Crystal Ma ‘21

Truth Revolution Recording Collective, Windsor, CT

Truth Revolution Recording Collective is an independent recording label made up of artists who did not want to conform to the bureaucracy and loss of control associated with the operations of traditional record labels. TRR is a working community of artists who own the music they create. Instead of signing artists, owning records, and making all the decisions, TRR makes partnerships with artists so that they can maintain their own musical freedom. Some albums are fully recorded and produced by TRR, but the vast majority of their releases come to them half finished. The label then finalizes the album with the artist, releases it, (digitally and physically—pressing vinyls and burning CDs) and handles distribution.

TRR genre-bends jazz with salsa and salsa with bassline. Although they do not limit themselves to specific genres as most commercial recording labels do, a lot of the artists affiliated with the label make Afro-Cuban or Afro-Latin jazz. TRR releases albums that reflect a deep understanding of the Latin Jazz tradition, while taking the music somewhere fresh–redefining what Latin Jazz is considered to be in the 21st century. The collective has worked with such artists as Christian Scott, Ralph Peterson Jr., Johnny Rivero (a.k.a. Little Johnny), Ray Vega, Sarah Charles, and many other great jazz artists. In 2017, Entre Colegas, an album released on the label by Andy Gonzalez, was nominated for the Grammys.

During my internship I shadowed Zaccai and helped him out with various tasks and projects involved in directing, managing and producing for the label. Streaming represents 80% of all recorded-music-industry revenue. Yet artists receive very little from that pool—money to them comes from concert receipts, merchandise sales, and brand sponsorships and endorsements. One person buying an album is the monetary equivalent to 2,290 streams on Spotify. Zaccai has been building a campaign with artists to shed light on this issue. Participating artists are removing their albums from streaming services such as Apple music, Spotify, and Amazon music; changing the availability of their music encourages streaming platforms to pay artists more. 

I reached out to artists to talk about this shift and have been doing research on different digital distribution platforms (CD Baby, Distrokid, Tunecore etc.). Currently, TRR uses CD Baby to distribute their music. So, I have been helping Zaccai figure out how to change the digital distribution settings on CD Baby to remove availability on streaming platforms. It has been particularly difficult to remove albums from Apple and Amazon music without also removing them from the Apple store/Amazon store to purchase.   

I have also been working to expand the physical distribution of TRR by calling CD/record stores that carry music from independent musicians and coordinating either the purchase of CDs or consignment schemes. We are trying to bypass large distributors by selling directly to stores. This involves an initial call and many follow-up emails to coordinate bulk purchasing or consignment schemes. 

One album was released during the span of my internship: Flash of the Spirit by Santi Debriano. I was involved in promoting and publicizing the album by creating promotional graphics to be posted on TRR’s social media sites and newsletter. I designed a Facebook ad which we ran for 5 days. Finally, I also found, shared and circulated reviews of the album that were published on music magazines leading up to its official release. 

TRR Collective is currently in the middle of producing, recording, mixing, and mastering a compilation record titled “American Classical Music” which features 30 different independent artists. I have also been helping Zaccai tie up loose ends by contacting artists to send in their parts etc. I was able to watch Zaccai mix and master a couple of the tracks which gave me some introductory familiarity with the production process.

Zaccai is building an app named Riff. The goal of Riff is to circumvent some of the communication issues caused by algorithms used by sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Riff is a mobile app that allows artists to directly let their followers know everything they are doing. It sends out alerts about events, news, new releases and videos and there are no email promo blockers on Riff or algorithms that determine which fans see which posts. On Riff, you receive a notification each time an artist you follow posts something or there is a new post on a tag that you follow. I have been helping make posts in Riff on behalf of TRR. A final small side project I have been working on is to update descriptions on videos of performances that have been uploaded into the YouTube account so that they can be published. 

Professionally, this internship allowed me to see the nature and substance of work required to run an independent music label. In a digital era where artists can make their own music at home and sell records without really needing that platform that a label would traditionally provide; I am interested in the role of independent labels. Working with TRR provided me a unique perspective of the role independent labels play as a way of community building. Having the opportunity to see the process of streamlining the way an album is released and assisting in their broader range of services such as producing videos and merchandise, managing distribution through Bandcamp and CD baby allowed me to see how musicians and independent labels self-organize and operate in the modern, digital age. 

Academically, I learned a lot about issues and concerns musicians face with regards to the dominance of music streaming as the primary way people listen to music. I learned that these issues are important to me and that as a listener/fan I have the responsibility to take direct action in support of artist autonomy and the ability for artists to value their own work. 

In all, this internship has been an amazing experience and I would really like to thank the internship sponsors and the ‘68 Center for Career Exploration for giving me the opportunity to work with TRR this month.