work to ensure a smooth transition for the artists on the label, to enhance the availability of their music across both the physical and digital markets and to ensure revenues flow to the artists for the sale and consumption of that music.”

Exceleration e-mailed the label’s artists Friday morning with the news and added that it wanted to “right the ship.”

“We are fans of your music, have attended your shows, have been to the Yard Dog BBQs at SXSW and are committed to ensuring you have a partner that will do right by you, and protect your interests,” the e-mail read in part. The Reader obtained a copy of the message through a representative of a former Bloodshot artist. Exceleration also said it would contact each artist individually to discuss the transition.

In January the Reader reported that Bloodshot owed at least $500,000 in unpaid royalties and other related earnings to artists and songwriters. Through a spokesperson, the company said, “great progress has been made to catch up on royalty obligations” and they are “working with members of the Bloodshot team to make sure that commitments are honored. . . . We are working to ensure that no artist will be left in the cold and that no obligations are left outstanding.”

On Wednesday, Rob Miller, a Bloodshot cofounder, posted a lengthy message to the label’s Facebook page announcing his departure from the label. “I will no longer be a part of the label I started. . . . It’s not what myself, the staff or the artists wanted, but few get to write their final chapter,” he wrote.

Miller did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment, but his fellow cofounder Nan Warshaw told the Reader via e-mail that the new owners give the label “the type of opportunity which I had hoped Bloodshot would find for its artists. This passing of the torch ensures that the legacy of nurturing and celebrating unique indie music will live on.” She characterized Exceleration as “indie leaders who will honor Bloodshot’s history and are ideally suited to carry Bloodshot’s artistically rich legacy forward.”

Bloodshot released its first recording in 1994 and soon became the beloved label home of groundbreaking artists such as Robbie Fulks, the Old 97’s, the Waco Brothers, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, Ryan Adams, and Justin Townes Earle. Over the years its sound also expanded to include neosoul and garage rock. 

When allegations emerged in 2019 that Adams, who’d released his first solo album on Bloodshot in 2000, had psychologically abused several women and engaged in sexually exploitive texts and phone calls with a minor, outrage erupted among fans on social media. The resulting public discussion motivated singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless, who’d been on the label since 2011, to announce that she’d been sexually harassed, both verbally and physically, over a period of five years by Mark Panick, Warshaw’s longtime domestic partner. (Loveless never pressed criminal charges, and Panick has said he recalls the events differently.) Warshaw resigned but retained her 50 percent ownership stake, and in the years since she and Miller have been locked in a standoff about the label’s future. 

Exceleration would not say how much it paid for Bloodshot, but in April 2019, an external valuation estimated its worth at $3.2 million, according to a former staffer. That number may have been inflated, though, because it didn’t take into account the label’s unpaid royalties (and couldn’t take into account the effects of the pandemic on the business). 

Exceleration launched in early 2020. Cofounder Glen Barros is a former chief operating officer of Concord Music Group, a Beverly Hills-based company that owns legendary U.S. jazz, soul, and roots labels Fantasy, Prestige, Riverside, Loma Vista, and Rounder Records. The company was behind Hear Music, the Starbucks-affiliated label that released albums by artists such as Paul McCartney and Carly Simon. Exceleration’s first acquisition was London-based jazz label Candid Records. Other principals in the company include Dave Hansen, former general manager of Epitaph Records; Charles Caldas, former CEO of Merlin, a global digital music licensing agency for independent labels (which also employed Hansen as chairman); Amy Dietz, former general manager of Ingrooves; and John Burk, former president of Concord.

The company is run virtually, with executives living in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, and London. Its spokesperson said that “it’s too early to comment” whether Bloodshot will continue to have a Chicago presence or if it will retain any former staffers.

Hansen said he is “honored” to continue Bloodshot’s legacy.

“Bloodshot is a vitally important part of American music history, a genre-defining label founded on passion and vision, dedicated to bringing a unique set of artists from its musical orbit to the world. It represents exactly the kind of company that fits Exceleration’s founding ethos, which is to preserve and enhance the legacies of extraordinary independent companies and artists,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to working to keep the Bloodshot history alive and relevant for many years to come.”

Last January, Exceleration invested in Chicago-based Alligator Records. While the company doesn’t own the 50-year-old blues label outright, the agreement between them allows Exceleration to handle Alligator’s financial, operational, and administrative functions. In an e-mail, label founder Bruce Iglauer said the partnership gives his staff greater freedom to promote its current roster and sign new artists.

“I know them to be people of great integrity with a lifelong commitment to independent music and artists. Already I’ve learned from them, and Alligator is undertaking some new approaches to marketing. . . . I see this as a ‘win-win’ for Alligator and Exceleration,” he said.

Exceleration is also partnered with the Ray Charles Foundation to jointly issue unreleased recordings in the future.

Kathie Russell, manager of Bloodshot artist Sarah Shook, said Bloodshot owns Shook’s first two albums even though she’s currently signed to Thirty Tigers. “We’re moving forward, and as long as they honor their obligations to pay our royalties, we don’t have much room to complain, legally speaking.” She said the new ownership told her via e-mail Friday that all future royalties “will be paid correctly.”

For some artist managers, the news is welcome because it may mean their clients see more earnings from older Bloodshot recordings. The new owners bring “a level of experience and integrity that is much needed in this moment. I look forward to working with them in both protecting and creating new opportunities on the catalog Lydia Loveless has with the label,” said Howard Greynolds, Loveless’s manager.

Singer-songwriter William Elliott Whitmore, a more recent Bloodshot signee, said in a statement that he is “happy and relieved” the label ended up with “independent-minded folks who have a long history of looking out for artists’ interests.”

As for the possibility of future recordings being released through Bloodshot, the Exceleration spokesperson said that “given the recent difficulties at the label it is too early to say exactly what will happen.” Once the label is stabilized, though, that will give the company a “better idea as to whether new releases will be part of the plans.”

“Stay tuned,” the spokesperson said.

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