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Lansing’s GTG Records put out 16 records this year. That’s over 150 songs and more than 10 hours of music. If you wanted to, you could drive all the way to Tennessee listening to nothing but GTG releases from this year alone. For a record label based out of a house that City Pulse once named “Eyesore of the Week,” that’s a lot of music. And honestly, it’s a lot of music no matter what your headquarters look like.
“This was sort of a special thing,” said GTG co-founder Tommy McCord, also known as Tommy Plural, admitting they don’t usually release a terabyte of music in 12 months. “We decided that since it was the 10th working year of the label we wanted to celebrate it.”
McCord traces the beginnings of GTG Records back to 2007, when he and his bandmates, Hattie Danby and Nicholas Richard, put out the Plural’s first EP.
“We first used it as a way to release our demos and our friends’ demos on CD-Rs,” said McCord. “In 2007 we put out an EP called ‘Professor Nanners,’ and that was the first time we had a professional company manufacture the CDs.”
Since then, with 10 years on the record and over 100 releases, the label has taken on a life of its own, McCord said, describing it as more of a collective of local musicians than a business.
“I knew bands would be putting things out this year and I thought if I reached out to a few more people I could figure out one release a month,” said McCord. “We ended up doubling up in some of those months because there was so much happening.”
If you still have some reservations about a record label run out of a dilapidated house on the east side of Lansing, you shouldn’t. This is exactly where the music you eventually love comes from.
Def Jam started in Rick Rubin’s dorm room while he was a student at NYU. Bruce Pavitt dubbed together compilation tapes for an obscure fanzine that later turned into Sup Pop. It doesn’t matter if bands are recording in a sound proofed studio in L.A. or in a Michigan basement between noon and 11 p.m. to comply with noise regulations; great music is great music.
City Mouse’s “Get Right,” released in November on GTG, sounds like the band Sleater Kinney could have been if they didn’t lose their razor-sharp teeth immediately after their first album. GTG’s first release of 2017, The Hunky Newcomers live album, “Harder Stuff Dude,” sounds like Black Flag in an alternate universe where Greg Ginn actually possesses a sense of humor.
And the Hat Madder’s fourth release on GTG, “Rotting On the Vine,” is a proggy, Mars Volta-like record without any of the step-dad connotations that prog-rock often comes with.
I could go on comparing GTG bands to other famous bands you’ve heard of to convince you that Lansing’s music scene is undeniably important, but I won’t because that’s a job McCord happens to be very good at.
“I’ll be honest, I tour the country for large parts of the year and I see cool bands everywhere,” McCord said. “But I feel like the concentration of cool bands in Lansing is higher than anywhere else, and I really don’t think it’s because I’m a hometown pride person. There are just a lot of cool weird things here.”
And with a surplus of cool, weird things to foster in Lansing, McCord said that GTG as an organization simply becomes whatever it needs to be to do its job.
“It’s like what do you want to do as a band,” McCord said. “If the band’s not going to play shows very much we’ll have a mostly digital release and a small run of CDs to have at the release party.”
Similarly, if a band intends on touring and playing out constantly, GTG puts out vinyl releases too.
“With the Plurals, we noticed on tour that bands who had a 7 inch or a 12 inch seemed like they were always selling them,” McCord said. “I was like, we can get in on this, right?” he laughed.
But pressing vinyl is expensive. While this might dissuade other independent labels, McCord only laughed and said, “no one gets rich off this stuff.” And besides, he said, “Records just look sweet. It’s cool to look at it and just to know your music is on it.”
GTG has evolved with the scene, picking up the slack where Lansing’s shortcomings wear even thinner.
“Around 2009, a lot of local venues closed so we started to do more house shows. All ages spaces and intimate venues for touring bands who might not get a lot of people out at Mac’s Bar are important,” said McCord, referring to the GTG House, the label’s headquarters and inclusive local venue.
GTG does the dirty work, too. That’s right, they book tours, a nightmarish process few bands attempt and even fewer succeed at.
“It’s really hard to make people give a shit about you if they don’t know who you are,” said Isaac Vander Schuur, front man in the Hat Madder and GTG engineer. “There’s definitely a lot that the label can provide as far as making sure your tours get booked and you’re not thrown to the wolves out on the road.”
GTG helped book the Hat Madder’s recent west coast tour, insuring Vander Shuur and his bandmates weren’t driving 2,000 miles just to play to a different empty room each night.
Sure, GTG Records can pack out a venue, make sure you not only survive on tour but thrive, all while manufacturing and distributing your record, but what about all the hopeless losers like me and you who aren’t in a band? What’s GTG doing for us besides eating up all the space on our Zunes?
“My goal is to show people there’s a lot of great music being made out there and that it’s still possible to have fun in America in the Trump Administration,” McCord said.
“It’s really important in times of discontent to have an outlet for expressing your frustrations and opening up communication with more people,” said McCord. “Shows with a positive energy are great ways to meet people and find more allies for your cause.”
And whatever your stance on safe spaces is, I’m sure we can all agree seeing a show without getting punched out or molested by some creep is preferable if not important.
“You get all these people in a room together and everybody just enjoys each other’s company, you can really tell,” said Vander Schuur. “When you play a show in front of a GTG audience you get an inspiring vibe back from them, even if you’re not having your best night. They still have your back front and center, waiting to see what you’re going to do next. That’s why I started playing music in the first place and that’s why I’m still doing it, because I’m a part of this label.”