Founded in 2000 by former Skillet guitarist Ken Steorts, the Visible Music College (formerly the Visible School Music and Worship Arts College) is a Christian, faith-based school that offers multiple music-industry-related degree programs in Memphis.
In 2008, the school announced plans to relocate from its original home in Lakeland, Tennessee, into the heart of the city — first at its current Midtown location shared with Lifelink Church and eventually downtown at 200 Madison Avenue (across the street from AutoZone Park), which was purchased in 2009 and became the college's home last year.
Now, Visible Music College is rolling out the next phase of its plan with the launch of an independent, not-for-profit record label, Madison Line Records.
"Madison Line has been a component of the college's strategic plan from its founding, and we will work with the college daily," Madison Line Records CEO Sam Garrett says. "Visible Music College has provided artist development services to students for a decade. Simultaneously, the music industry has been asking: What is next for the industry? and Why is our model not working? Madison Line Records is the answer to these questions."
At first glance, the creation of an indie label might not seem like such a bold or innovative concept, especially in a town like Memphis, which already has so many. But Madison Line intends to set itself apart by doing business in radically new ways.
"There are a number of distinctions between Madison Line Records and traditional record labels," Garrett says. "We are artist-focused. We are transparent with the books, and writers receive 100 percent of the writer's share of royalties. We introduce donors and patrons to artists. We are focused on artist development every day through constant attention. We exist to change the recording industry."
To jump-start the process, Madison Line Records will start with an eclectic roster of newly signed artists from across the U.S.: alt-rock/pop bands Until June and She Said, '80s-style Christian metal act J&R, alt-country singer Jo, and two locals: the Visible Worship Band and hip-hop artist/producer Cayerio.
"Variety is the spice of life," Garrett says. "We believe that an artist community focused on contrasting styles and collaboration is the best environment for growth, both personally and professionally. Diversity is a cornerstone of Madison Line Records."
Despite its close ties with a Christian-music college, Garrett says Madison Line will not strictly be a Christian-music label.
"We will sign a recording contract with artists who share our goals and vision and provide booking, production, and other services with any artist," Garrett says. "Projects will be released into both the mainstream and Christian markets. Currently, we have six signed artists with two projects being released into the Christian market and four into the mainstream market."
On March 1st, Madison Line will celebrate its launch with a kickoff party featuring live performances by all six of the label's artists at the future home of the Visible Music College at 200 Madison, where the label will also share office space and recording studios. But despite the fact that Madison Line Records has yet to release an album (the signed acts have scattered release dates scheduled throughout this summer and fall), the label is already looking ahead to the next class of incoming talent.
"Madison Line is currently discovering and talking to artists across the country and in Europe. We anticipate signing another five to 10 artists this year," Garrett says.
The Madison Line Records launch party is Thursday, March 1st, at 7:30 p.m. at the Visible Music College site (200 Madison). Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. For more information, visit visible.edu.