For Brian Kurtz, it all started with a Fisher-Price record player in his Brooklyn apartment.
When he was a kid, Kurtz fell in love with music while spending hours listening to Michael Jackson and the Pointer Sisters on the cheap set.
These days, the 33-year-old has upgraded his sound system but still spends as much time as possible reveling in the possibilities of records. It took him time to find his niche, but Kurtz has lately become a major player on the local indie scene, thanks to his imprint, Limited Fanfare Records.
"I'm not a huge label, but I'm very patient," says Kurtz, who's won plaudits by focusing on his acts' growth over net sales.
Kurtz followed a winding path to running an indie label. He moved to Coral Springs in 1988 with his family and realized during his days at Taravella High that his talents leaned more toward managing bands than performing in them. After graduating, he began working with several notable local groups, including pioneering emo rock band Sunday Driver and psychedelic punk outfit Lil Daggers.
As he watched in frustration at the way his artists' releases were routinely mistreated, Kurtz toyed with the idea of starting his own label.
"I already knew how to manage bands, knew how to promote a record, and with my graphic design background, I could even put together a decent layout," Kurtz says. "All that was missing was a name to attach to the final product."
But putting out records takes serious coin. Kurtz wasn't exactly drowning in cash, though he was rich in rare vinyl. By 2011, he made a gut-wrenching call: His 1,000-plus record collection was mostly liquidated to drum up the capital to start Limited Fanfare.
"I sold over 80 percent of my collection," Kurtz says. "I thought it would kill me, but it was worth it."
Limited Fanfare's first release was Lil Daggers' eponymous debut, which he put out in April 2011 after another label kept "dropping the ball," he says. Kurtz soon added Nashville throwback garage rockers the Ettes and a record by another band he managed, shoegazing heavy metal troupe MonstrO.
His gamble has paid off. He's averaged 30 releases a year ever since. Last year, Limited Fanfare released its highest-selling record to date, the twanging alternative country record Mexican Coke by Nashville-based Denney and the Jets. The record found favor on college radio, topped some year-end lists, and has sold more than 2,000 units since its April 8 release.
Kurtz says he has attracted bands by taking a novel approach: often partnering financially with the bands. "It's the smart thing to do," Kurtz says. "It makes the bands more vested in the record, giving them an incentive to play more shows and promote."
Even as his label has grown, Kurtz says he's in no rush to find the next Arcade Fire, even if he takes North Carolina's Merge Records (which put out the Montreal group's chart-topping 2010 record, The Suburbs) as an inspiration.
"I like that we have grown organically," he says. "I'm only going to do this on my own terms. I don't mind if it takes me ten more years to release a record that sells 20,000 copies."
-- by Alex Rendon
We'll profile those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three MasterMind Award winners will be announced February 26 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit newtimesartopia.com.
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