11th Street Records brings vinyl shop and a recording studio Downtown

Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Typically, the locations where music is recorded, imprinted (as in a record label) and sold are distinct from one another. But a tradition going further back than rock ‘n’ roll itself exists where the creation-to-sales process of music largely happens in the same space. The old Sun Record Company building had Memphis Recording Service on premises. Motown’s Hitsville USA began with Studio A on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard. Richard Branson grew out his Virgin Records and Tapes shop in Oxford, England, to include the now iconic record label. And Jack White opened a combination record shop, label HQ and performance space for his Third Man Records in 2009.

And now, Las Vegas will have its own all-in-one stop music shop: 11th Street Records, a partnership between musician/label owner Ronald Corso and Downtown Project. The multifaceted retail space is gunning for a late-October opening at 1023 Fremont St., adjacent to both the renovated, soon-to-open Bunkhouse and new music venue the Wheelhouse—all of which sit on land owned by DTP.

The opportunity comes at a unique convergence point for Corso, who also has recorded local artists like A Crowd of Small Adventures (of which he was formerly a member), Holding Onto Sound and Mother McKenzie for his National Southwestern Electronic Recording imprint, and the Downtown Project, the $350 million urban development initiative launched by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Corso, a devotee of both the traditional LP and the music industry’s “golden age” during the 1950s and 1960s, has long dreamt of opening a vinyl retail store, and Downtown Project has had establishing a recording studio and local label near the top of its agenda. Ashton Allen, head of DTP’s music team, approached and started a rapport with Corso, and over time they agreed to incorporate all three elements into one space, with an overarching goal of engaging and cultivating the local music community.

“It’s where things are going, and people who love music and records are often musicians themselves, so engaging with the scene just seemed to be the smart thing to do,” says Corso. “There is a lot of precedent for record stores with studios that cultivate and contribute to the creative community in their towns. I’ve been a student of ‘scenes.’ It used to be that all music came from major media centers. When I was in high school that started to change. Manchester, Minneapolis, Athens, Seattle—all these uncool places had cool scenes. They all had a few things in common, besides talented people. It just seemed to me that along with the Bunkhouse, putting this thing at Fremont and 11th [Street] had the potential to have that kind of impact.”

Plans for 11th Street Records include:

• The retail outlet, which will include a halfway split between new and nationally acquired used vinyl, with related items and accessories. CD inventory will be mostly limited to local releases.

• National Southwestern Recording studio, an “analog hybrid rock ‘n’ roll recording studio, available for hire.” Its aim is to both record music for the NSW label, as well as allow artists and contracted producers and engineers to have a place to lay down music. “There are a lot of guys in town like me, who make records in garages and storage units and bedrooms on laptops, and are just limited by their rooms and their gear,” says Corso. “The studio is intended to address some of the problems of the home studio and the commercial studio and be a bridge between the two. Those types of guys will have access to this studio. It will challenge some of the standard assumptions of the studio business, but the point is to get a lot more music made in this town.” NSW Recordings, as such, will call 11th Street Records home. (Corso has dropped “electronic” from his company’s name.)

• A box office for the DTP-owned Bunkhouse (which will share an alley way with the record store).

• Its own webstore, with ecommerce platforms on Amazon and eBay. However, despite the need for those sales avenues, Corso stresses that there is a financial, cultural and social focus on the brick-and-mortar store. “Our product is the experience, the social aspect that people have missed—flipping through the racks.”

• Certain studio performances—and possibly accompanying interviews—will be captured for a prospective episodic online show inspired by the UK’s institutional Live From Abbey Road and KEXP’s pioneering streaming of live mini-concerts. Also slated: in-store sets, appearances and meet-and-greets by acts performing at the Bunkhouse and other venues.

That amenity rundown, if implemented (successfully), would create the sort of music destination local acts make pilgrimages to in larger cities and bemoan the absence of back home. It suggests Downtown Project—which convinced partner Corso to “think bigger” than just a cash-in on the commercial vinyl revival—is willing to put its money where its mouth is with regards to fostering scene-building, and empower passionate small-business owners like its audiophile partner. If 11th Street Records sounds incredibly ambitious for Downtown and Las Vegas, it’s supposed to be.

“I want to take it as far as it can go,” says Corso. “I think I am sort of a poster boy for how Downtown Project is supposed to work.”

Ashton Allen, music director for Downtown Project, says, "The hope and the goal of DTP’s partnership with National Southwestern Recording Studio and 11th St. Records is to provide a central hub for the Downtown Las Vegas music community. Great records will be created here. Great records will be discovered and purchased here. I imagine special appearances, performance and signings from bands that play Bunkhouse Saloon, Life Is Beautiful and beyond. It’s quite a game changer and really a ‘must have’ component for the Downtown music scene. Add in Ronald’s abilities, his ethos, and his love for Downtown Las Vegas and you end up with a truly exciting partnership.”

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