In terms of catalog, the North Carolina-based Tiny Engines was one of the best indie record labels to emerge in the 2010s, boasting incredible releases from the Hotelier, Mannequin Pussy, Illuminati Hotties, Wild Pink, Spirit Of The Beehive, awakebutstillinbed, Strange Ranger, and many more. Then, at the end of the decade, things fell apart.
In late 2019, Stevie Knipe, the leader of Tiny Engines band Adult Mom, accused the label of shady accounting practices, a notion echoed by other artists on the roster. At the time, Knipe reported years of missed royalty payments and said when presented with this breach of contract, the label’s management rebuffed their request to regain control of their master recordings. This led to a massive reckoning and the eventual demise of the label. Co-founder Will Miller departed the company in early 2020, launching a new label called Sound As Language and citing a difference in vision with co-founder Chuck Daley. In an interview with Billboard, Daley admitted to “years of delayed payments and accounting statements.” The label ceased to release new music, transferred ownership of Adult Mom’s masters back to the band, and essentially went on hiatus as a functioning company.
Today, Tiny Engines has announced its return, minus Daley. Last year Miller took over 100% of the company. “Accounting is up to date and artists have been paid in full,” explains a press release. Tiny Engines is also moving to a model in which the artists own their masters; supposedly 80% of the label’s contracts have been amended to reflect that, and “the other 20% should be completed by the end of 2023.”
Miller issued this statement:
After leaving the day-to-day operations of Tiny Engines at the beginning of 2020, I was excited to come home last year to revive the label and return to our roots.
When the opportunity arose for me to acquire sole ownership of Tiny Engines the prospect of restoring the label was something I felt a responsibility to pursue. I am committed to making sure artists and their records are being cared for properly and treated with the required respect. I also want to ensure that artists are being paid what they are owed. I have spent the last year plus making sure all of this happens going forward.
To the artists and fans of the label, I am deeply sorry that it took so long to get to this point but we are finally here. We will work hard to reestablish Tiny Engines and be a positive force moving forward.
You the fan owe us nothing. We will seek to regain your trust in our actions as a label and in how we treat our artists. If you do not want to support Tiny Engines please continue to support the artists in any way you can.
I don’t know enough about accounting to understand whether this new model is feasible for a record label, but hopefully Tiny Engines can return to its heights of glory without so much behind-the-scenes mess this time.