Exciting new indie label Color Study is a joint venture with Ultra Music dedicated to intimate lyric-focused music they call “personal pop.” Henry Jamison, Rosie Carney, Haux, and Charli Adams are already on board.
What do you look for in a song? Color Study founder Spencer Kelley has always been drawn to what he calls “personal pop,” and now he’s created a platform to foster, promote, and celebrate that music. The Vermont-born artist manager recently announced the formation of Color Study, a new and exciting label joint-venture between himself and Ultra Music. Featuring a roster of critically acclaimed artists with half a billion streams “writing deeply personal music with widespread appeal,” Color Study adds a fresh breath of meaning, depth, and intent to both the music business and label structure alike.
“I have never looked for artists by mining blogs or New Music Fridays,” Kelley recently told Atwood Magazine. “I wait for a song to hit me that I can’t imagine not making a bigger part of my life, and start exploring the artist from there. For me, what those kinds of songs tend to be is a combination of raw and honest words that are delivered with a sense of melody, conviction, and overall addictiveness.”
Color Study’s initial signings consist of four artists from Kelley’s management roster: Vermont’s Henry Jamison, Berkshires-based Haux, Ireland’s Rosie Carney, and Nashville’s Charli Adams – most of whom have been previously covered by Atwood Magazine in some capacity. Covering Henry Jamison’s sophomore album Gloria Duplex in 2019, Atwood hailed the Vermont-based artist as “one of America’s modern folk masters.” Likewise, a 2017 Rosie Carney review praised her for her “open-eyed vulnerability and self-confessional” style, referring to her song “Awake Me” as “at once a tender, powerful act of self-confession and a call for acceptance set to music.” Each of Color Study’s artists identifies as some sort of singer/songwriter, however their music varies widely in sound, shape, and color – a proofpoint to the assertion that great, meaningful music has no singular look, feel, or size.
Kelley explains, “I love lyrics – Conor Oberst and Iron & Wine were early inspirations – and I’m very sensitive to when a rhyme feels forced, or when someone is using filler words. Having a unique way of processing and describing the world feels absolutely necessary to me. But I also need that sort of earworm quality that takes it out of being just cerebral, to a more guttural place where I keep coming back. It’s not always easy to find, but it’s very special when it does click. I think that’s why each of our artists has gained some critical acclaim for their songwriting, but also have managed to do well on streaming platforms with wider audiences. It’s personal, and might be made in the bedroom, but if there is a ceiling on success it’s a very tall one.”
While we at Atwood Magazine have worked with Spencer Kelley for the past four years and have nothing but praises to sing of his work ethic, his story also speaks for itself. Hailing from the Vermont college town of Middlebury – home to Middlebury College – Kelley has always been in and around music. “Each summer, on the village green there is a folk festival that is funded entirely by donations,” he recalls. “When I was about four they recruited me to walk around and “pass the hat.” I was paid one ice cream per week and it was a position I held proudly until about age 12, when adolescence led to diminishing donation returns. I remember being fascinated by all of it – the lights, the stage, the instruments, the musicians with their long hair and beards and bold outfits. Even before I could read, I understood that the money I collected each night helped pay the performers too — and that may have been my first time really feeling proud of something, outside of perhaps tying my shoe.”
After playing shows throughout New England in a high school band, Kelley got involved in music’s business side, first at Burlington music venue Higher Ground, later on Foundations Music in New York, and eventually at LA-based label and management company Roll Call Records – home to such eclectic acts like The Dig, Plastic Picnic, Sego, and many more talents. After moving out to California and spending a few years with Roll Call, Kelley eventually started his own Color Study artist management company.
Why a Label?
The time-tested (and important) question to ask anyone in Kelley’s position is, Why a record label? “There is always a lot of conversation about the evils of record labels, but I think it’s worth noting that a good label can be a wonderful thing,” Kelley says. “Investing time, resources, and infrastructure into art and artists is often a risky venture. Many of the most successful artists have a team of people behind them who have devoted very large chunks of their lives to helping them, with very little reward at the start. For every successful musician, there are a handful of others who received the same investment, both emotional and otherwise, and maybe just decided music wasn’t for them anymore.”
