If I wouldn’t have been able to get into some of the all-ages venues in St. Louis that I did as a fifteen-year-old, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I hope to provide those same opportunities to the younger generation of today. This is why Champaign-Urbana needs an all-ages music venue with an honest business model that doesn’t discourage any person from putting together an event, or to see one. -–Nathan Landolt
According to Nathan Landolt, the entrepreneur behind the new all-ages venue and record store Error Records, it’s far too difficult for the under-21 crowd in Champaign-Urbana to go out and experience live music. And he has a legitimate point: music as an art form knows no age limits, but when it comes to live music in this community, the bar scene reigns supreme.
When you think about it, there really should be no surprise that we’ve seen a steady decline in all-ages shows in this region, and really, nationwide. Music itself is an art form, a creative outlet, and one of the many ways that we connect with those around us. But for music venues, business is business, and in order to continue being a hub for the communal power of live music, venues have to find as many ways as possible to pay the bills. Selling alcohol is, in many ways, a no-brainer as a business decision. Music gets patrons through the doors and the income generated from alcohol sales helps sustain venues as a viable performance space for musicians.
But, Landolt reminds us that there are consequences to this trend. What the relationship between bars and musicians has created is an invisible line between the haves and the have-nots that is solely determined by drinking age. The under-21 crowd has been left to wait their turn patiently, or seek other venues like unsanctioned house parties for their music. His new endeavor contends that there is a large portion of this community that contains a passion for live music, even if they haven’t already crossed that invisible line into drinking age. For Error Records to succeed, the fact of the matter is, he better be right.
Error Records will be an all-ages music venue, art space, and record store set to open on South Neil in Champaign in early spring. The goals of the venue and retail space are pretty straightforward: to provide an opportunity for those who don't always get to experience live music in this community a chance to do so. “This is an alternative place for people to go that don't want to be a part of the ‘normal’ nightlife,” explained Landolt. “This will be an alternative space for anyone interested in the arts.”
It takes a considerable amount of passion and courage to start a small business, and Landolt certainly has both. Like many of us, he got swept into a music scene in his early teens, started making music for himself, and let his passion for music take hold. From an early age, he recognized the business aspects of the music industry and did his best to bend the limits to match his own aspirations. The idea for an all-ages music venue and record store emerged over time after Landolt originally began Error Records as a way to release music made by his band and friends:
Error Records started when I was still in Central Illinois, when my band at the time was just playing shows whenever we could. We had no idea what we were doing. After a while, I realized that I was already functioning as a small DIY label, so I decided to go ahead and go with it. It wasn't something where I was trying to appeal to thousands of people. It was just the few people that were interested in it could get copies. So from there, I started releasing tapes, and it grew from there.
After getting a taste of the trials and tribulations releasing music, he began booking shows as well. “I started booking shows early on, around the same time I started releasing my band's own music,” Landolt explained when asked about the idea to start an all-ages venue:
It was just super-hard to communicate with people, and I realized I could just cut out the middle man and go directly to the person who is charging to rent the space, so I decided to just do that myself. And after a few times screwing it up and losing a little bit of money, we all figured out the best way to do it. So from then on to now, I have always had that desire to have a space that I could call my own. I didn't think that I would be doing so much with music at this point in my life. I thought I would ‘grow up’ and get a real job and a family and all that. And all of those things are still desirable, but I don't think there should be a timeline on it. I feel like I still have a lot of fire inside that is driving me to do more with music.
Both the venue and the retail space will be housed in the same location on 702 S. Neil St. in Champaign, right across the street from the CVS. In the front will be the record store, and the venue — equivalent in size to the upstairs at Mike ‘N Molly’s, with a capacity of around 100 people — will be housed in the back.
“I know starting out the selection will be small,” says Landolt about the record store. “I'm still trying to grow it before I open the doors. I don't think it will be as big of a selection as some people will expect at first, but it does cost a lot of money and I am doing this mostly out of pocket. I want to have a few hundred to around five hundred records when I open, but we will see what I actually get.”
