“No one is immune from the ramifications of this crisis. Businesses have been forced to close, people are losing their jobs, and many people are just freaking the f*ck out (*raises hand).”
That’s an April 2 excerpt from the “About” page for Quiet Contender, a Little Rock-based (but globally-minded) record label founded by Joshua Asante and Seth Baldy. Luckily for the rest of us, Baldy and Asante’s particular panic response has a decidedly outward focus: to find compelling artists whose voices are undersupported and amplify that signal. We talked with Baldy and Asante over the phone Tuesday afternoon.
So, starting a record label during a global pandemic! How different does Quiet Contender look now than when you first started creating the vision for a record label?
Seth Baldy: Well, it couldn’t be any more different, right? For both of us, we’re coming from the perspective of this being the first time we’ve ever started a record label. So everything is new to us. And imagine mixing that into a scenario where, suddenly, everything is new to everybody. We’re learning quite a bit, both about the industry and about how to adjust to the circumstances that we’re in right now.
Joshua Asante: Working together [at the Clinton Foundation] was kind of the first job we had together, and it was kind of novel territory, too. The work that we were doing, I guess, was kind of on the vanguard of energy conservation work, beta testing some modeling software.
So we enjoyed each other’s company from the jump. And in some kind of not-ideal, very new work environments, you know? That part is not so difficult to navigate. I feel — you know, I was talking to Will [Boyd] when we did the interview a little while back, and I kind of felt like I came across as a little more pessimistic than I actually am, specifically as it relates to starting [this project] now. We’ve been talking about this for years, and kind of easing into it, doing events under the Quiet Contender name. I don’t think there was ever gonna be a more opportune time. But this is still kind of ridiculous to do.
I feel pretty optimistic about it. I like the fact that so much is brand new. I can’t speak for Seth, but for me, it eases the anxiety that so much of this territory is new for everybody, and that so much of the industry is having to take a pause. The important things are being pulled to the forefront of the industry. It’s not all terrible.
Yeah. I made a mistake when doing another interview earlier in this whole pandemic thing. I think I asked if the person I was interviewing could see some sort of greater good in all of this upheaval. And that wasn’t the right way to phrase that. I should have asked something more like, “Is there good that can come from seeing so many things with fresh eyes?”
Asante: Right, right. Yeah, I think that’s the more optimistic perspective to take, rather than just to lean into all the terror. And the terror part is not new. We all have friends and loved ones all over the world who live in danger zones. It’s like, you live in Tel Aviv or whatever, things are being upended all the time. And people still have aspirations, and they still have dreams. And they still have to find a place they can go be quiet and make those things happen.
Baldy: I think, too, for us, that transition from not being able to tour, or do all the traditional things that we were hoping to do in terms of the rollout — specifically of Joshua’s record — we just weren’t gonna be able to do that. So I think we quickly realized we needed to figure out a way to get our stuff out in a way that made sense, and we really wanted to do something that was helping other businesses. Because there are well-established businesses out there that are really hurting by not being able to be open right now.
So that’s kind of how we fell into this partnership with White Water. We’re good friends with the folks at White Water, and wanted to do something to help them out in a way that was meaningful … to help sell t-shirts, and to raise funds for them. … I think we’ve been able to do that pretty well, there’s been a lot of support, surprisingly from people all around the world wanting to help them, which has been a source of inspiration for me, for sure.
“Record label” can mean a lot of different things these days. What’s most important to you to get done with Quiet Contender? What’s the mission?
Asante: For me, the primary mission is to secure a space for art in general that may be under the radar, that may not have a big machine behind it. That’s not isolated to Little Rock, or Arkansas, or even the U.S. I feel like my algorithms understand me, to some degree, so I have a lot of interest in art from all over the globe that I’d like to give some sort of platform to, including my own work.
One of our breakthroughs, in figuring out what our mission is: One day, we were in a meeting and we were looking at our website before it was done, and Baldy was like, “Over there on the menu tab,” he’d like to see, you know, “Artists, Prints, Books, etc.” For me, that kind of opened my mind, like, we don’t have to be isolated, or because we’re a record label we have to just put out music. We want to put out good content in general — music, visual, whatever it is. So right now we’re trying to create the format for artists, starting with my record, thinking about how to support a rollout with interesting content, and interesting merchandise that’s not just an album and some t-shirts.
Primarily, that’s it for me. Just making the space for a diverse lineup of artists to do what they do, and be as supportive as we can be.
Baldy: One of the things we’ve talked about quite a bit is that we want to be that company that amplifies voices that typically don’t get as much support as a larger artist would. I would love it if we could work with an artist on a project, and then they become too big for us and move on.
Asante: Oh, absolutely.
Baldy: We don’t want to be the type of group that ties someone down. We want to be the type that helps launch somebody’s career. So those are the types of projects we’re looking for — people who haven’t found their niche yet. We want to help them get to where they can really thrive, and where it’s a realistic avenue for them to pursue their artwork.
Right now, the label site is home to a gorgeous new 7” from Joshua Asante, plus a bunch of White Water Tavern merch and these amazing collectible posters from past iterations of your Summer Soulstice and Winter Soulstice parties. Is there anything else in the works, or even just something you really hope lands on that page?
Asante: I’m a dreamer, so yeah, there’s tons of stuff in the works. One thing we talked about that will probably be next up for me is a book — a poetry book. After the full-length. So I guess the chronology is the 7”, then the full-length, and then the next project I want to release is a book of poetry.
And I’m actively pursuing other bands and artists. Baldy, you can correct me, but I feel like we’re gonna lean into doing the singles, the 7-inches and 45s for a second, in terms of new artists?
Baldy: Yeah, I think that’s going to be the way we move forward. We’re new, so it makes sense to do some smaller projects to build a relationship with that artist. Then, should those go well, to move on to bigger projects. That could change if we run into an artist that we’re extremely excited about, and they want to do a full-length, and we want to do a full-length with them.
The biggest project we have on our plates right now is Joshua’s record. And one of the things that we are constantly wrapping our brains around is: How do we put the music out in a way that doesn’t fall flat? To be able to get people’s attention. We can’t go into places to play, so we’re having to do that digitally, and to find a way to engage with an audience remotely. So we have to be savvy about that. It’s a struggle that every musician is having to face right now, so we’re not certainly not special in that, but it’s an interesting challenge for us. We’re excited to face it.