Bike Rack Brewing launches record label featuring local artists

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 1,746 views 

(from left) Jeff Charlson, partner and CEO of Bike Rack Brewing Co., and Neil Greenhaw, music producer and owner of Haxton Road Studios.

Bike Rack Brewing Co. of Bentonville continues to add to the growing music scene in Northwest Arkansas with the announcement of the Bike Rack record label.

The announcement comes in the context of a budding music industry in downtown Bentonville that includes Haxton Road Studios, Meteor Guitar Gallery, the Academy of Music, House of Songs Ozarks and the Walton Family Foundation’s contemporary art venue for musicians and visual artists called the Momentary, coming in 2020.

The music scene gained more traction this spring when renowned music producer Al Bell announced the relocation of his business to Northwest Arkansas from Little Rock. For Bike Rack Brewing, music is an integral part of its customers’ tap room experience, from its outdoor concerts to its “listening room concert series,” called Brew Room Sessions, said Jeff Charlson, partner and CEO.

“With our brewery, the first thing you’ve got to understand is that we’re an experience business — whether it’s biking, music or a culinary experience. And that’s what we want you to think about when you think of Bike Rack,” he said. “It’s about the experience we have with our customer in our tap room. And then that transforms into them walking into a Walmart and seeing our product on the shelf, and then transferring that experience into grabbing our beer.”

Making sure the experience is beneficial for everyone means building ongoing relationships with the singer-songwriters who regularly play their original music at the brewery, Charlson said.

Playing at the venue is simply “just the tip jar, artist in the corner playing ’90s covers and here’s your 100 bucks.” Charlson said the experience strives to be about the artist, their life and their well-being.

As a result of the relationship, musicians shared with Charlson they needed a consistent place to play regularly night after night. He offers that through the Bike Rack Brewery location at the 8th Street Market in Bentonville. They also told him they needed the ability to cut a record, so for Charlson, the label is a natural progression.

“What we wanted to create with Bike Rack Records was something that’s more about how you support the artist, so the artist doesn’t feel like they have to move to Nashville to pursue their dream,” he said. “They can actually stay in NWA.”

Charlson sat down with Haxton Road Studios owner Neil Greenhaw, and they came up with a plan to produce a high-quality, 180 gram vinyl record to showcase the musicians who regularly play at the brewery. The record, which will retail for under $30, will be unveiled at a public release party and concert on Nov. 9 at Record in downtown Bentonville. Ticket prices for the event have not been determined.

Charlson has also teamed up with Visit Bentonville to hire Ozark Collective to create a documentary about the project, which will release around the time of the concert.

The 11 unsigned Arkansas artists all play at Bike Rack Brewing, and range from solo acts to groups. Each will perform one song on the record, with genres including pop, folk, rock and acoustic. The record, currently in production, will be sent to be pressed to vinyl by July 1. Because of the popularity of vinyl, the process will take four months, Greenhaw said.

Charlson is absorbing all costs for the project. And, while neither he nor Greenhaw would give specific amounts, Charlson said when the entire project is completed, his investment will be in “the tens of thousands.”

“Professional records can range from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what names are attached, where you’re recording and what producers are attached,” Greenhaw said.

Although Charlson hopes to recoup a good deal of his money from ticket and beer sales at the concert, as well as sales of digital downloads and the vinyl record, he looks at the project as an investment.

“I think this is one of the most important things that can build our brand at Bike Rack Brewing Co., so I don’t think it’s an altruistic push,” he said. “You have to look at it and say we are in the total experience business. And this is a unique and crazy thing that just fits so perfectly for a premium beer drinker and our customer and our brand.

“I view this personally as we’re a brand that’s a consumer product brand,” he added. “This would be like supporting a NASCAR event or some football event. We feel like is this is a marketing expense to support local artists that have a deep personal connection with us already. And our feeling is that our customer that comes to our tap room or buys from us on the shelf will appreciate that.”

The Bike Rack brand name will also be in front of each of the group’s fan bases, which number in the hundreds of thousands, Greenhaw said. “So, you’ve got the influence there.”

Artists will not pay anything to record their song. Greenhaw said that is unheard of in the music industry, where artists usually pay points or royalties to those involved, and don’t own the master of their own recording.

“It’s not the old model of ‘We’re going to advance you money and then you owe us and we own you basically for a period of time,’” Greenhaw said. “What we’ve done here is a different model of gifting this to them.”

Since artists will own the masters of the professional quality recording of their original song, they will be able to take it to publishing houses or labels to help jumpstart their career, he said. Bike Rack Brewing will have rights to sell the vinyl record containing the 11 artists. It will be available at the concert, at Bike Rack Brewing locations and other venues in Northwest Arkansas after the November concert.

Charlson believes that just like the popularity of locally crafted beers, the time is right for locally crafted music. Putting together this mix of local, Arkansas artists is like “putting together a mixed pack of local beers.” Charlson and Greenhaw look forward to future years of the label and the artists.

“Can we make it so everyone’s looking forward every year to the release of Bike Rack Records, the best of the unsigned in Arkansas?” Charlson asked. “And maybe we’ll be the springboard for one or two of these groups to do something awesome.”