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Rounder Records moving to Music City

Nashville central to songwriters, agents

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss recorded on Rounder.Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/file 2009

Rounder Records, which grew out of the 1970s Cambridge folk scene to become one of the marquee labels for roots and bluegrass music, is moving to Nashville early next year.

The company is relocating to the capital city of country music from Burlington to be closer to industry artists, songwriters, and agents with whom the company works regularly. Many of the artists that Rounder records are from the South.

“In spite of technology,” said Scott Billington, Rounder’s vice president of artists and repertoire and a 37-year employee of the company, “nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.”

Rounder also sees an opportunity to expand into country music, finding lesser-known musicians and legacy artists who might now be on the fringe of the Nashville scene, said Ken Irwin, one of the three founders of the label.


The company, which moved to Burlington in 2007, has about 40 artists on its roster.

“It’s a little different,” said Irwin, who lives in Newburyport. “But there’s a lot of potential.”

Irwin, along with Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin, started Rounder in 1970 while still in college, selling their records at the Harvard Coop and by setting up tables at local blues and fiddler conventions. Rounder grew into one of the most successful independent record labels, producing records for artists such as George Thorogood, Buckwheat Zydeco, Bela Fleck, Steve Martin, and most famously Alison Krauss.

Krauss’s collaboration with Robert Plant, “Raising Sand,” won five Grammys in 2009, including album and record of the year.

The Boston area still has an energetic music scene, said Billington, “but it’s not a place for business.”

The announcement of Rounder’s move comes just months after the label’s parent company, Concord Music Group, was bought by a private equity firm, Wood Creek Capital Management of New Haven. Wood Creek, an affiliate of MassMutual Financial Group of Springfield, paid $115 million to $125 million, Billboard Magazine reported.


Los Angeles-based Concord acquired Rounder in 2010 for an undisclosed price.

Nashville represents a new chapter for a company whose history and musical tastes have been closely tied to Cambridge, its leftist politics, and the university scene, said Geoffrey Himes, a freelance writer who penned the liner notes to Rounder Records’ 40th anniversary box set.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Himes said of the move. “Rounder flourished for many years based in Boston; there’s something to be said about not being part of the herd.”

The label’s founders will continue to be involved in the company, but will remain in the Boston area.

Irwin said he has frequently traveled to Nashville over the years to meet with industry officials and artists and will continue to do so.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.