Published Jan 18, 2012Late last week, Ted Leo announced on his blog that his longtime label Lookout! Records had called it quits entirely, thereby returning the rights of his early albums back to him. The California-based imprint, which had stopped releasing new music in 2005, had kept its back catalogue in print since, but has now stated that it's officially done.
The news was confirmed in a statement from founder Chris Appelgren. He explained that the first blow happened when Lookout! ended its longtime relationship with Green Day and Operation Ivy, both of whom released lucrative records on the label. Without the rights to those releases, the label had to shrink its business model, laying off a staff and downsizing into a small office space.
From there, the label tried to rebuild, but other roadblocks like the loss of distributor Lumberjack-Mordam meant it kept falling behind and losing money. As a result, Lookout! finally decided to throw in the towel, and after 25 years, the label is officially done.
Here's the full unedited statement from Appelgren as it appears on the label's site:
I'm not sure exactly where exactly to start but I guess it's best to get the hard part out of the way. To put it simply, what was mentioned recently on Ted Leo's website (and reported in by a number of other outlets online) is true. Lookout Records will be closing its doors over the next few months. Most people that are reading this know that the label stopped releasing material towards the end of 2005. It was then that Lookout ended its long relationships with Green Day, Operation Ivy and a few other artists. That development meant significantly scaling down the business, which included letting the staff go and moving from the label's Berkeley headquarters and warehouse into a small office. It was a challenging time for everyone involved - bands, staff, and business partners. For myself and the other two owners at the time, Cathy and Molly, we resolved to put our limited resources into rectifying some of the issues and problems that had been Lookout's undoing, return to a modest operation, with the hopes of first, getting things back on track, and hopefully doing more in the future.
To many, that would have been the perfect time to wind things up with Lookout Records, but we decided not to. Sure, sales were down across the board and Lookout no longer had many of its long-standing top sellers in its catalog. There were artists that were committed to sticking with the label and shared our hope of fixing the problems and being able to find our way through a difficult period and create new successes. This was the inspiration we needed and over the next few years, with hard work we were able to simplify label operations to a large extent. With the help of folks like Ali, Andy, and later, Spenser pitching in, we focused on playing catch-up and on top of new developments.
It wasn't easy to keep catalog items in print and that became especially challenging when our primary compact disc manufacturer and our distribution partner Lumberjack-Mordam went out of business unexpectedly. Having our physical distributor and a manufacturer go belly up disrupted our sales, meant a significant loss of income, and caused inventory and accounting problems. The next year when our mail order partner, Little Type, went out of business, Lookout was also dealt another significant blow. We did our best to resolve the issued caused by these developments but both ultimately amounted to a lot more work and severely impacted income.
By this time, it was primarily Cathy and myself overseeing Lookout's business. This was done in whatever spare time we could find, as both of us had other jobs. Molly had minimized her involvement with the label, remaining a valued and trusted adviser. The label's sole employee was Spenser, who came in to our small office space in Oakland to handle day to day stuff a couple times a week.
Last summer, we began tentatively discussing what it might mean to let Lookout end. It was a strange and scary to talk about at first and hard for either of us to imagine what it would be like. Lookout Records had been part of my life for over 20 years and Cathy is a label veteran with over 15 years of experience at Lookout. We considered all options but kept coming back to realization that the best use of our energies would be to shut the doors once and for all - for the legacy of the label, for the bands, and for benefit of the relationships and friendships with artists, partners, and stakeholders. After some soul searching, hat's what we decided to do.
Right now, we are in the process of going through years and years of archives and figuring out what to do with things that have no obvious home. Inventory, masters, artwork - that's all going back to the artists. We've talked to some bands but not all of them. If you were in a band and haven't heard from Cathy or myself, definitely get in touch. Our efforts to close out Lookout's remaining business reflect the same intentions we've had for the past few years - to do the best we can by the bands. It's our hope that this could be an opportunity for the artists themselves to revisit their Lookout releases, with interesting and cool results. It's time to let Lookout Records really and truly become history.
Thank you. Thanks for listening to the music, going to shows, coming in our store, forming bands, sending us demos, buying records from our mail order, signing to our label, wearing a t-shirt, playing our records on your radio show, putting us up on your living room floor, writing fan mail, interviewing us for your zine, putting on a show, for inspiring us, for being inspired by Lookout, for your hard work, for just being there, and for ALL of the memories (there are so many). Thank you. Here's to you, and to whatever comes next...