Smile Politely

Fourth Street Records: A local emergence

Champaign-Urbana’s music community is ample with the work ethic and ideology of “do-it-yourself” projects and companies founded in bedrooms and basements alike. It is mainly due to the hard work and overwhelming passion of individuals that this town has been able to grow musically for so many years. We have seen the local music industry thrive with record labels like Polyvinyl, which was founded by Matt Lunsford and Darcie Knight in 1996 and simply based on their love for DIY music and their philosophies to share the music they love. Years later, many recognizably successful groups are a part of the record label such as Braid and American Football. 

Fourth Street Records is a new DIY record label here in Champaign-Urbana. The label’s manager, Bryce Conrad, is a student at the University of Illinois and is originally from the town of Macomb, Illinois. When he started Fourth Street Records, he wanted to build a community for local musicians to record, perform, and share their work. Conrad is working to develop a venue for house shows where performers can sell their music or share it freely, as well as a space for musicians to record their music. Online, artists can submit their work, utilize the label’s mixing and mastering services, and discover and share the work of some of the label’s artists.

I talked with Bryce Conrad about his open-minded and inclusive vision for the label. With almost two years of thought and planning, Conrad is eager to work with talented local musicians and connect people to good music that otherwise may not be heard. With a little help from friends and roommates, he has brought his small town experiences in local music to a larger city, in hopes of bringing together the people of neighboring cities who share a love and devotion for music.

SP: Would you like to say a bit about yourself and how you grew into CU’s music scene?

Bryce Conrad: It had a lot to do with my roommates, actually. I had a roommate who played drums and a roommate who played guitar, so they just had people over to jam all the time. We had a couple neighbors who were musicians too. My one roommate David Belcher got me into recording and mixing and so I’ve just gone further with that over the last two years — I learned how to mix and got some equipment — and I’ve always been a composer. I just got interested in recording other people. I was in music education, but I just switched my major to music technology. I went to a couple of shows and went to a couple of open mics.

SP: How did the idea of Fourth Street Records come to be?

Conrad: We realized our house would be a good venue so we decided to do some house shows last semester. We had three house shows and we had people show up to all of them. That was sort of like a test trial to see how that would work and it worked great so this coming semester, we’re going to do a lot more. From there, I would just start recording the house shows and then a couple of the musicians that I had play were interested in doing some recording, like Maddy Marsan and Garrett Ryan. I think Maddy played at the first house show and she expressed interest in recording an album so we’ve been working on that, and then Garrett played at the second house show and he also wants to record. It was just a series of small steps. I’ve had some website experience in the past so this past semester I’ve worked hard to get [the website] together. I just like the idea of promoting musicians around town.

Maddy Marsan, Rutabaga

SP: What other kinds of artists came to perform at the house shows?

Conrad: Mainly singer-songwriters. Maddy and Garrett are singer-songwriters. I’m a singer-songwriter. Let’s see…we had one guy who played bass and sang. It’s a funny story because we had a set-up in the living room and so my roommates would have these really loud jams with drums and electric guitar and everything. The cops kept getting called on us so we actually had to move everything down to the basement. For the house shows, I wanted to have it in the living room so that’s mainly why we’re just doing acoustic acts as opposed to big rock bands or something like that. That may change in the next semester if we have shows in the basement.

SP: How big of a role do your roommates play in Fourth Street Records?

Conrad: The house shows were the only thing that we planned together. Right now it’s basically just me. I have a couple friends who do mixing so I’m recruiting them. Niko Yamamoto [a multi-disciplinary musician and composer and a student at U of I] will be joining the team as the mastering engineer and Maddy is actually going to help out with some of the marketing aspects of it.

SP: Are you very familiar with other record labels out of Champaign-Urbana? Most notably: Polyvinyl or Heirship Records.

Conrad: I mainly only know Polyvinyl. That’s something I really want to do this next year — to really get into the music scene more. I’m a transfer student; I transferred here my sophomore year so I didn’t really know where to go to get into that stuff. I mean, I’ve done some research on Polyvinyl, but yeah, I want to learn more about the local scene for sure.

