College is the perfect place for many people to discover new music, expand their horizons and explore new sounds.
But for the more entrepreneurial, like Winspear Records co-founders Ben Wittkugel and Jared Jones, college is the place to be the ones spreading that music to everyone else.
In 2014, during Wittkugel’s freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., Winspear started as a way of booking shows at friends’ houses in the area.
“Winspear first existed only to put on shows,” Wittkugel said of the label’s beginnings. “We didn’t start with too many goals. Jared and I were just happy to be doing something.”
Jones and Wittkugel first met at a student organization meeting for the Music Industry Networking Club, where one of the founders of independent label Secretly Canadian was giving a talk. Also based in Bloomington, the label was founded in the ’90s by IU students.
Wittkugel spent his freshman and sophomore year interning at Secretly Canadian, starting out in the distribution office and warehouse before working on the label side.
“The idea that stuck with me the most was seeing the result of a label started by two college students,” Wittkugel said of his intern experience. “I thought if they could do it, I could at least give it a go.”
By fall 2015, Winspear had begun expanding, with Wittkugel regularly hosting shows at his own off-campus house, known in the scene as “The Big House.”
“Our initial goal on the label side was to put out local bands we were friends with, whose music we really liked,” Jones said.
“Through promoting shows around town, we started to meet more bands. Then it felt natural to take a few steps out of Bloomington and Indiana. We found we liked doing it in a large part thanks to our Grand Rapids friends.”
The label’s first connection to GR came through indie artist Justin Majetich and his project CARE. Winspear released CARE’s four-song EP, Unenjoy, in 2015, and soon after booked the band to play in Bloomington. Since then, the label has issued several releases from Grand Rapids artists, including dream-pop trio Major Murphy, electronic artist Darkly and synth duo PARTS.
All three GR bands, along with Bloomington bands HOOPS and Spissy, will take part in a showcase for the label on Jan. 13 at the Pyramid Scheme.
“There was never an intentional decision to start working with a lot of bands from Michigan,” Jones said. “We kept finding one band after another and it all happened to be coming from Grand Rapids.”
|Winspear Records Review
feat. Darkly, HOOPS, Major Murphy, PARTS, Spissy
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 13, 7 p.m.
$8 advance, $10 day of show
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758
Major Murphy’s Jacob Bullard finds that working with Winspear helps keep him on his toes, he said, as “it is exciting to think about where something goes once I hand it over.” This excitement spilled over into the creation of the upcoming show.
“Jacob suggested the idea to me a few months ago,” Wittkugel said. “We’ve been thinking about having a Winspear show in Bloomington for a little while, but somehow Grand Rapids happened first!”
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a show that I’ve been able to play,” said Darkly, aka Joshua Quinn Weible. “It’s a wide range of genres that all work so well together. One of these artists will surely blow you away, I promise.”
Before teaming with Winspear, Weible self-released his debut EP, Prints of the Past, last January. Within a few hours of posting it online, he was contacted by Wittkugel, who offered to do a tape run.
“(Winspear) keeps me motivated to write more music, because I know that someone out there cares for what I’m creating,” Weible said. “It can start to feel dry if you’re just playing around the same city with all the same ears listening, so with Winspear helping us with getting our names out in other places in the U.S., and even globally, it’s really nice for us.”
Darkly plans to finish and release a full-length album later this year.
Now that he is in his final year of college, Wittkugel said he is looking ahead with Winspear. The label is currently working on several follow-up releases from artists it has worked with in the past, including its first-ever vinyl release from Indiana songwriter Kevin Krauter (of HOOPS), as well as Major Murphy’s upcoming new album, and CARE’s two-part release LUV IN THE RUINS (due out Jan. 6).
“Recently our goal as an entity, beyond the label, is focused a lot on helping artists establish a solid foundation,” Jones said of Winspear’s future. “We want our bands to grow so they’re able to take the next steps in their careers.”