You’re a Chicago-based indie record label and you’ve discovered that your stockrooms are overflowing. Traditional record stores can’t put all of the releases on display, so the challenge is putting about 300 different pieces of vinyl, each by a largely unknown artist, in front of the eyes of the record-buying public. The Numero Group decided that the best option was to pack up a van and hit the road, setting up pop-up stores in a variety of cities.
Ken Shipley founded the label with Rob Sevier and Tom Lunt in 2003, when they had the idea of mining the back stock of American music, rooting out records by artists long forgotten — if they were ever known to begin with. With no American reissue label doing the depth of work that Shipley felt was necessary, and with so many records threatening to disappear into a musical black hole, he and his partners started Numero.
“We approached it from a very anthropological perspective at first," Shipley says, "but also connecting it with great graphic design and trying to find a way to sell records that most people wouldn’t want to buy — but making them so artful and tasteful that you really couldn’t not buy them."
For example, the Columbus, Ohio-based Capsoul label struggled to sell pretty much anything at all in the early 1970s, with the monster operation that was Motown swallowing up any competitors in proximity. The Capsoul name is not familiar to many people, but Numero has made it its business to breathe new life into labels like that.
“Capsoul groups weren’t on national tours with the Supremes or anything like that. They were really hyper-localized groups but the music was incredible,” Shipley says. “The more we’ve managed to do that, which is to shine a light into the corner, the better and more successful we’ve gotten. We do our best work when no one’s watching. Then coming out and being like, ‘There’s this thing that you didn’t know existed, but it’s actually pretty amazing.’”
Many musicians are seeing their records given the spit-and-polish treatment by Numero and then put back on the shelves, despite the fact that the artists haven’t worked in the music industry for years. Some became waiters, others pastors. Some became architects, others civil-rights leaders. The last thing they were expecting was for their youthful dalliance with music to be dug up now. Not that they’re not grateful.
“There are some people who are absolutely blown away, because it’s not that they’re just getting records — they’re getting checks from [the music] being in Mad Men or being in a Super Bowl commercial,” Shipley says. “We’ve changed some people’s lives. They’ve come to be able to rely on this stream of income. One of the ways I like to look at it is that this is an annuity. If you stop treating it like this mistake in your life and start treating it as something really amazing that nobody knew at the time, just that positive energy put into it and letting us get to work, we can really find ways to monetize things that people had written off a long time ago.”
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Starting October 7 in Bloomington, Indiana, the Numero Group will be on tour, traveling to seven cities for thirteen days of pop-up record store craziness. They’ll be at Studio C in Denver on Monday, October 10.
“Every time we make a record, sometimes we under-press it and sometimes we over-press it,” Shipley says. “We’ve made 300 unique titles in the last thirteen years, and it’s impossible for a record store to carry every single Numero title at this point. What ends up happening is that the really great small records just end up being ignored and then not stocked anywhere, and then it’s almost as if they don’t exist. You can’t buy them, you don’t know about them, and they’re not being showroomed. There’s no chance. So this is an opportunity to connect. Regularly, there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000-70,000 people buying Numero records. This is a great opportunity to have the people who started the company playing records the entire time, showcasing what’s really great about Numero and why you should own some of these records.”
With Huckleberry Roasters offering free coffee and an exclusive tour-only single being made available by Numero, it’ll be worth dropping in.
The Numero pop-up store will be at Studio C from 2 to 10 p.m. on Monday, October 10, 2700 Arapahoe Street, Denver.