The record store will primarily carry underground, punk, and hardcore, but the primary goal is to provide another alternative space for music in this town. “I guess, to a certain extent, the elephant in the room with having the record store is Exile on Main Street,” said Landolt:
I sell my (Error Records) records there, and I don't want to take anything away from them that I can help. With the record store portion, I want to carry what is not carried there (at Exile) or anywhere else in town. Some other places cater to used records, but that really isn't what I want to do. I would say the record store will carry more underground stuff. I want to carry music like a lot of the music that the CU Collective has been booking or that myself and my band have played with and really enjoy. A lot of that falls under extreme music category: metal, hardcore, and punk. But I will definitely carry indie and pop as well, whatever I can. Basically, stuff that I want to be more accessible, but isn't right now.
While the record store is definitely important to the viability of the venue as a business, it is clear when speaking with Landolt about Error Records that the venue is really the driving passion behind this business venture: “My hope is this will bring different people, different ideas, different sounds, and different sights to our community.”
And this is where the business end of this venture has to hold water. All-ages venues can struggle when not diverse enough in the music offered or other services available to keep cash flowing in. That may not be the point of this particular venture, but providing enough music with enough of a following for door prices to help pay the rent is certainly key.
Landolt says the venue itself will be available for shows at least three or four nights a week, but he also knows that city sound ordinances will mean that this venue will have a slightly different schedule from others around town, and really, I think that’s part of the point: “Shows will happen any time, as long as we are complying with the local noise ordinances. The good thing about it is that there are no homes around the venue. The area is completely commercial, warehouse, or business. So, in the evening, especially once it gets to be 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., there won't be someone who is complaining as a neighbor.”
Landolt also expressed that in order for this venue to be a success he is going to need a lot of help from the community:
I have a lot of friends who have volunteered to give their time. And I’m not calling any of them liars, but people have crazy schedules. So, not everyone is going to be able to help all the time. So anyone that is interested in helping, whether that is cleaning up after a show, booking a show, checking drinks at the door, running sound, or any other small task, people are welcome to come help and that would definitely be appreciated. All those little things add up.”
Folks interested can also help by donating to Error Record’s current IndieGoGo campaign. The Kickstarter-like venture is seeking $3,000 in community support and, two weeks in, he has already received considerable support in the form of almost half of the asked-for amount. But, clearly, every bit helps and with two more weeks to go in the campaign anyone who is interested is encouraged to help. Anyone who does contribute can receive a series of incentives that range from venue vouchers and free vinyl to free access to the space for an event.
And when it comes to all-ages venues, Landolt really is going to need as much support as this community can offer in order to keep a passionate project like this going. But, it’s possible to find success. After speaking with Landolt about this project, I reached out to Ward Gollings (promoter and talent buyer for Highdive and Cowboy Monkey) about what kind of advice he would give to someone in Landolt’s position. He had this to say about the opportunity for a new, all-ages venue in town, and what it would take to make something like this a success:
Have someone doing diligent work promoting via social media. Pay close attention to what all the other venues are doing. Get a good ‘street team’ of volunteers to post flyers and work the door. Learn how to run a soundboard and PA so you can chop that cost off your nightly expense list. Do whatever it is that needs to be done yourself whenever possible so that you keep your labor costs as low as possible. Stick to a strict rule of ‘no guarantees’ and pay bands with ‘door deals’ only. There are tons of good bands out there. And plenty of GREAT bands. But many of them won’t be around in a year, or two years. Don’t let the gas money you pay them for their vans bankrupt you and close your doors. I know that sounds like a hard-ass statement, but try your best not to let your heart get the best of you is all I’m saying.
Remember, YOU gotta pay the bills too!
Solid advice for a well-intentioned venue and a passionate business venture that a lot of people are rooting for. Whether or not this business — one that isn't necessarily looking to make anyone rich — will be able to sustain itself on the backs of an alternative music crowd looking to break away from the normal routine of the bar scene, is the real question. I, for one, hope it can.
For more information about Error Records, the new venue and record store, as well as ways to contribute or get involved, visit their official website and keep your eyes peeled for the grand opening this spring.