“That being said, there are many horror stories around labels for good reason, and as a manager I’ve experienced plenty of that as well. It’s probably easiest to categorize things into financial conflicts and creative conflicts:
“To put the financial side most simply, when an artist signs with a label, they become the artist’s primary source of investment. If the artist is doing their part and label won’t invest – time, money, resources or all of the above – then the artist is essentially trapped. From the management side I know how devastating that can be and so everything I’m doing with our label is to avoid that outcome. That starts by having realistic conversations about what the artist’s needs are to live comfortably, tour, invest in their career etc, and what the labels needs are in terms of output to keep funding things. Like any partnership, for it to work both sides need to be playing their part.”
“Creative conflicts come down to a difference in vision. The music industry is art but it’s also commerce, and those things don’t always go hand in hand. Our approach with Color Study starts by asking an artist where they want to go, setting goals and holding a mirror up along the way. If an artist doesn’t know what they want, it’s very easy for other people to come in and fill that void, so we spend a lot of time trying to help each artist articulate exactly where they want to go. We might give ideas or suggestions but an artist has to be the one leading, living and breathing that vision 100% or they aren’t going to achieve it. To me this starts with aligning mental and personal health with the music and external brand. The artists I see truly succeeding are incredibly consistent from their songs and performances to their photos and artwork to their social media. The project becomes an authentic extension of who they are at that point in their lives.”
Transforming Color Study from an artist management company into a record label is a long-term dream come true, giving Kelley an opportunity to expand the nature of his work while providing additional opportunities to new and established artists alike:
“The first is efficient, in-house support for our management artists. We’ve been fortunate to bring our management roster into the label with us and there are many advantages to that for everyone. While finding a label home can be an exciting process, it’s also really frustrating at times to jump through hoops and bring in all of these other cooks when what we (the artist and myself as their manager) really need is financial support and infrastructure. Color Study’s partnership with Ultra Music provides that without disrupting our very personal A&R and development process. It also allows us to be more flexible with our deals and keep more money in the artist’s pocket. In many ways it just feels like a natural extension of what we’ve always been doing, just more streamlined. Outside of management, having label and publishing in Color Study allows us to work with more music in general. Managers can really only focus on a limited amount of artists, but a label or publisher with the right infrastructure gets to play a part in many more careers.”
Color Study’s Colors
Each of the artists challenges me in different ways, and I’m eager to keep learning from them and refining what we do to reflect back on them.
Kelley’s passion for music is eclipsed only by the respect and enthusiasm he displays for each of Color Study’s artists; after all, what is a record label without musicians? “We put a lot of thought into the Color Study brand as we were launching this and really tried to ask ourselves what we’d like to see from other labels,” Kelley explains. “One of the things we kept coming back to was the unique perspective that labels and managers have that often isn’t shared widely. We spend a lot of time with the artists of course, and we want to share some of that experience, whether it’s behind the scenes at a music video shoot, or jumping on the road for some tour dates. We also brought on an incredible artist Morgan Gruer, who will be doing all of our creative direction and artwork. Everything we post will be through paintings and drawings in a way that I hope will articulate our brand and ethos. We have releases queued up for everyone this year, and I’m excited to watch each of their visions, that we spend so much time discussing, become reality.”
Spencer Kelley: “Henry Jamison and I are both from Vermont, and I’ve known him since we were both about sixteen. We’ve been working together in some form since about 2014. Billboard described his songs as “Written like The Great American novel” and he’s an absolute lyrical genius. His ideas (particularly through his last album Gloria Duplex which explored masculinity) have challenged me to be a better person. He has a completely unique world-view and the ability to articulate it in a way that impacts a lot of people. His 2017 song “Real Peach” has 65M streams on Spotify alone, which has to be a record for most streams from any song that includes the word ‘elegiac’.”
