Matt McArthur multitasks gracefully as he sifts through boxes of vinyl and CDs stacked in his office at the Record Co. in Boston. After more than eight months in the making, Beast, the company’s inaugural compilation of Boston’s best bands and artists, arrived in four pallets at the Massachusetts Avenue recording studio last week. There’s a lot of product to move — 2000 CDs and 3000 LPs, to be exact — and he needs 1,000 pledges to warrant producing a second edition of the comp. McArthur’s keeping his eye on the prize, though, as he preps for a weekend of sales and events, including the release party Saturday (December 17) at Dorchester Brewing Company.
“I hope you don’t mind, I’m just over here with 200 boxes of vinyl, moving things around,” he says over the phone.
McArthur, the executive director of the Record Co., is one-half of the brains and elbow grease behind the upcoming release of Beast. After seven years of subsidizing studio time for musicians on the scene, McArthur and co-founder Jesse Vengrove realized they had yet to start any projects that involved fans. For them, the obvious step was to make a record that displayed Boston’s world-class music scene.
New York City. Los Angeles. Nashville. The states overflow with cities known for producing musical greats, yet despite Boston’s “world class city” reputation, the music coming from the greater Boston area is generally overlooked. While Northeast talent promoters look to Brooklyn and, in recent years, Philadelphia, to sniff out local bands on a regular basis, much of Boston’s music scene remains neglected, even by its own patrons. The purpose of Beast is to prove that the music coming out of Boston was on par with America’s main music cities — to both outsiders and some Bostonians who need a wakeup call.
After parsing through the Boston music scene, McArthur and Vengrove ultimately selected 13 artists to include on the album, mixing styles and genres to fully represent all of Boston’s thriving musical subcultures, from low-key pop jams to basement show-style grunge. Michael Christmas and Dutch Rebelle spit fire verses on their respective rap tracks, which are juxtaposed with the raspy modern blues of Julie Rhodes and the baritone folk of Tigerman WOAH. The picture that Beast paints is a mishmash that’s consistent in only two ways: it’s all local, and it’s all really damn good.
“We’re doing the best we can over here. It’s all uncharted territory,” McArthur says with a tinge of optimism, despite the daunting nature of his project.
For the past eight months, McArthur and co have been selecting artists, recording tracks, and laying out the entire groundwork for Beast. Now it’s just a matter of getting it an audience. At this stage of the game, McArthur spends his time shipping out records and attending fairs and events like the Boston Music Awards to hawk the album.
Moving those first 1,000 units is critical for the project, not only to spread the word about the album and Boston’s music scene, but to start the production of a second edition and stimulate the overall growth of the company and its influence. While the non-profit studio has other sources of financial support, such as donors and local foundations, merchandise sales account for 60 percent of the comp’s budget. The company has invested about $50,000 in the production of Beast, more than half of which has gone directly to the artists, engineers, and producers on the album.
As executive director, McArthur is responsible for finances, fundraising, and making sure that the company breaks even when all is said and done. He chuckles when asked how the company can afford such a project. “I ask myself that same question some days,” he says.
The short answer is that his 60-40 formula balances sponsors and sales to even out the company’s finances. In the meantime, time is the project’s biggest friend. Now that the physical copies of the album have arrived, he expects copies to sell faster than the pre-orders.
McArthur said that the project paid a total of 57 artists to work on the record, from bands to the various producers of each track. Putting money in the pockets of artists by commissioning their work was another major part of Beast’s objective, and a chunk of the budget.
Ruby Rose Fox, a blues-rock crooner selected to be on Beast, said the compilation breathed life into many bands this year. Fox was one of those 57 artists paid to make new music on the compilation. “He was great to work with,” Fox says. “He clearly has a passion for this non-profit. I know it looks corporate, but it’s not. It’s two guys with big hearts that want to make a difference in the arts.”
Despite all the expenses of the album, McArthur remains optimistic. Even when he mentions the initial location of the Record Co. in Central Square, which flooded and forced them to move, he refers to it as “the best worst thing that’s ever happened to us.”
“We didn’t go into making an album thinking ‘we’re going to make a shitload of money,’ we went into it thinking ‘we’re going to do some good in this community and expose some fans to artists they haven’t heard before,’” McArthur explains. “Being able to take those kinds of risks for the sake of our mission — that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Between the growing music student population in Boston and the homegrown musicians in the area, there’s plenty to be exposed in Boston’s music scene. Nina Pickell, an entrepreneur who has been working across the country for more than a decade teaching branding, describes the Boston music scene as diverse and thriving. Pickell, who lives in Charlestown, has immersed herself in the scene through coaching local bands. While she has observed that Boston isn’t necessarily a town where bands go to become famous, she said that the city brims with artists looking to learn more about their craft. If anything, Pickell said that what the scene needs more of is packaging and promotion, which is exactly what Beast combats.
“This album showcases some of our top talent, giving a preview of our powerful music depth and diversity in one album, while exposing that musical teaser to potential fans as well as the industry beyond our region,” Pickell says. “It’s product sampling, income for the artists, and exposure combined. This project has a lot of promise.”
If there’s one skill that McArthur has under his belt after his nine years in Boston, it’s helping artists visions come to fruition. After playing the piano and writing music throughout his childhood and early teens in Tucson, Arizona, McArthur moved to Boston to study music at Berklee College of Music, but quickly rerouted his career path to study music production and engineering.
“I was much better suited to facilitate the art of other people than I was to make art myself,” he said.
While he crammed a four-year degree into two years of school, in his last semester of school he founded the Record Co., and has devoted his entire adult life to it ever since. And thus the cycle comes full circle with McArthur at the helm of Beast and drawing the well-earned attention to Boston’s best musicians. And with the caliber of music that Boston artists have produced in 2016, the recognition of Boston as another major music city isn’t an ideal anymore, it’s a must.
“You just do it, right?” he asks. “Sometimes you don’t have a choice, you just do it.”
THE RECORD CO.’S ‘BOSTON SESSIONS VOL. 1: BEAST’ RELEASE PARTY :: Saturday, December 17 at Dorchester Brewing Company, 1250 Massachusetts Ave. in Dorchester, MA :: 5:30 p.m., free admission :: Facebook event page :: Venue event page