Citrus City shines a light on independent artists

Citrus City shines a light on independent artists

Story: Penny Rae Hawkins

Graphic: Citrus City

When Manny Lemus, 27, was working at the Indie Current, he was a jaded aspiring music critic. After a conversation with a good friend in 2015, he became the CEO of his own record label.

With the help of friend Rene Franco, Lemus came up with the idea of Citrus City as a place that provides a community for friendly people who like sunny music without committing to a specific genre. Formed in Virginia and currently based in Brooklyn, NY, Citrus City focuses primarily on physical media like tapes. According to Lemus, this not only lowers the cost of physical merchandise but gives customers something more to connect with.

“I think it’s nice to have a tangible item of something from an artist that would generally just be available digitally through mp3s or whatever streaming service people fancy,” he said. “I think it’s cool to have it as a decorative piece or listen to it.”

Photo credit: Citrus City

The DIY-nature of the record label, much like his lack of commitment to any genre, is something Lemus is very protective of. This ethos has secured Citrus City artists including Jade TV, Crumb, Sky Mata and Pedazo de Carne con Ojo, among others. According to Pitchfork Magazine contributor Quinn Moreland, the label “has been offered bigger distribution opportunities and label partnerships,” but has denied them in the pursuit of staying transparent and independent. 

“Unusually, Citrus City does not take any ownership of their artists’ masters or digital rights, which Lemus holds as a central tenet of his approach,” Moreland wrote. 

Something else that separates Citrus City from other record labels is the commitment to supporting Latinx music professionals, both offstage and off. Whether he’s helping someone with a press kit, tour booking, artistic stagnation or other behind-the-scenes work, Lemus is always ready to put his experience to good use. This is not only influenced by his own upbringing in a Latinx-American household but a desire to help out those who the music industry typically does not pay attention to. 

“I try to be really mindful of who needs more of a platform or support, so really emphasizing on working with Black and POC artists in general,” Lemus said. “They just need an extra hand ’cause I’ve mostly tried to operate being a tool for independent artists to use if they need help.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted public activities like touring, Lemus still finds ways to help Citrus City’s artists succeed in the music business. Whether it’s by hand-distributing tapes, selling merch on platforms like Bandcamp or even just some helpful advice, it’s this kind of spark and commitment that makes Citrus City an indie label to keep an eye on.

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