Atwood Magazine: How do you feel your music or artistry aligns with Color Study's mission of “personal pop”?
Henry Jamison: Well, it’s a vague enough term to apply to most things, if you’re willing to call The Beatles “pop music,” for instance. But it’s actually pretty specific if you look at each of their artists, myself included, who are blending confessional songwriting with electronic sounds most often found in pop music more of the contemporary variety. My music is usually sung very directly from my own experience, with “I” statements. But you know the personal is political and vice versa, so it’s not a restrictive term at all. My last record was political in its way, but always through the prism of the personal.
I’ve been working with Spencer for a long time and it’s good to feel that we’re still coming up together and that real movement is happening, as things certainly haven’t always moved as quickly for either of us as they are now. I’m excited to see my EP come out and videos and some collaborative music I’ve been making for over a year. I’m working on my next proper full-length, which I’m hoping to start recording this Spring. Everything feels very organized and like my place in the world is clarifying and that has a lot to do with the label and the opportunities they’re helping make happen for me.
Spencer Kelley: “I’ve worked with Haux since 2015 and it’s hard to find more personal music that has reached more people. On his first two EP’s which have over 200M streams and 50,000 singles sold, Woodson wrote, produced, recorded and mixed every single note in his home studio. He has an album coming next year that – while enlisting some help from others – may be his most personal effort to date. He’s digging deep to process some impactful memories from his childhood and you can feel that even in the vocal delivery. He is a visual artist too and photographs all of his own album artwork, which has really helped to bring people into the world he sees around the project.”
Atwood Magazine: What are you most excited about being with Color Study, and about the year to come?
Haux: It’s nice to be in the company of friends, friends that I really admire. And yeah – a lot to be excited about in 2020.. a new debut album for me, a new record label for Spencer and a whole lot more facetime calls in the middle of the night. I’ve always been drawn to music that feels personal, like there’s something real there. I can always feel it pretty quickly listening to different things. That’s what I’ve always been inspired to make… music that makes you feel something; songs that are sometimes more than you wanted or bargained for as a listener, but songs that you can come back to.
Spencer Kelley: “Rosie Carney and I began working together in 2017 and much of the philosophy – if you want to call it that – of Color Study has really come to life by our experience together. Her debut album Bare was a cathartic way of processing her past and some trauma borne from her later teen years. She played and recorded it with one producer in Ireland and the intimacy shows. Since then, we’ve watched her dig deep to create a vision for where she wants to go, identify the work she needs to do to get there and take some big steps on that journey. She has an extraordinary amount of raw talent and ambition and we’re building a sustainable foundation to fulfill that potential in a way that matches her own comfort and growth as a young woman. After a lot of development this past year, it’s really becoming and incredible thing to watch. She has an EP out next spring but we’re also thinking a couple steps ahead of that and I think she’s just getting started in terms of her impact on other people.”
Atwood Magazine: What inspired you to sign with the Color Study label?
Rosie Carney: Well, having worked with Spencer for a couple of years now, I felt that a strong foundation of trust and a mutual understanding and belief in where I want to go in my career has all been built. I’ve grown a lot in the past years in and outside of my music and my own creative control has never been questioned, only encouraged. I knew I’d feel at home with Color Study, and I do. I feel Color Study’s “personal pop” mission fits nicely, as the way and the reason I write music hasn’t changed, but how it impacts and how I want it to be received has. I love the intimacy of folk music and I’ll always stay true to my folk roots in the way I write my lyrics, but as I grow as a musician, so does the sound and I don’t want to be limited to just one genre. So being with Color Study allows me to have fun and explore that.
I’m most excited about my creative growth. Already I’ve been introduced to a bigger team who will all help me fully articulate my vision, and in doing so, help me to achieve my goals. My music has grown so much already since Bare and I’m just so excited about being given the space to fully explore what works and what doesn’t.
