An independent record label based in southern Idaho “makes great music known to the people.”
Far from the narcissistic bustle of Big City, USA, southern Idaho is grounded in an idealistic ruralism. Hard work, integrity and quality of life are above competitiveness as neighbors help one another realize their dreams.
Such small-town values are what Divulge Records – an independent record label founded by Twin Falls native Jessica Williams – is based upon. In just the second year of operation, Williams is now taking Divulge Records and its signed musicians to a higher level of passion and professionalism. While southern Idaho isn’t exactly a “hotbed” for recording artists, Williams’ company has emerged as a beacon of light – proving that anyone from anywhere can achieve anything.
Williams, 24, comes from three generations of Twin Falls cattle ranchers. Growing up, Williams loved music and her grandmother would take her to sing in church and retirement homes. She graduated early from Twin Falls High School and took classes at the College of Southern Idaho. In a choir class, Williams met Andrew Ryan, a talented singer and guitarist who would later play a key role in her story.
Williams went to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, to study medicine. She didn’t enjoy it – but what else could she do? The answer came when she attended a Pete Yorn concert in Portland. Little did she know, that concert would change her life.
“The music was great, the concert was awesome,” Williams recalls. “Then I started looking around and realized there’s so much more that goes into this than just Pete Yorn up there on stage singing. There’s a whole other world back there, besides just being the musician.”
Back at her college dorm, Williams began researching the business side of the music industry. She realized that her passion for music could be utilized through other avenues. She took a year off school and contemplated the new direction she wanted to take in her life. Williams enrolled at the Art Institute of Seattle where she studied audio production and music business. Some thought she was crazy, but many close friends encouraged her to go for it.
“It’s really good to be surrounded by people who are trying to do something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary,” she says.
Williams was anxious to launch her independent record label. First, she needed a business name. A friend flipping through the dictionary came across the word “divulge.” Its definition: to make known, to disclose or reveal something. Every new business needs a mission statement – a description of its vision and purpose. Divulge Records was established with the mission of “making great music known to the people.”
Next, Williams needed artists. She picked up the phone and called Andrew Ryan, her friend from CSI.
Ryan grew up in Filer. His mom started taking him to church choir practices when he was 6 and he taught himself the guitar at 13. When Ryan met Williams at CSI, he was the lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist in a band he’d pieced together called 7th End. Later, the band split as members moved on with school and families. Ryan went on to Boise State and Idaho State before attending a physician assistant school in Las Vegas. That’s when he got the call.
“Jessica asked me to sign with her label, and it’s just been awesome,” says 26-year-old Ryan. “I eventually may have recorded an album, but it wouldn’t have been as good. It would have been a small-town recording and the quality wouldn’t have been there. It was because of Jessica that we were able to make an awesome album.”
Williams says it has been important for Divulge Records to be “a professional and fair beacon of light in the cutthroat music industry.” She refuses to settle for mediocrity. She made important connections in Nashville, where Ryan recorded his debut album. The two small-town kids from southern Idaho suddenly entered the big-time music world. Ryan’s studio musicians have played for Keith Urban, Kenny Loggins and Garth Brooks.
Ryan used the same microphone used by John Mayer. The album was mixed at the same time and in the room next door to where Phil Vassar’s was being mixed.
Ryan’s album “Summer & Fall” debuted in early 2007. Its combination folk-rock-acoustic-inspirational sound is a unique style, with comparisons to John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Daniel Bedingfield.
But finishing the album was just the beginning. Williams and Divulge Records have been working tirelessly to promote Ryan and the record. Traveling, networking, checking on inventory, researching, scheduling and promoting are daily duties. Williams chooses to work from Kimberly, rather than a big city. Southern Idaho is home; communication with the rest of the world is made simple through the telephone and internet. If she needs to be somewhere in person, she hops on an airplane.
“People would probably laugh at the idea that there’s a record label in southern Idaho. But if you think about it, I’m not competing with the 500 independent record labels in the L.A. area,” she says.
Divulge also signed an incredibly talented country singer/songwriter out of the Northwest, Carrie Cunningham. Her stellar debut album “Honeysweet” is also now available. Divulge works closely with Korben, an indie rock group from Montana. As the label grows, so will its variety of artists.
The hard work of Williams, Ryan and Cunningham has paid off. Album sales are climbing and Divulge has received requests from radio stations in Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Deals are in the works for Ryan to debut and tour in Australia.
