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'A Year In Your Ear': NW Record Label Signs 52 Little-Known Artists For 1 Song Each

Courtesy of London Tone.
Kim Virant performs on stage.

A Northwest record label has made it a little easier for musicians to launch their careers.

London Tone has signed contracts with 52 mostly unknown artists for just one song, and allowed them record the single at the famed London Bridge Studios in Shoreline.

London Bridge is the place that helped launch Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. On a recent visit to the studio, I found a six-piece funk band called The Fabulous Party Boys warming up, and Owuor Arunga, the trumpet player for Mackelemore, going over some freshly laid tracks.

This buzzing studio is where the new label London Tone is producing most of its work. Instead of investing time and money in entire albums, the focus is on pushing out one new single each week. It’s a yearlong project called "52x52: A Year In Your Ear."

‘Even The Old Broads Can Make It’

The project kicked off in January with a song, titled “Pilot,” written and performed by Kim Virant. In the golden age of the Northwest grunge scene, Virant fronted the band Lazy Susan.

“When the ‘90s and all that was coming through, everyone got signed around me, but my band, Lazy Susan, never did,” Virant said.

Virant has been making music and performing over the years, but this is the first time she’s ever had a contract.

“It was great when they asked me. I’m 48. I finally got signed. Even the old broads can make it,” she said.

'It’s A Monstrous Task'

Jeff Ross, one of London Tone’s partners says the idea for the project came from seeing the trend of people buying more single tracks than entire albums, and also knowing there’s a lot of great music that isn’t seeing the light of day.

“This really came from the fact there is a tremendous amount of talent out there. They are recording and putting out great recordings all the time. The bands take the recordings and walk out the studio, and nothing happens,” Ross said. 

The amount of work London Tone puts into promoting these bite-sized pieces of music is substantial. Each of the 52 professionally-produced songs require a press release. The label also shoots four-minute videos of bands and singer-songwriters talking about their work. Each song costs the company between $4,000 and $8,000 to produce and promote.

“It’s a monstrous task,” Ross said.

Every Song Has To Have Its Own Life’

Ross says just because most of the songs are being recorded in the studio that helped launch grunge onto the world stage doesn’t mean London Tone is sticking to that one genre, or any type of music, really.  

Credit Courtesy of London Tone.
Courtesy of London Tone.

“One week we may be doing a band like Anjuman, which is one of our more avant-garde releases, which is India Ragas over Afro-Cuban rhythms. And the next week, we may be doing a country song by Jessica Lynne,” he said.

Jessica Lynne moved from Denmark to the Northwest a few years ago to pursue her love of country music. For Lynn, writing songs is as essential as breathing and eating. Her song “Calling Me Home” was released in the sixth week of the project. Lynne says making musicians focus on one track creates better music.

“There’s no room for, ‘Ah it’s a half-OK decent song. We’ll put it in there.’ There’s no room for that. Every song has to have its own life, its own story, its own place in the world. And if it doesn’t, keep writing, because the next one will,” Lynne said.

‘There’s Still Hope’

So is this working? Are these musicians getting their songs on streaming services like Pandora, or being used in commercials? Virant’s song, "Pilot," has seen some success.

“It’s in Starbucks right now. So when you’re in there buying a coffee you might hear it up above playing,” she said. “I think that’s very thrilling. Who knew? See? There’s still hope.”

And at least one grunge song did make it into the yearlong project’s lineup, but it’s not by a Northwest band. The group, called Neodea, is  from Italy. And when the band recorded its song,  “Diretta TV” at the famed London Bridge Studios, one of the band members was so happy to be there that he got onto his hands and knees and kissed the parking lot.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.