Megan Frestedt

Megan’s passion for music inspired her to start Tandem Shop, a record label that just released its second album.

Class of 2011 | History and English

Photo by Emily Lo, Class of 2012

The summer after her first year at the University of Chicago, Megan Frestedt found herself at home in Minneapolis, scooping ice cream at a Ben and Jerry’s. “It was like, ‘Back to high school,’” said Frestedt, now a third-year history and English major.

Frestedt had just finished an internship at a radio promotions company in Wicker Park. After that experience, a summer serving ice cream was not what she had in mind, and so she decided to take matters into her own hands. Still under the spell of her stint in the music industry, Frestedt and two friends founded their own record label.

The result was Tandem Shop Records, which has signed three artists since the fall of 2008 and released an album by its first band, Chicago-based Mr. Bear. Tandem Shop’s second release, an EP by another local band, Honest Engines, came out on Dec. 8.

Frestedt began by forming a music management company with her friend Ariel Bentley, a student at Gustavus Adolphus College. Frestedt and Bentley’s management company was soon subsumed by the record label started by another of Frestedt’s friends, Sam McAllister, to form Tandem Shop. Although the name Tandem Shop originally had no meaning, Frestedt said the moniker has come to reflect the label’s bi-city operations in Chicago and Minneapolis.

The label’s first signee was Mr. Bear. Mr. Bear’s frontman Jack Bishop attends Columbia College in Chicago, where he met McAllister. Bishop soon agreed to sign with Tandem Shop.

In those early days, Frestedt said, she and her colleagues were learning the basics of music management on the fly, finding companies to press albums and learning how to build relationships with music venues.

“A lot of it has been learning along the way, on our own,” Frestedt said.

Fortunately, Bishop was a patient client, and he released his first album with Tandem Shop, These Machines, in early 2009.

“[Bishop] was really great and really relaxed … which we needed at that time, because [McAllister and I] were both in school and pretty committed to other things,” Frestedt said.

With Mr. Bear, Tandem Shop found early success. Bishop was featured on National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered, and one of his songs appeared on the soundtrack of PBS’s Roadtrip Nation.

This summer, the founders of Tandem Shop redoubled their efforts. Frestedt and McAllister were both in Chicago, and they worked on the label after their day jobs, often videoconferencing with Bentley in Minneapolis.

McAllister and Frestedt also worked on their own band, Project Film, which is signed to Tandem Shop. They hope to release their first album in the spring.

Tandem Shop is an unconventional label. Traditionally, record labels put up the money for artists to buy studio time, produce their album, and promote their work. But independent labels like Tandem Shop focus more on connecting artists to these resources than paying for them. For example, Tandem Shop does most of the promotion—sending albums to radio stations and record stores, for instance—but its artists pay for their own studio time.

Tandem Shop is not exactly a profit-making venture at the moment—it’s more of a labor of love for Bentley, Frestedt, and McAllister. The label “made its first anything” a few weeks ago, Frestedt said.

“It was a dollar or something,” Frestedt said with a laugh.

There is long-run money-making potential, however. By building their roster and reputation, Frestedt said, small labels like Tandem Shop can strike distribution deals with major or mid-level labels.

Whether there’s money or not, Frestedt takes deeper pleasure in sharing artists’ work.

“The most satisfying part is when people come up to you and say that they like the music,” Frestedt said. “It’s nice when I can just sit back and don’t really have to do anything and people just like [the music] for what it is.”

Tagged: uniquely chicago, profiles