Spencer Kelley: “One of Henry’s agents Emily LaRose very thankfully sent me Charli Adams last winter and we’ve been working together since. Charli writes summer night, windows down, friends singing along hanging out the window kind of anthems. But if you ask her about any lyric from any song she can tell you the exact people, place, day, time, what she was wearing and basically bring you back there with her. She is a naturally bubbly person and that alone is infectious but there is a depth to all of it and a side of her that only comes out in the music and I think that’s what people are starting to see. She’s putting out her debut EP Good At Being Young on January 31st and we have much, much more in store later in the year.”
Atwood Magazine: What inspired you to sign with the Color Study label?
Charli Adams: I knew immediately upon meeting Spencer that I wanted to work with him. I had encountered so many people in the industry that simply didn’t touch on the qualities that an artist searches for when it comes to support and understanding. When you enter into a management or label relationship, your time is followed by talking on the phone for hours every day and they kind of become your family. You really have to connect with the people you’re working with and trust them with your art and career and that was something that came naturally with this team. Color Study is unlike other labels and really takes care of their artists in a special way. It was clear that I would be free to create the what feels authentic, with a team of passionate and extremely hard working people behind me. I’ve truly never seen a manager go as above and beyond as Spencer does, he gives so much to allow us the freedom to create and move forward. Spencer Kelley has a work ethic thats unparalleled and I have a theory that he’s a vampire and never sleeps.
How do you feel your music or artistry aligns with Color Study's mission of “personal pop”?
Adams: When I started making music and discovering who I am artistically, I had a few moments of identity crisis. My taste in music is very diverse and my influences stretch across many genres and it became very evident in my songs as I started collecting work. Lyrically, I’m inspired by honest poetic writers who could tell a personal story and make it feel like your own. In contrast, I’ve been inspired sonically by cinematic anthems that make you feel something through a catchy chorus or simple melodies that you can sing along with and will easily get stuck in your head. I’ve always wanted to combine the two because it’s been my natural instinct, and Color Study gave me clarity that I could pursue that exact thing.
I feel very supported and challenged by this team. It’s already been extremely exciting getting to know the team on a personal and professional level, and I couldn’t have found a more ideal team to start this journey with.
Color Study’s story has only just begun, and already there’s enough buzz to get music lovers excited. Charli Adams‘ debut EP Good At Being Young releases on January 31st, and her second EP – produced by Dan Grech (Lana Del Rey, Regina Spector, Snow Patrol) – will release later in the spring; Rosie Carney is setting up to release a new EP in April produced by Thomas Bartlett (St. Vincent, Florence & The Machine, Rhye); Haux‘s debut album is set to release in May; and Henry Jamison is releasing a new EP with “all kinds of guests” in May, produced by Harris Paseltiner from the band Darlingside.
Color Study also recently launched a YouTube series of live performances called “Study Sessions”. The first series features each artist on the roster playing intimate versions of their songs at a different castle in Northern Wales, with Henry Jamison starting things off with a terrific performance of his Gloria Duplex song “Ether Garden.”
From the outset, it seems Spencer Kelley and Ultra Music’s new label venture is doing exactly what it was made to accomplish: Color Study is providing support for, and resources to artists creating intensely personal, lyric-focused songs. From the wisdom running through Henry Jamison’s veins, to the nostalgia and hope at the heart of Charli Adams’ brand new single “Cloverland Drive,” this young and promising label is fostering a positive culture of musical creativity not unlike what we’re trying to do every day here at Atwood Magazine.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys gleaning deep personal meaning from the music you listen to, then Color Study is for you. If you enjoy diving into not only individual artists, but also their extended artistic communities, then Color Study is for you. “Musically, what ties Color Study together is the intimate nature of the songwriting, as each artist works to process life through their words, sounds and visuals,” the label writes on its website. “It’s personal music with popular appeal.” We here at Atwood Magazine are admittedly big fans of intimate songwriting, finding music to be all the more powerful when we can feel an artist spilling their soul out in song. Color Study is most definitely for us, and we cannot wait to join this label and its artists on their journey.
Stream: “Cloverland Drive” – Charli Adams
— — — —
📸 © Morgan Gruer