The Record Machine celebrates 20 years of putting KC on the music map.

Photography by Brandon Waldrop

In 2003, Nathan Reusch was—as many twenty-somethings are—at the precipice of his next chapter in life. Having been involved with music since he was 15 years old, attending shows and playing in his own band, Reusch had come to the difficult realization that he was not destined to become the next touring sensation. “[I] did start initially as being a musician, but I think I just saw a ceiling coming,” Reusch says.

But Reusch didn’t believe a career in music was over just because his own musical ambitions might be hitting a ceiling. He just needed to find where he could best apply himself, and when he did, The Record Machine was born. 

In 2003, Reusch founded his record label, The Record Machine, from his KC home and began promoting and marketing bands from across the country. “I figured out that it wasn’t that I knew somebody and they gave me [my] position,” he says. “It was that I went out, met everybody and created relationships.”

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, The Record Machine is a testament to both Midwestern creativity and Reusch’s own ability to adapt with the times. “When we started, we had to put out a physical CD or something to actually sign a band,” Reusch says. “There was no digital distribution at the time. It wasn’t until three or four years in that we could put music on iTunes.”

The Record Machine, which typically represents anywhere from 12 to 15 bands at a time, has since become a blueprint for many independent record labels on how to not only adapt to but also push past their local music scene and step onto a national platform, taking their bands to locales across the country. Reusch is careful to consider each band’s current status, social media channels and arsenal of music before developing a plan to improve the band’s weakest promotion areas and highlight their strengths.

Reusch also created a music festival appropriately named Middle of the Map Fest. Middle of the Map was once held all over Westport, with bands playing at multiple venues, such as Riot Room. But with the pandemic and passage of time, Reusch says, “Kansas City’s music scene has changed, the venues changed.” 

With these changes comes adaptation. The Lemonade Social, which Reusch developed during the pandemic in partnership with Voltaire, RecordBar and IndyGround, brought live music into a pandemic and post-pandemic world without Reusch losing too much ground. Held at Lemonade Park, an outdoor entertainment venue in the West Bottoms, the Lemonade Social is an open-air, two-day festival held in September. Reusch says the festival is an ideal venue to promote his bands. This year’s event included Black Light Animals, Static Phantoms and Steddy P, among others.

Keeping true to the label and Reusch’s own motto that success is about adaptation and experimentation, Reusch says, “I thought [The Record Machine] was going to be super successful immediately, and there was a hard learning curve that this is what it takes to actually have success.” 

At the heart of The Record Machine is Reusch’s dedication to individual talent. “I work with a lot of people that I’m super passionate about and think are great musicians, and I want to always see them continue to get bigger and better,” Reusch says.  

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