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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Sidesteps Label Deals

When the self-titled debut from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah landed on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart last month, the group accomplished the feat without a label or distributor. Instead, the band took its album directly to indie retailers, finding a national distributor in Junketboy, a company owned by the Coalition of Independent Music Stores. Now, the indie rock act is finding that with a well-timed tour and a wealth of Internet buzz, a record label may not be all that important. The five-piece, led by eccentric singer Alec Ounsworth, has sold 12,000 copies of its debut, according to Nielsen SoundScan. College friend and manager Nick Stern says the act has shipped more than 25,000 copies since July, fulfilling most orders itself from a Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. The band just signed a U.S. distribution deal for the album with Warner Music Group’s Alternative Distribution Alliance, which will give it access to larger retailers. Stern, whose day job is in the publicity department of Atlantic Records, is not ruling out a record deal for the much sought-after band, but says it is not a priority. “We’re much more open to a label situation overseas than we are in the U.S.,” Stern says. “Why would we need it? The distribution we need, but I do think there’s a new way of doing things.” Before CYHSY, CIMS president Don Van Cleave used Junketboy largely to distribute independent retail exclusives to the 28 national CIMS accounts and, sometimes, retailers in other indie coalitions such as the Alliance of Independent Media Stores or Music Monitor Network, or to nonaffiliated indies. ADA president Andy Allen calls his company’s one-off deal with CYHSY highly unusual. “Other than [jam band] O.A.R., who we’ve had a long-term relationship with, we’ve never actually done a deal directly with a band,” Allen says. Tapping into the Web-savvy audience that catapulted the Arcade Fire to the top of the indie community, CYHSY began selling its album to non-New Yorkers via its Web site. When sales started to take off, Stern enlisted the help of online retailer Insound, where the act has been the top seller since June. Of course, being without a label offers some challenges. “We’re paying a little over $1 per CD, so I can’t order 5,000 CDs until I get money for the CDs I just sold,” Stern says. “Since it takes three weeks to print the CDs, there’s been a lag in getting CDs out to stores.” Allen says ADA is ready to ship to larger retailers — and Tower, for instance, have yet to stock the album — as soon as the company gets some discs. “My understanding is that we’ve already had orders for about 9,000 pieces, and we don’t even have stock yet,” he says. Demand is sure to increase, as CYHSY is in the midst of a North American tour with the National. “This is the first time they’ve gone somewhere beyond Philadelphia and Boston,” Stern says. “We’re trying to figure this all out day to day. As far as I’m concerned, this is the tip of the iceberg.”