Sunday Conversation with Lance Ledbetter

Record label preserves musical treasures

The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at ann.hardie@ymail.com.

Information: www.dust-digital.com.

In a bungalow in Atlanta’s Ormewood Park, real music magic is being made that you may not have heard about. Grammy winners Lance and April Ledbetter don’t professionally sing or play instruments. Through recordings, books, photographs and DVDs, the founders of Dust-to-Digital do excavate, collect and preserve music, from gospel to blues to folk, from down South to the Upper Midwest, Morocco to Cambodia.

On Aug. 7, Dust-to-Digital will release “Folksongs of Another America,” featuring field recordings from the 1930s and 1940s from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, followed later this month by a collection of Southern mountain music by artist Olla Belle Reed. Lance Ledbetter talked about the business and how fast the “digital” part of it is changing.

Q: What do you and your wife do exactly?

A: When we started out in 1999, our first project, "Goodbye, Babylon," was going to be single album of gospel music that you couldn't find in record shops. It turned into a six CD box set with a 200-page book and we became known as a reissue record label. We now also produce DVDs, books, e-books and vinyl LPs. I would say we are a record label/book publisher.

Q: What kind of music do you focus on?

A: We have released what a lot of people would call traditional, roots or downhome music. Most of what we produce relates to historical music, although we have done projects on modern day artists and recorded some. For the most part, the music we deal with was forgotten or didn't receive its due.

Q: Do you and your wife come up with the projects?

A: When "Goodbye, Babylon" came out, we got on the radar for a lot of like-minded collectors and scholars who started bringing projects to us. We have collaborated with collectors, archives and universities and, over time, each project takes on a life of its own.

Q: Has one project brought to you really touched your soul?

A: All of them have. Each project has to be something that we feel very strongly about to put our time, energy and money into it. To give you some insight into the passion we had for the "Art of Field Recording," we actually put our house up as collateral to put that out. It ended up winning the Grammy for best historical album.

Q: Can you talk more about that one?

A: We worked on that project with UGA Professor Art Rosenbaum. Over a 50-year span, Art took his reel-to-reel tape deck and made recordings in people's living rooms or on their front porch or in a church, a lot of it in backwoods. His wife Margo took incredible photos. That project was so much fun to put together. It was very touching.

Q: Is technology changing what you do?

A: A lot. When we started out, you couldn't go to YouTube and find the songs on "Goodbye, Babylon." Almost all of the songs are now available there. We want to be a little more selective. "Folksongs of Another America" is five CDs of music that has never been published.

Q: What about all the folks who don’t buy CDs or LPs any more?

A: There are a lot of people getting their music off the Internet. I can see a future of streaming for digital and then LPs if you want something physical.

Q: What do you think about all that?

A: It does make you wonder what's next. A lot of people are very concerned about streaming not including liner notes. There could be a whole generation that doesn't even understand that this Bob Dylan record was recorded before that one. Hopefully people will be able to figure out a format that is convenient but still has depth.

In Other News