But the going hasn’t always been easy.
“Some days I want the floor to swallow me up,” Williams says. “Other days, I wake up and I feel excited that something good is going to happen.”
One of the biggest obstacles has been for the small, independent Divulge to compete for radio airtime against the monstrous monopoly of large record companies. The Sony BMG payola scandal of 2005 uncovered the music industry’s pervasive “pay-for-play” crimes. Sony BMG and its record labels bribed radio stations with money and other payoffs to play the company’s artists. Doing so violates federal law and the company was fined $10 million – hardly a slap on the wrist for a company worth billions.
Reforms in 2005 were said to halt “pay-for-play” in this country, but skeptics maintain that it’s still an ongoing problem today; that instead of musicians getting airplay based on artistic merit, listeners are force-fed what the large corporations want them to hear. Small record labels are unable to compete with these corporations’ big dollars.
While larger market radio stations in Boise, Ontario, Spokane and Portland have been open to giving airtime to Divulge’s artists, the local southern Idaho stations have been surprisingly resistant.
“It’s discouraging because this is my hometown,” Williams says. “I grew up here; I know these stations and their
formats. It shocks me that a market like Twin Falls has a chance to bring in a talented local artist but they don’t take the opportunity.”
Fans of Andrew Ryan’s music have called in requests to Twin Falls stations such as 99.9 the Buzz and 94.3 The Music Monster, but DJs have refused to play him.
“[Andrew Ryan] is phenomenal,” said Broc Johnson, program director at The Buzz, “but he’s not the type of music we want to play.”
The Buzz, according to Johnson, plays Modern and Hot Adult Contemporary while leaning on a Top-40 format. He says the station studies charts compiled by Mediabase, which tracks the most-played songs in various markets across the U.S. While The Buzz has been supportive of local music, including putting on a local Battle of the Bands the past two years, Andrew Ryan cannot crack their playlist, despite being an Adult Contemporary artist.
At The Music Monster – a Top-40 format station – program director Howard Mayhem says the station used to play local music, but not anymore.
“We have a new music consultant in Los Angeles who tells us what to do and what not to do – and we are not to play locals,” Mayhem said.
Despite being “Locally Owned Radio,” The Music Monster has surrendered all programming decisions to a California-based consultant.
“It’s not up to me anymore,” Mayhem said. “When it was up to me, I played local music. It’s been almost two
years since we played anything local.”
Money may also be playing a role in what is – and isn’t – being played in southern Idaho.
“There is no rating or financial benefit to have local artists on a Top-40 radio station,” Mayhem said.
Another reason The Music Monster stopped playing local artists, according to Mayhem, is because doing so encouraged “a rush [of artists] knocking down the door trying to get on the radio. About 90 percent of those were turned away and I had to tell them it wasn’t good enough.”
Other stations are more accepting of local artists, such as Mix 103. Program Director Jeff Edwards says he doesn’t receive a lot of solicitations from local musicians, but his Hot Adult Contemporary station is open to playing them.
“If it’s worth playing and fits the format, we’ll play local music,” Edwards said.
I think that perhaps some people locally do not take us seriously, which is sad because we have an amazing product that we want to share with the public and the only way Divulge Records will be successful is if people hear and purchase the music that we offer,” Williams says.
While fans of Andrew Ryan’s music may not hear it on the radio in southern Idaho, they can find his CD at Hastings in Twin Falls, divulgerecords.com, and music download sites such as iTunes.
“I have worked very hard in the last year to establish Divulge as a professional and intriguing label,” Williams says. “However, I must stress that if it were not for my dedicated artists, I would be nowhere. Also, I have had great support from my family.”
Although it originates from a small dot, Williams is determined to put Divulge Records on the map.
“She has drive and motivation,” Ryan says. “That’s what you really need, someone who will just get out and do it. She definitely makes it happen.”
Williams is making it happen by sticking close to the founding purpose and mission: “Divulge is dedicated to finding artists that have that ‘special flare’ needed to make it in the music industry and then helping them realize their dreams.”
So far, mission accomplished.
“Divulge is dedicated to finding artists that have that ‘special flare’ and helping them realize their dreams.”
Portions of Carrie Cunningham’s debut album “Honeysweet” can be heard at www.divulgerecords.com.