This weekend meet Beck Rustic, owner of Swelltune Records. Her focus is on roots music / rockabilly and midcentury rock ‘n’ roll on vinyl, with the occasional cd release. She also runs a music festival called The New England Shake-Up, which is three days of bands, record hops, music seminars and more in Framingham, Massachusetts.
In her free time she loves, “Road trips! I love to drive around and find locations of where old recording studios used to be, or where so and so allegedly wrote some song, or old houses where my favorite musicians lived in the 50s… just driving around and hunting these places down is what I spend my free time doing. You run into so many interesting parts of the country that way.. small towns with the best diner you’ve ever been in, little thrift stores with killer, untouched treasures. “Hank Williams ate a sandwich here in 1947!” That is a place I want to go! Admittedly, a lot of the places I travel to are just empty parking lots or fields these days, but you can still stand where it happened. The history is in the dirt, so to speak, and the diners and thrift stores and tourist traps along the way are an added bonus.”
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I run a music festival called The New England Shake-Up, and for it’s 5th year, I wanted to put out a 45 in celebration of that, and then continue on and release some live recordings from the festival over the years. At the time, I wasn’t considering starting a full label, but just a sort of boutique thing where I could put out New England Shake-Up related things.
For the 45 I assembled a “super group” of the musicians that had been part of the Shake-Up since the beginning, including Bloodshot Bill, Sean Mencher, Jittery Jack, Jeremy Kroger, Johnny Sciascia, and Matt Robbins. We recorded it up at Acadia Recording Company in Portland Maine. That original 45 was a song that Sean wrote about the Shake-Up, and the flip was a cover of the Sandy Scott tune, “Shake It Up.” I pressed 1000, with the first 100 of those in “Shake-Up Teal” colored vinyl. It was sold at the event merch booth at the Shake-Up.
Again, my original idea was to put out the 45, and then just some live recordings of Shake-Up performances. But, I guess word got out that I was starting a full record label, because I started getting all these emails and calls about the label from bands and musicians wanting to work with me. I’ve worked with so many bands over the years with my festival, and also booking local shows in the Boston area, so people know my work ethic and how important I think music is. I guess that’s part of the reason for that initial interest in “the label that wasn’t a label yet.” I kinda fell into it, and I love it!
Photo by Ed Conway
What is a day in the life like?
Swelltune Records is run solely by me, so I have to “wear all the hats”. Most of my days are filled with either festival organizing or Swelltune. For Swelltune, I design all the jacket artwork, and the merch, as well as all the promo graphics. I want my musicians to be completely happy with the look of everything, as well as the sound; so I’m on the phone a lot, talking about design.
For the sound of all the Swelltune releases, I use various studios, depending on what my bands want to do, and where they are, so organizing the studio sessions is a big part of things. I try and be at as many of the sessions as I can. We have a relatively new onsite studio here, Jet-Tone Studios run by Shaun Young, so now we have an option of doing sessions here, in-house, with no studio clock ticking. That’s been great. No one feels rushed, and we can really take our time getting everything right, in studio, no matter how many days it takes. I used to spend quite a bit of time booking out the Swelltune Tours, but right now, that’s been on hold for world health reasons, so I’ve really been focusing on the web store which is going well, so a few hours a day is just packing up orders and mailing ’em out.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
The first recording session, for that very first 45, holds a place in my heart. I had become friends with Al Hawkes, who ran a label called “Event Records” in the 50s, and he came to that session. It was really great to have him there, and he became a mentor to me when Swelltune was first forming as a legitimate label. He has since passed, so having him there was really special. That whole day was really memorable… all these musicians, who had been part of my festival since the beginning, coming together to record in celebration of that, was really something. And then holding the actual record, fresh from the pressing plant, I can’t think of anything better than that!
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Oh definitely working with a budget. There are so many things I’d like to do, but I’ve got to consider my budget. Tour costs, pressing plant costs, promo costs… just making sure I keep everything afloat is truly difficult, when you’ve got so many ideas. Just the pacing of things. I’ve got my release schedule paced out for the next 18 months, when, I’d REALLY love to be able to release things quicker if the label could afford it.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Oh man… I’d honestly say “win the lottery!” It’s an expensive thing pressing records, but so worth it.
Most importantly though, I’d say, if you’re going to start a record label, is to make sure anyone you’re working with feels appreciated and valued… the musicians on your label, the sound engineer at the studio, the folks in the pressing plant, just everyone. Everyone you work with is important to the process, and the end goal is a killer sounding record. If everyone feels important, and valued, and they trust you as a label owner… the music you put out will be great.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
The interest in vinyl right now is exciting! There are younger kids buying record players now, and that’s exciting. Streaming is the norm now I guess, so it’s really great when you see some of the younger kids out there looking through record bins, or at record fairs kinda sticking a toe in, and slowly getting into it.
Also, the trend of elevating record artwork is exciting to me. I like that the whole music experience can be treated as an art experience as well, die-cut jackets, special hand-made limited edition packaging, I think that stuff is great. I think it really honors the music to treat the vessel it’s on, in that way.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
There are so many out of work musicians right now, so it’s really important to buy music directly from them if you can, in order to support them. A lot of bands and musicians had tours planned for records they’re putting out, that just got completely wiped out and canceled. There are a lot of folks sitting on piles of tour merch and records that they were counting on selling out on the road. Obviously, record labels need the sales too, but if you can buy directly from a musician right now, do that!
Tell me what you’re listening to right now.
I love old 40s and 50s country, old and new rockabilly, midcentury rock ‘n’ roll, and weirdo novelty records. There’s so much good music out there, both old treasures to uncover, and new artists to discover!
Find Beck Rustic:
Swelltune Records: @swelltunerecords
New England ShakeUp: @newenglandshakeup
Swelltune Records: @swelltunerecords
New England ShakeUp: @thenewenglandshakeup
Swelltune Records: www.SwelltuneRecords.com
New England ShakeUp: www.NewEnglandShakeUp.com