SP: These other local record labels [Polyvinyl, Heirship] all started out DIY — a couple of friends interested in music. Fourth Street Records fits in well with that.

Conrad: Yeah, all do-it-yourself. I’m kind of inspired by some people in my home town, Macomb, Illinois. It’s a small town, so basically everything there is “do-it-yourself.”

Garrett Ryan, Seven Months

SP: What’s the music scene like in Macomb?

Conrad: The main place I go to is called The Loft — it’s an apartment on the town square. I did live there for one summer and they had house shows. Well, not shows, I guess they had an open mic every two weeks and they did it religiously. They were pretty consistent and they always had a lot of people show up. I mean, it was an open mic, but it was a lot like a house show. [Many of the recordings, performances, and announcements associated with The Loft can be found here.]

SP: What type of music are you personally interested in?

Conrad: My main influence, my favorite musician/composer, is Elliott Smith. I love everything he’s done. Really, artists in that vein, like Bright Eyes (I like Bright Eyes a lot), Tallest Man On Earth, I recently got into Bon Iver, and also Sufjan Stevens. And then a little bit outside of that genre, Radiohead – I think Radiohead is amazing. Have you heard of D’Angelo? I think he’s amazing too. I get a lot of my music taste from my friends back home. They show me all of this stuff and I just think it’s all so cool. I’m trying to think…oh! Andrew Bird – I also love Andrew Bird. Very unique sounds.

SP: What kind of artists are you interested in having on the label?

Conrad: Well, right now it’s Maddy and Garrett, and they’re both singer-songwriters, so definitely in that vein. I would, of course, be open to whole bands. Really, it’s just whoever I like. If they sound good — if they’re good musicians — that’d be cool. I’m hoping that people will go to the website and submit their own music. I’d love to see what people have to offer and I make a wide variety of music.

SP: CU has a thriving emo and punk vibe going on. How do you feel about the punk scene?

Conrad: I think it’s cool. One of the singer-songwriters we had [perform] — his name is Tyler Cieck [goes by the stage name 28064212] and he goes to school in Macomb — he’s very punk-influenced. I love his music. I don’t listen to too much punk, but I’m pretty open to all kinds of music.

SP: With the label, you’re also offering mixing services. Would you like to say a little about that?

Conrad: I hope people are interested in it. I’m working up in Michigan all this summer, but once I get back I’ll also be offering recording services in my basement and Niko [Yamamoto] will add his mastering to that. I have prices [on the site]. Anyone I would be interested in having on the label, I wouldn’t charge.

SP: Is there anything that you’re currently working on?

Conrad: I’m working on mixing Maddy’s album right now, so that will be our first big release. We’ve released just two singles: one of Maddy’s songs and one of Garrett’s songs. We’ll probably put Maddy’s album out at the beginning of the school year. I think she’s actually planning some sort of release show for both the label and her music and possibly my music.

SP: Moving forward, what would you like to see happen with Fourth Street Records?

Conrad: I would like to see the house shows develop, I would like to see that to be a place where people can sell their music or give it away for free if that’s what they want. I haven’t talked about this, but I am also planning on featuring people who write articles about music, reviews, poetry or anything like that so they could sell that at the house shows. I want to make a community in Champaign-Urbana as well as an online community. So hopefully by building it up and by getting these people from Champaign-Urbana, eventually it will start to have interest from people in other places via the internet. I want an exchange of art to happen mainly between – the three cities that I have in mind are – Springfield, Macomb, and Champaign-Urbana. I know a couple of musicians in Macomb that have some original music that they haven’t recorded, but I think it’s amazing and I’m hoping they’re interested in recording so that I can put it on the website and so people in Champaign will see it. Also, Bloomington/Normal — I know a couple of people there. I just want people to be in contact with each other and to be exposed to new local music — any way we can help each other out.

For more information on Fourth Street Records, including music from its artists, visit

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