Brought to You by Jack Daniels

Third Man Records Are Not in This For The Money, and That’s Why it Works

In the second of a series of articles brought to you by Jack Daniels, we talk about the label that have painted Nashville’s skyline with colour and hope.

22 November 2016, 3:53pm

This past summer one record label quite literally made their stratospheric ambitions a reality by sending the first phonographic record up into space and playing it. Led by the vision of Jack White, the organisation's co-founder, Third Man Records crafted a "space proof" turntable named 'The Icarus Craft' and lifted it into the upper atmosphere of earth to play a gold-plated 12" copy of Carl Sagan's iconic "A Glorious Dawn". 

Clearly, Third Man Records are not like traditional music companies. They don't shower money on the most expensive artists and marketing campaigns. Instead, they're far more unconventional. They've created the "world's fastest record" and a record store/music venue on wheels. Ultimately though, their biggest triumph has been their involvement within their home city's community. Though this may seem strange to the sort of record label executive who has grown comfortable with expensing their credit card through the rooms and restaurants of London or New York, Third Man have succeeded in creating a record label made from the heart. Plus, they're using old world values to shape a future for analogue music and Nashville alike.

With a mantra built upon "pure imagination", Third Man have transformed a bleak, brick clad space into a factory for fun, music and the surreal. There's a novelty emporium of machines: like the Mold-a-rama, which spits out wax reproductions of Jack White's guitar, or the only Scopitonos Machine in the world to play modern films. But Third Man's true heart beats from the team behind it all. Lead by 'Third Man Consigliere' Ben Swank, they work around the clock - loading boxes into yellow and black trucks, helping out in the record store, or dressed in Third Man lab coats aiding performing artists in the Blue Room.

The Third Man workforce are made up of college students on generous internships, outsourced professionals and, significantly, locals from the area. All workers are welcome to essential benefits such as health insurance, six-month paid maternity leave, three-month paid maternity leave and more, making it a rare bastion of hope in local employment. In an interview with Nashville Scene, Swank said: "We wanted to be part of the conversation with people and establish ourselves as part of the community. I think we're there now, with the label. It feels like a Nashville institution."

When you consider that recent releases from the label have included pieces by locals like achingly beautiful instrumentalist William Tyler, experimental trio Coupler and electronic punk group Essential Tremors, it's hard to deny them that. Then there's Nashville's Margo Price, who has transitioned into a US top 10 scoring, SNL-appearing rising star. These success stories prove to local musicians that Third Man is capable of providing both a platform of mobility between the city's scene and national recognition. But above all, Third Man is interested in fairly progressing and aiding the people of Nashville.

Over the past few years, they've not only hosted gay pride parties for the LGBT community – with proceeds going to the Orlando shootings victims' charity Pulse Victims Fund -  but Jack White has recently joined a gender equality council ran through the mayor's office. He will be tasked with chipping away at the issue that is the pay gap and workers' rights across the city. In the press conference for the announcement, he pleaded with businesses: "As owner of the record label Third Man records, with locations in both Nashville and Detroit, I am proud to say that since 2013 all employees of my record label have had a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour, regardless of gender. I encourage small businesses to do the same, it is possible. You won't go broke. A person shouldn't need two jobs just to have food and shelter. And if small businesses like mine can do this, billion dollar businesses like Walmart can do it as well."

This about sums up Third Man's philosophy: a company who leads by example. A company who, as White told The Guardian, "have almost no consideration for profit, but that's why we're highly profitable. People have always told me over the years: 'You have such a mind for business and marketing.' That's hilarious because I never ever think about it. I've never chased after hits and I've never chased after people attention. Third Man Records stands for a lot of things and when you stand for things, people come to you." 

With new developments, better work prospects and interest in these rejuvenated communities growing, it's hard to disagree that the longer they stand by their principles, the longer they will paint Nashville's skyline with colour and hope. 

To find out more about the 150th anniversary of Jack Daniel's visit here.