Heads-up entrepreneurs with a special love for local music, Tulsans Lauren and Justin Orcutt seem to be the perfect pair to launch a new record label. They know their artists, they know their marketing, and they know their promotion. With their first disc scheduled to roll out this month under the Okie Tone Records banner, this savvy husband-and-wife team are equally adept at using the latest social media techniques and classic advertising strategies, including appearances in print and on radio and television, to get their product into the public consciousness.
Nowhere is their mixture of the new and the time-tested better illustrated than in their decision to release Okie Tone product on vinyl records, a medium that was supposed to have died out with the rise of, in order, eight-track tapes, cassettes and CDs – to say nothing of downloads. But vinyl never quite faded away, and there are many who swear that a song sounds far better when it’s coming from a black grooved platter on a turntable.
That’s one reason for Okie Tone investing in vinyl. But there are others.
“In this digital age, with iPods and all the technology, anyone can burn a CD,” explains Justin. “In order to have a higher-end product, you have to go back to vinyl. Not only is it a much warmer sound than CDs or downloads; it also gives a sense of familiarity.”
Putting out an actual album also allows for plenty of art and liner notes, which Justin sees as another plus. Those who may not be familiar with Okie Tone acts – which at this point include the Brandon Clark Band, Mike Williams, and John Moreland and the Dust Bowl Souls – can pick up an LP, see a photo of the act and read all about it in the liner notes.
“Vinyl,” he adds, “gave us the opportunity to do something to distinguish ourselves as a label. We wanted to try to have that classic feel while still doing something new.”
Still, Okie Tone isn’t about to ignore the digital market.
“People who buy one of our vinyl albums will get a free digital download to put on their iPods or smartphones,” says Justin, “for when they go to the gym or whatever.”
Justin and Lauren come to Okie Tone from a successful Tulsa venture they began a couple of years ago called You Buy We Fly.
“It was a delivery service,” he says. “We ran errands, picked up dry cleaning – we’d even go by McDonald’s and pick up your lunch. If it fit in a standard vehicle, we delivered it. Then, we started partnering with local businesses – Reasor’s, Joe Momma’s Pizza, Petty’s – and they outsourced their deliveries to us.”
The unusual business drew the attention of KOTV’s Rick Wells, who did a story on the duo. It was picked up by CNN and, remembers Justin, “When we got up the next morning we had a call from Boston, wanting to know about a franchise.”
But, more important, the business was also teaching the newly minted entrepreneurs about the potential in their own backyard.
“With You Buy, we noticed there was a huge trend toward people thinking locally and wanting to buy locally,” says Lauren. “Whether it was tomatoes, t-shirts or toilet paper, they were looking for a connection in the things they bought. Just about the only thing they were outsourcing was their music.”
It all came together when the two were out on a delivery, listening to one of their favorite discs. The artist was Tulsa-based singer-songwriter John Moreland, whom they’d first discovered in a local venue – Justin believes it was the Mercury Lounge.
“We’re both huge fans, and we started asking each other, ‘What’s going on with this guy? Why don’t more people know about him?’
“We thought that all he needed was someone to help him. He’s focused on the actual act of creating songs, which is where he should be, and not on promoting himself. We thought we could help by putting out John Moreland’s records.”
As often happens in these sorts of scenarios, however, one thing led to another. Another Tulsan, Mike Williams – known to fans of hardcore metal for his stint with the internationally-known band the Agony Scene – was performing with Moreland. Williams and his wife were personal friends of the Orcutts, as well. And Moreland had written songs for the Brandon Clark Band, which served as an entrée for Okie Tone. When the dust cleared, the label had signed all three acts.
“Once John was on board, he talked to Brandon about it,” recalls Justin. “Brandon has a huge local following, but he’s ready to go to the next level. His vision aligned with our vision, so we’re aligned with him.”
The honor of the first Okie Tone release goes to Moreland and the Dust Bowl Souls with Everything the Hard Way, which came out as a digital album last fall. Next comes the label’s first live LP, Live at the Cain’s Ballroom by the Brandon Clark Band.
Other releases, including one from Williams, are set to follow.
All of the Okie Tone acts to date could, with little forcing, be placed into the Americana or, more specifically, Red Dirt category, being lyric-based, earthy singer-songwriter music that reflects its time and place. That’s exactly the kind of thing Justin and Lauren were looking for.
“I feel like the general sound of the music we’re putting out is something that sounds organic and belongs here,” says Lauren. “No matter who we give it to, whether it’s a 20-year-old student at TU or a 45-year-old lawyer in south Tulsa, they all connect with it on some level.”
“People really want to connect with what’s here,” adds Justin.
Of course, other local record companies have sprung up over the years, and most of them have fallen short of their noble goal of getting Oklahoma’s music to a wider audience. Lauren and Justin Orcutt and Okie Tone, however, just may be the ones to make it over the long haul.
“I’m not really educated enough to talk about the things that have been done before in that area,” says Justin, “but in the past 10 years, there didn’t seem to be much of an attempt to connect with an overall audience. The music seemed to be targeted for such a small group of people that it couldn’t be sustained. Roots music, Red Dirt, and rock ‘n’ roll are relatable for a lot of people. Heavy metal and hardcore aren’t.”
“I know about a few of the endeavors that have happened in the past,” adds Lauren, “but ours is more of a partnership. He’s a musician, and he likes the kind of music other musicians appreciate. I am a consumer. He has the history and knowledge. I have the perspective of a person picking up a CD at Dwelling Spaces.”